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Together with his partner, lawyer Dr Frank Pawlitschek founded the Ubitricity company in 2008.
© Robert Lehmann
Charging infrastructure for electric vehicles

This is how one of the pilot sockets for charging at street lamps looks like.
© Ubitricity

“It’s too expensive to provide ubiquitous charging stations with integrated billing technology,” says Dr Frank Pawlitschek. That is why he is working on a system socket for street lamps.
© Robert Lehmann

Charging electric cars using street lamps

Integrating charging stations for electric vehicles into street lamps is an approach that saves costs. What makes the idea so enticing is that the intelligent billing technology is not integrated into the charging station, as is usually the case, but in the car. In the first project stage a mobile measurement data recording system within the electric vehicle – the on-board metering system – has been developed to the pilot stage. In doing so, the Ubitricity company has recognised that integrating the measurement technology within an intelligent cable shows even more promise – since the automotive producers will not have to adapt their electronics. Both systems are now being field-tested. The project, which is being funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, is aiming to develop the technology to market readiness by 2014. The founder of Ubitricity, Dr Frank Pawlitschek, reports about the market opportunities for the technology in the interview.

BINE Information Service: Without any technical development experience you have founded a start-up for developing charging stations for electric vehicles. With which partners are you developing the project?

Pawlitschek: "In future the successful introduction of electromobility will particularly depend on whether I can charge electricity everywhere. It’s too expensive to provide ubiquitous charging stations with integrated billing technology. If, however, we integrate the billing technology into the vehicles or charging cables, all we need to do is install special system sockets. That’s our idea. We have gained partners for all sub-systems: ITF-EDV Fröschl is developing, for example, the control centre technology for the mobile metering.
Our meter points travel in the cars and need to be depicted in the standard systems and processes for billing purposes. Voltaris is our partner here for further developing the energy data management.
A team from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt in Berlin has developed the safety concept and initial laboratory models for the mobile measurement technology in electric vehicles. Based on these, Gigatronik from Stuttgart has constructed the first prototype. Parallel to this we have developed an intelligent charging cable that will be further developed to market readiness and produced by the international automotive supplier, TE Connectivity.”

BINE Information Service: In the current phase, the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology is helping you to develop a pilot network of up to 1,000 charging stations. How are you setting this up?

Pawlitschek:“It’s now about testing the complete system in practice, ranging from the system sockets and mobile meters to the control centre, EDM system and front end. Here we are testing two different prototypes in parallel: the billing technology is either integrated in the intelligent charging cable or alternatively in the vehicle.
Discussions with German automotive manufacturers have shown that they are basically interested in the system but are reluctant to immediately change the architecture in their vehicles. That would be necessary if the measurement technology were integrated. Simpler – and from the point of view of the automotive industry much more promising in the short term – is an intelligent charging cable. This can be used with all electric vehicles without interfering in their system architecture.”

BINE Information Service: What is the timetable for the pilot test?

Pawlitschek: “We’re currently slightly behind schedule with the production of the prototypes. We are developing a new generation that we can assemble and install from the middle of the year in large numbers. Around twenty sockets are currently installed. Ten to 15 drivers are testing them. Field tests are also being conducted in Munich, Zurich and Paris. We will install most of the charging points in Berlin.”

BINE Information Service: Your idea of integrating charging stations into street lamps sounds appealingly simple. What technical prerequisites do the lamps have to fulfil for this purpose?

Pawlitschek: “The most important thing is that the street lamps are positioned so that a car can park directly next to it. The charging cable must not hang across the pavement. Our analysis of Berlin shows that the vast majority of street lamps meet this prerequisite.
The second requirement is that the street lamps can also be live during the day. In some local communities the street lamps are only centrally powered up during the night. This would require a new control device in the lamps. However, the conversion to LED technology in future will make such technology available as standard.
Ideally, each lamppost will also have voltage available during the day and a reserve phase on standby, as this is the case in Berlin. You would admittedly only be able to charge lower currents from street lamps than from charging stations, for example eight or 16 amperes. Nevertheless, even with lower outputs a longer charging time is in my view preferable to the expensive development of separate charging stations because charging points can be created practically everywhere. No one can afford to provide ubiquitous charging stations.”

