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EVerest: Recharging The EV Charging Stations With Open Source

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Guest: Dr. Marco Möller (LinkedIn)
Organizations: LF Energy (LinkedIn, Twitter)
PIONIX GmbH
Show: State of Energy

EVs or electric vehicles are the future of transportation. BMW’s announcement of a color-changing EV at CES 2022 was a great example. EV is where all innovation is happening these days.

That said, the fun of driving an EV hits a speed breaker when it comes to charging outdoors. Unlike gas, not only does it take much longer to charge (which is getting better), in most cases the charging just won’t work. The problem lies largely in software implementation of how each vendor tries to reinvent their own wheel. Every car vendor and charging network is using their own stack of software solutions for charging stations which creates a very frustrating experience for drivers.

We live 15 minutes away from Washington DC. There are 3 EV charging stations near my house. But when you check the status on the app, most of the time they are broken and not available.

Dr. Marco Möller, CEO of PIONIX, agrees with the situation, “… a charging station is not just talking to a car, it’s also talking to your home solar system, it’s speaking to some cloud components for making payments, it’s speaking to a mobile app and may be it’s speaking to your grid provider to find out when electricity is cheap or if there’s a demand shortage or demand peak. There is just so much interconnection”…which also means there is more surface area for problems. That’s the problem Dr Möller is trying to solve with open source.

To eliminate the fragmentation and complexity of charging station software, PIONIX GmbH has created a new open source software stack, called EVerest, for e-charging infrastructure. The project is hosted at LF Energy and the scope of the software stack goes beyond just the charging stations and can solve many more problems related to the energy sector.

From a technical perspective, there is a software stack that runs on top of Debian with the MQTT framework. There are different modules that can be configured for different use cases whether it’s connecting to a home solar or sharing energy in a parking garage, or using bitcoin for payment; any use case can be supported via a module.

To learn more about the project, please watch the video.

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Swapnil Bhartiya: This is your host Swapnil Bhartiya and welcome to State of Energy. And our guest today is Dr. Marco Möller, CEO of Pionix GmbH. Mark, it’s great to have you on show.

Dr. Marco Möller: Hi, thanks for having me here as Swap.

Swapnil Bhartiya: There is so much to talk about today, but before we go anywhere, please tell me a bit about the company itself. What do you folks do?

Dr. Marco Möller: We are focusing on an open-source operating system for charging stations. So for electric cars, AC chargers, super fast DC chargers, the idea is having a firmware sitting in this boxes, which is open source. So that’s why we are here today.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Exactly. And one of the projects that we are going to talk about is Everest that you folks contributed to the LF Energy Foundation. Talk about the origin, the Genesis of the project, as you mentioned, everything that you folks do is open-source. So why did you end up creating this project? What is it all about?

Dr. Marco Möller: Yeah, so we had an industry consulting project before, and we thought about how to basically create a new charging station company and bring it up on speed on a technological level. And we realized, actually, it makes no sense to create this technology stack all and all over again. So what you really need is a transition to something more sustainable, not only the energy, but also engineering and software wise. I have been in the drone space before, and I saw the entire industry disrupting, starting with basically doing everything ourself 2009 and 10 years later, just everything has switched to open source, and I’m pretty sure most industries need that disruption. And we are here to do that in charging.

Swapnil Bhartiya: When you do talk about charging industry, how different it is now and also when you build Everest, what was the need to build it? Because sometimes with most open source project, everybody starts with scratching your own itch, and then you see that it can solve someone else’s problem as well. That’s when you release something in open source.

Dr. Marco Möller: Yeah. So what we saw basically, let me start from a customer perspective. Those who don’t have an electric car at home, maybe don’t know the pains you can go through if you try to charge a car publicly. If I’m on the highway with my kids, with an electric car, I think 30% of the time charging just doesn’t work. And that can be really painful, especially if you are driving it down really close to zero. And I think most of the time it’s just software issues. So there’s so many car manufacturers out there. So many charging station manufacturers out there. I think we are talking about just in Germany, maybe 200 companies, and everyone, or most of them, are creating kind of a software stack on their own.

So everyone is doing their own interpretation of the standards. Everyone is doing their own box, and there’s yeah, basically a need of having core library, which abstracts all of that away. And charging is also quite interesting because such a charging station is not just speaking to a car. It’s also speaking to your home solar system. It’s speaking to some cloud components for making payments. It’s speaking to a mobile app. It’s maybe speaking to your grid provider to find out when electricity is cheap or if there’s a demand shortage or demand peak. And so there’s so much interconnection. And I think it’s a really interesting problem to solve.

