Why EVs and mobility services are driving the need for industrial edge data centres

Paolo Colombo, Go To Market director for Machine Builder and System Integrators at Schneider Electric on trends driving manufacturers to invest in industrial edge data centres

I recently wrote about how a couple of trends in the automotive industry are driving the need for manufacturers to invest in industrial edge data centres.

But an additional pair of trends promises to bring additional players into the equation, namely infrastructure providers, including local and state governments and utilities.

The first trend is the electrification of cars, with the International Energy Agency predicting that about 125 million electric cars will be on the roads globally by 2030. The second is the trend towards automobiles-as-a-service, which is taking shape in a variety of forms.

EVs require electric infrastructure – and data

The trend toward electric vehicle (EV) ownership is being spurred by policies that encourage drivers, fleets and municipalities to purchase clean-running cars, according to CNBC. It appears to be working. In 2017, the IEA estimated 3.1m EVs were in use. If the 125m number holds up, that will represent a growth rate of more than 300% per year through 2030.

Compounding the issue, these vehicles will increasingly be autonomous. That means we not only need a concerted effort to build the infrastructure to support vehicle charging, but also the wireless networks required to enable autonomous vehicles to assess their location and communicate with surrounding vehicles.

I covered the sort of infrastructure required for autonomous vehicles in my previous post; it basically amounts to fast, reliable wireless networks, along with a series of edge data centres to process the data the cars generate and consume. Cities such as Hamburg in Germany are now constructing digital test beds, in part to lure automakers to test their autonomous vehicles. EVs require their own set of infrastructures, notably charging stations of various sorts, including quick-charge stations akin to traditional petrol stations, and long-term charging such as at office buildings.

Beyond electricity, these stations are also likely to both consume and generate plenty of data. For starters, consider that truly autonomous EVs must also be able to recharge themselves, a point made by Alex Marcham and Matt Trifiro in a blog post on the State of the Edge website: “When faced with the choice of which charging station to use, [the vehicle] must be able to know which station is available, whether there is spare electrical capacity, whether the station is reserved, the cost of the fuel, and other data.”

Additionally, as my colleague Christel Galbrun-Noel recently pointed out, in the near future EVs could be configured to participate in utility grid demand management plans. “For example, EV owners could buy electrical power when grid prices are low, and then sell their excess stored energy to the grid when prices are high – a concept that is referred to as vehicle-to-grid (V2G).”

Automobile-as-a-service takes many forms

All of these efforts will contribute to the need for edge data centres. The same goes for the trend towards automobile-as-a-service offerings. These are taking many forms, often with auto manufacturers playing a big role. Some are more financial in nature, such as the Toyota deal offering flexible leasing options to Uber drivers. But Toyota is also said to be working on an app to help Uber drivers and a line of Toyota and Lexus fleet vehicles specifically for Uber drivers.

That deal came not long after GM announced it was investing $500m in Uber’s prime competitor, Lyft. GM also says it has plans to develop an on-demand network of self-driving cars with Lyft, Reuters reports. GM last year announced the launch of a peer-to-peer rental programme through which GM owners can list their personal vehicles to rent, through a GM-owned car-sharing platform.

In February, BMW and Daimler unveiled their own ride-hailing and mobility services platform designed to compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft. Their joint venture will also offer carpooling, parking, trip planning and charging services for electric cars in big cities, according to Deutsche Welle (DW).

Industrial edge helps keep data flowing

All of these services require speedy connections to support the constant, real-time data transfers required to keep tabs on available cars and relay the information to users, typically via smartphone apps. Here again, it will require industrial edge data centres to process all that data without introducing the latency involved in sending it to a cloud-based data centre.

Such data centres come in various shapes and sizes. Many will be micro data centres – small, self-enclosed facilities that can be installed just about anywhere, including outdoors. Others may be somewhat larger, perhaps acting as more of a regional data centre.

The good news is there are modular, prefabricated data centre solutions that fit a variety of these needs, making it easy to roll out reliable data centre capacity quickly – to virtually anywhere.

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