Finland aims to have 250,000 electric cars on its streets by 2030. However, reaching this goal will not be possible without a network of charging stations with sufficient coverage. The second problem is that the charging systems used by different service providers are not always convenient to use, forcing drivers to make separate contracts with each of them.

To solve these problems, Forum Virium’s and Aalto University’s EU-funded bIoTope project created a smart charging and parking solution for electric cars, which the German car manufacturer BMW and the Finnish company Parkkisähkö are now piloting in Helsinki and Espoo. The solution is based on open standards, allowing companies and cities to utilise it freely. The solution allows drivers to charge their electric cars with a single application at the charging stations of all service providers.

With its i3 electric car, BMW is testing Parkkisähkö’s charging solution, which allows traditional block heater poles to be easily and affordably converted into electric car charging stations with a quick coupling. The block heater poles and electric car find each other with the help of the application developed by the bIoTope project. The application relays information about available parking spaces and charging stations to BMW’s on-board computer and the screen on the dashboard, from where the user can initiate charging.

“The solution saves time, energy and drivers’ nerves. With the help of the IoT-based charging ecosystem created by the bIoTope project, electric car drivers can easily find parking spaces and charging stations. The application allows drivers to use all charging stations, regardless of manufacturer,” says Natalia Reen, Forum Virium’s project manager in the bIoTope project.

Over a million block heater poles ready to convert into charging stations

Jiri Räsänen, managing director of Parkkisähkö, says that there are over a million block heater poles in Finland that could be converted into electric car charging stations. In other words, creating a charging network with national coverage might be surprisingly easy.

The service was co-created by Forum Virium, Aalto University, Parkkisähkö, ControlThings, Enervent and BMW. There are currently 1,900 electric cars and 9,500 chargeable hybrids driving on Finnish roads. In Parkkisähkö’s experience, the numbers of electric cars always rises in areas where the charging station network is expanded.

A prime example of collaborative smart city development

The City of Helsinki’s Deputy Mayor for Urban Environment Anni Sinnemäki, who is also in charge of the City’s traffic, says that the bIoTope project is a good example of how Helsinki is being made into the most functional smart city in the world in collaboration with companies, the scientific community and residents.

“From the perspective of the City, it is especially important to ensure that cities and residents do not become overly dependent on specific device and service providers. Open development platforms, such as the bIoTope service, that all companies can connect their solutions to are key. They can be used to create new smart services in an efficient manner, thus saving tax-payer money,” says Sinnemäki.

The City of Helsinki’s innovation unit Forum Virium’s and Aalto University’s bIoTope project will continue up to the end of May 2019. The project will create an open ecosystem for IoT solutions. In Helsinki, the project is focusing on developing, standardising and creating business models for smart electric car charging infrastructure. The project is being carried out in 10 different countries. Examples include the testing of safe school commutes in Lyon, a water taxi in Brussels and waste management solutions in Saint Petersburg. The project’s total budget is over EUR 9 million and it is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 framework programme.