Open Source / Technology

The Linux Foundation’s Open Source Stack for EV Charging Infrastructure

11 Mar 2022 4:00am, by

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity today, and with transportation contributing about one-fifth of global carbon emissions, overhauling those systems will no doubt be critical in solving the climate crisis. However, there are a number of barriers impeding the widespread adoption of electric vehicles, namely the lack of interoperability and compatibility between the different charging systems that electric vehicle manufacturers offer, which means that individual EV owners and charging network providers (also known as electric vehicle service providers or EVSPs) are often locked into one particular proprietary system, each with its own app and pricing system.

This lack of seamless integration between different charging networks is one major roadblock to scaling up EV infrastructure, and some organizations are taking steps to tackle it head-on. One of these emerging movers is LF Energy, which is part of the Linux Foundation and aims to provide a neutral, collaborative space to develop open source tools that will help ease the transition to electric mobility. One of LF Energy’s latest projects, EVerest, focuses on developing an open source software stack for EV charging infrastructure, so that charging stations can be deployed more easily on a massive scale.

Dr. Shuli Goodman, Executive Director of LF Energy

“The worst thing about driving an electric car is finding a charging station when you need it — and then having it actually work,” explained LF Energy’s executive director Dr. Shuli Goodman. “Electricity is electricity and it shouldn’t be this hard. But EV charging technologies are all developed by different companies, all of whom create software on their own and interpret the standards differently. Because it’s open source, the EVerest software stack can be integrated into any box, and run on any device from AC home chargers to public DC charging stations. It unifies EV charging infrastructure and addresses the incompatibility between different charging systems that currently exist.”

The EVerest project would take a simple but effective approach in enhancing interoperability. By running on a lightweight Linux system inside the charging point, EVerest would enable new features for local energy management, PV integration, and grid friendliness, by managing communication between different players, such as the user and their car, local energy generation and batteries, as well as backend cloud protocols for payments.

“EVerest is a smart interconnection layer, so users can focus on deploying unique features, and don’t have to bother with implementing, integrating and maintaining dozens of needed protocols in a robust and compatible way,” said Goodman.

“This is what sets it apart from competing solutions not built with open source technologies. When a vendor implements their one-off interpretation of a standard, it may or may not provide interoperability with other parts of the EV ecosystem, thus creating vendor lock-in. Even worse, the issue of stranded assets should be a real concern to governments seeking to scale EV infrastructure. Having a company go belly-up with their own proprietary implementation of a standard could be an expensive hidden cost,” Goodman said.

According to Goodman, a more agile and robust open source approach is vital for modernizing the energy sector, in order to meet the needs of growing populations, and to mitigate the devastating effects of climate change. Outdated modes of working, innovating and supplying electricity are no longer adequate for the challenges of today.

“Much of the utility industry around the world has been incentivized through rate-cases with their regulators to purchase expensive hardware with 50-year contracts,” said Goodman. “The grid is brittle. Instead, we need agile systems that we can build and evolve fast. Today, we have to get more out of what we have and make that infrastructure smarter and more able to respond to shifting needs, to be more efficient and to adopt more renewables on the grid. No longer does energy just flow one way: from utility to user. It now goes both ways, and the existing infrastructure was not designed to handle it and it must be modernized.”

In particular, Goodman points out that by cooperating on the development of open source solutions, the various players in the energy ecosystems will have access to greater innovation, thus allowing them to build and deliver their own services at a faster rate, to greater numbers of people. Regardless of whether a system might be built in-house or by another vendor, the idea is that open interfaces and open source reference implementations will enable interoperability between various systems, so that utilities and end-users are able to leverage the best options in the ecosystem.

“This will mark a sea change in how utilities have long operated, which is largely as silos unto themselves, each one with their own systems, top to bottom and locked into vendor-supplied solutions that may or may not be best-of-breed,” said Goodman. “In contrast, shared technology investments provide significant acceleration and act as a multiplier for investments that directly impact the transformational goals of energy transition. We will get farther together, sooner.”

The open source movement has evolved tremendously during the last decade, with a growing number of companies opting for open source alternatives that are more flexible and cost-effective. Yet, Goodman points out there can be still some remaining hesitancy: “The only barrier to open source development is lack of knowledge about how it works, lack of experience in operating in an open source mindset and the will to do things differently. All of this is addressable once an organization musters the courage to change. Other industries have done just that, including telecommunications with 5G, and the entire cloud computing sector.”

Yet another potential barrier to the widespread adoption of open source approaches may be the unwarranted perception that it’s less secure than proprietary software. But as Goodman explains, open source solutions prioritize interoperability, which is critical to both the security and stability of any grid system.

“Security is a process and is composed of many parts beginning with the creation of software. As we like to say, ‘be secure and safe by design’ — these must be at the core of technologies and projects to protect the data and systems driving the digital transition. In practical terms, this means using established practices to identify and manage risks, exercising due diligence on components sourced from third parties and setting secure defaults. For authorization, projects and technologies must adopt a zero-trust model of security based on identity rather than location, and employ standards-based authentication and authorization. All LF Energy projects have a software bill of materials to ensure that we know what is inside. All our projects get ‘badged’ by the OpenSSF project. Finally, we will plan to use third-party audits for our software starting in 2022.”

LF Energy is currently working with major partners like Alliander, the largest energy distributor in the Netherlands, and RTE, the largest transmission operator in Europe, to accelerate the development of digital tools needed to overhaul the grid. Besides EVerest, the organization is also engaged in innovative projects that are focusing on electrifying transportation, improving grid automation, reducing grid congestion, tracking energy efficiency, increasing grid resilience, opening markets, facilitating carbon certificates, improving data monitoring and analysis, and optimizing network operations.

“LF Energy projects run the gamut of what’s needed to modernize the power grid,” added Goodman. “Two particular projects, SEAPATH and CoMPAS, for instance, aim to make electrical substations more modular, interoperable and scalable so they can better alleviate the challenges associated with renewable energy sources, which are less predictable. With more nimble substations, the grid will remain more stable as supplies and demand shift.”

With the potential for more than 70% of global carbon emissions to be cut if transportation and energy systems can be electrified, it’s clear that a huge payoff can be achieved if we can confront this enormous challenge ahead, with cooperation rather than competition. For Goodman, that means an open source strategy will be key in helping to solve the climate crisis: “For the next-generation power grid to meet our expanding needs, it needs to be based on open source tools using commodity software and hardware. We need joint development and investment, versus today’s largely closed and monolithic energy sector. And we need open standards — fast — that enable the most and best collaboration possible. Open source has transformed industry after industry. Energy must benefit, too, if we’re to have an electrical grid that not only meets our needs today, but also tomorrow.”