Swapnil Bhartiya: If you can just go a bit deeper in the tech detail that what exactly is… because as you mentioned, though, it’s not just about the car. It can be about anything else. So I just want to understand that, what exactly is from technical perspective, Everest?

Dr. Marco Möller: So from a technical perspective, we have a software deck sitting on top of at the moment. Debbie distribution, Linux, just some MQTT framework we are using, so coming from the IoT space. So we have different modules you can configure. There’s, let’s say, different power in modules, maybe for home solar. Maybe you have a parking garage with many cars and you have to share energy. So we have a framework where you can just basically wire the reality with software modules together. And then there are different software modules, let’s say, for us speaking to different kinds of clouds, speaking to different way of communicating with the cars. So for the cloud site, that would be OCPP 1.6-J. In security, we implemented speaking to the car. We are working on the ISO 15118 standard. All of that will be open-sourced.

And on the cloud side, sorry, on the energy side for local energy staff, we are speaking SunSpec and MODPOST, which is standard for connecting to home solar systems. And yeah, on the energy grid side, we are not done yet. We are thinking about something like ADR, open ADR, which is also part of LF Energy, which maybe brings us here while we are part of this ecosystem. But this will be really extendable. So everything will be not just open source, but also Apache to the old license. So especially for commercial vendors, it should be really easy to adapt. And that’s kind of our idea that there are already, I think, two open-source stack for AC chargings out there, but license-wise, it’s really hard for industry players to adapt them because they’re running GPL code, which makes a lot of people uncomfortable in business.

Swapnil Bhartiya: You mentioned that it’s running on Debian. So I also understand where does it really actually run Everest.

Dr. Marco Möller: So it actually runs in the charging station. So basically there’s a small at the moment Raspberry Pi in our current setup in the charging. And yeah, it basically runs between your car and your wall or between the car and basically the super charger at the side of the street, but it’s not tailored to our hardware. So what we are doing as a company beside the open source project, we are also offering a dev kit, which enables our community to get super fast, started with this. So basically it comes with a lot of things you actually don’t need.

And typically charging situations, like GPS module, power line communication with the car in Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4, which comes with Bluetooth and wifi and land and whatever. It has a RFID reader, two displays. One of that is touch. So it comes with a lot of things included, so you can play around with that and build whatever charging solution that you have in mind. If you have the idea to build some Bitcoin payment for a car charging, sure, you can do that. You can use our software stack and basically just have to swap out one module against something tailored for Bitcoin payment, and then you are ready to go.

Swapnil Bhartiya: And as you started earlier that, if you own electric car, charging can become a big challenge. And even if you look at the average project, as you said, it runs on the charging stations. Now, the charging gas station are deployed depending on where you are different companies. So you have to also work with hardware vendors to embrace it. So can you also talk about what kind of ecosystem is around, how are you working with that community? Because creating open-source stack is easy, but getting it in the machines is challenging part.

Dr. Marco Möller: So as a company, we basically started with this idea about a year ago, stumbling into this through some demand from a consulting project. And we quickly realized that this is a common problem along all the players out there. So everyone we are talking to is highly embracing, like, “Okay, when can I get it? When can I get access?” And that’s something we want to do next year to provide publicly broad grid access. And so far, basically everyone is just eagerly to wait because they’re all kind of sick of just implementing the same standards over and over again, just to give you an idea, we talk to a cloud provide, and they mentioned they have more than 200 different adapters for different dialects of the same standard because everyone is doing it slightly different. And I think it’s a bit like the modern web browser revolution. The moment everything is running Rome in the core.

So the need of different compatibility tests went dramatically down. And I think that’s something we can bring to the charging industry, and it’s free for everyone. So everyone can just pick it up and get, meaning we are here to help if everyone needs our support to getting it integrated in their boxes, you can ask us. But the idea is, I think open source can really help boosting this into the market and basically drives a new really quick sanitization or defector, sanitization, and actually helps energy transition, which is also part of LF Energy missions. So I think we are, they’re in a good company.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Why did you choose to put this project in LF energy? Did you work with them before? Or just talk about why you put it there.