BINE Information Service: Does the charging behaviour of electric vehicles play a role in terms of the measurement technology?

Pawlitschek: “At the moment we have predominantly set up system sockets that allow charging with a single-phase current. However, we also have three-phase models, such as here in the multi-storey car park and at the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt. We believe, however, that single-phase charging will generally be sufficient everywhere where there would be longer parking anyway. If, for example, I charge up in my employer’s car park for eight to nine hours, a single-phase charging infrastructure is perfectly adequate.”

BINE Information Service: So far, five-figure sums have been quoted for the cost of building a charging station. The operating costs are estimated to be around 100 euros a month. You now want to install systems in street lamps for 300 euros and integrate intelligent billing technology into the charging cables at a cost of 200 euros for drivers. That sounds like an unbeatably low-cost concept. How are the potential purchasers of charging stations, such as local authorities, reacting to your offer?

Pawlitschek: “Until now we haven’t had to offer any additional incentives in order to generate interest, since it only costs 300 euros to convert suitable street lamps. That is a lot less than the conventional construction of charging stations costing 5,000 euros plus the excavation costs and the grid connection. The current demand shows that the local authorities are interested.”

“We want to be ready for mass production during the first quarter of 2014.”

BINE Information Service: What are the plans after the field test?

Pawlitschek: “We want to be ready for mass production during the first quarter of 2014.” We see three main potential sales channels. Firstly there are the car manufacturers, to whom TE Connectivity will offer an intelligent charging cable in a mass-producible quality.
Secondly, Ubitricity will offer the energy supply companies, for example municipal utilities, new services for their customers. The municipal utilities can sell the cables to their customers together with a supply contract. In this case the municipal utilities determine the final retail price for an intelligent charging cable. This price model will be similar to purchasing a mobile phone with a contract.
Lastly, our business model also aims to provide the billing services for the charging infrastructure. We will operate a virtual network in which we manage all system sockets. We are thus inserting a new, virtual layer into the existing energy market that enables the integration of mobile meter points.
We are providing the infrastructure providers, such as local authorities, employers and multi-storey car parks, with an affordable way to develop the charging infrastructure.”

BINE Information Service: What was your personal motivation in setting up a company to develop the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles?

Pawlitschek: “Knut Hechtfischer and I founded Ubitricity in 2008 because we were sure that electromobility is coming. With our idea of integrating the measurement technology into the electric cars, we are making a ubiquitous charging infrastructure affordable. My partner and I were convinced that we could position ourselves in the market with mobile metering. The energy supply companies have been relying on stationary billing technology for many years.
Nevertheless, it was only once we had gained a development lead that we made our idea public at the end of 2010. Prior to this we only worked with partners in specific areas. That is why we are now much more open and are also entering into discussions, for example, with system providers.”

On-board metering for electric vehicles

With this type of mobile metering the measurement data will be recorded directly in the vehicle. Alternatively, the billing technology can also be installed in an intelligent charging cable.
This means that fewer components have to be installed in the charging stations. A special system socket is sufficient. This differs from other sockets in that it can identify users and is only live if authorisation has been given.

When the driver inserts his or her charging cable into the socket, the measurement technology in the car communicates with the control centre via the mobile phone network. This checks whether the user is entitled to recharge the car and issues authorisation. The current then flows. Once the charging process has been completed, the dataset is communicated to the control centre. Here the measurement data is processed in an energy data management system so that it can be used by the energy supply companies. A further system manages the customer information and prepares the billing data.



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Project coordination

Development of the system architecture
Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt

Development of the energy data management system

Development of the control centre technology
ITF-EDV Fröschl GmbH