Dr. Marco Möller: Yeah. So at the beginning we thought about, okay, how to build a good community and how to do that. We have been with other corporates before. I had worked with Intel in the last three, four years for Intel and realized that big corporates actually love compliance and love processes and love to have a legally safe ground. And this is, I think, something LF Energy and Linux Foundation can provide. And also they know how to build a community and how to interconnect companies. And that’s really something helping us on our mission to build this community and yeah. To make ever the software stack widely used all over the world. And when Shuli, the head of LF Energy got aware of us, we started talking and that was, I would say love from the first second. So I think that both of us realized we could be a great pair benefit for each other.

Swapnil Bhartiya: What kind of support are you expecting from LF Energy? LF Energy is part of the Linux Foundation, so they have very good governance and a structure in place. But tell me what plans do you have with this project?

Dr. Marco Möller: Yeah, basically this project… its role is to connecting different industries. So it will connect to energy industry, payment stuff, renewable energy sources, car vendors, and LF Energy is quite well connected in the energy industry. So this is a big benefit beside all of the government stuff. For sure, the governments helps, as I said before, but also like, yeah, I think changing the electric grid to fully embrace the potential of electric cars, which, let’s say for Germany, I have the numbers in mind. It might be something like 20% more energy consumption or more electric energy consumption. So it’s not about big jump in demand. It’s different demand, different timing in the future. It also can provide energy back to the grid whenever it’s needed. So electric house could be a big game-changer for the future power supply. And I think that’s something we can really do on this team with all the other projects.

Swapnil Bhartiya: And you already mentioned that the scope goes beyond just charging stations. So if you look at this project, what kind of community are you looking that these are the people, these are the developers who will be interested in this project or what kind of community you want to build around Everest project?

Dr. Marco Möller: So basically we think that will be a really broad community. As I said before, we are connecting different industries. I think at the core of this is the people or the companies integrating that in their charging point solution. If it’s maybe their charging controller or if it’s their entire wall box supercharger, whatever, I think developers from them, that would be a big benefit because they at the forefront.

But I think also car OEMs, if some of the car OEMs have a big idea, like, “We want to get the infrastructure ready for some new types of car in 10 years from now,” they can just donate the patch to the charging stations into such a projects, and with over the air update that will be proliferating or distributing along the entire charging station network, cross vendors quite quickly.

And also, what I saw in the drone space before where I worked, that universities are picking up this code base and using it for their own research, like how to make future charging. So they’re implementing their ideas based on top of open source and donating results back. And this really brings such a stack and the ideas really quickly into market. So we are also inviting all researchers doing something with energy, with cars. Yeah. To use that, to challenge us, to challenge Everest, and to make it larger and greater.

Swapnil Bhartiya: If somebody is interested, or first of all, what kind of people you would like to come and join you? And if they do want to, how they can get involved in the project?

Dr. Marco Möller: So the project is publicly on [GitHub 00:13:03], so you can just start downloading it, play with it, and issue some tickets. There will be contact details, how can reach us on the project. And so there’s highly interest from us. If you just want to get your hands dirty, just try it out. There are software-in-the-loop simulations. There will be, if you’re interested, development kit available from Pionix. Yeah, and basically everyone from someone who’s writing documentation, from someone who’s testing it with his cars, someone who’s writing patches for getting [Computility 00:13:39] there, or porting it to different hardware, adding some new algorithms for smart charging, whatever, I think this is a big network of modules you have to pluck together to make it ready for all applications out there. And we are interested in everything.

Swapnil Bhartiya: We are talking a lot about climate change. A lot of companies, they have their missions of decarbonization. They want to cut their carbon footprint. But sometimes, as you give example, of finding a charging station can be challenge, it can sometimes deter people [inaudible 00:14:09] that. So this may be a small project in this big mission, but how do you see that these kind of project kind of all companies, like yours, contribute to solving this much larger problem?

Dr. Marco Möller: Actually, that’s an interesting question. I spending a lot of my free time in the Scientists for Future organization to explain people climate change and to actually work against that. And I think projects like this are engineering puzzle pieces to make the transition to a green future happen. And I think there’s so much potential, especially if you look on electrification on electric cars, on the green grid and green power generation. So I think this could be a big game-changer. I think the things we need will happen anyway. The standards are there. The ideas are there, but at the moment, the solutions all so cluttered and so incompatible. And I think software tech like Everest can boost a lot of those changes by five years, and climate change is all about timing. So I think it can have a big impact.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Excellent. Marco, thank you so much for taking time out today to not only talk about the risk project, of course, the company, and also how you are kind of playing a role in solving a much bigger problem. So thanks for your time today. And I would love to have you back on the show. Thank you.

Dr. Marco Möller: Thank you, Swap.

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