Making EV charging part of the smart home – Charged EVs

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Q&A with Leviton’s Andrew Taddoni.

The “house of the future” is a perennial American theme—from the Homes of Tomorrow Exhibition at the 1933 World’s Fair to The Jetsons, futurists have predicted a proliferation of labor-saving devices and home entertainment options. Nowadays, the focus is increasingly on the energy that these nifty gadgets require. The home of the future that we envision today is an intelligent home, and much of the intelligence has to do with optimizing energy consumption—shifting demand to times when energy is cheaper and/or cleaner.

A smart home can manage energy consumption across one or more EV chargers, possibly solar panels and/or battery storage, and thirsty appliances such as climate control systems and refrigerators. 

Leviton is perhaps best known to consumers for its stylish light switches and dimmers, but the 118-year-old company makes a vast array of electrical equipment, and it has long been interested in integrated “whole-home” solutions. Leviton has also been in the EVSE space for a little over 12 years, and has produced chargers for a couple of major auto manufacturers, so it’s no surprise that the company is a leading proponent of the EV-enabled smart home.

Charged spoke with Andrew Taddoni, Leviton’s Director of Business Development and Product Management for EVSE.

Charged: It looks like Leviton is concentrating on Level 2 chargers at the moment.

Andrew Taddoni: We are heavily focused on Level 2, and the reason is that it’s really within Leviton’s sweet spot of the contractors and customers that we deal with globally, and Level 2 is the most common charging level in the North American market. Leviton is well known and respected in the home market—everyone knows our switches. In the US alone, it’s estimated that over 75% of homes have at least one Leviton device. People know the Leviton name—they see us in the Home Depots and the Amazons of the world.

In the US alone, it’s estimated that over 75% of homes have at least one Leviton device. 

And then we have relationships with a lot of electrical contractors that serve both residential and commercial public use settings—they’re doing installs in commercial buildings, garages, parking lots, hospitality and healthcare. 

Charged: Are you equally focused on the residential, commercial and public charging markets?

Andrew Taddoni: On the residential side, we have a full offering that services the single-family home as well as multiple dwelling units and communities. Our EV Series Smart Home Charger is compatible with the My Leviton app, allowing for a whole-home smart ecosystem solution. A big goal for us is to be the number-one player in the residential charging world. This goes hand-in-hand with what we do in residential settings already. A lot of people know us, a lot of contractors know us, and this idea of building on smart technology and systems that are inside your home is becoming more and more popular. Our customers don’t just want switches anymore. They want these switches to have schedules and they want to control them. They don’t just want an EV charger—they want a charger that they can control and that can send data to their smartphones in real time.

We are also very focused on the commercial market. We service a lot of hospitals—they have a lot of people coming to them that need chargers. In the hospitality world, the Level 2 play is more about convenience: “We have charging at our establishment. Come in, eat, shop, charge for a couple hours on us.” Again, because we’re already in there, we’re already talking to these contractors and customers. That specific solution is our new EV Series Pro, which is a public charging solution that allows the site host to collect analytics and collect revenue if desired. For that we have a partnership with AmpUp, an EV charging management company, which takes care of the software side of things.

In the hospitality world, the Level 2 play is more about convenience: “We have charging at our establishment. Come in, eat, shop, charge for a couple hours on us.”

The focus is on two situations: somebody says, “I want the ability to collect analytics, have data at my fingertips and understand who’s charging, when they’re charging, and the energy usage.” That’s one piece of the pie. The other big piece is revenue collecting: “I want to be able to bill at the charger, and make a certain amount of money every time people charge.” Our EV Series Pro enables any commercial public use property to know what’s going on at the site, and allows the site host to control all of those settings. 

The other big market that the EV Series Pro plays a role in, and that’s really starting to take off, is the fleet market. Big distributors are starting to get EVs, and they need the ability to charge on-site. Amazon is the best example—they have a partnership with Rivian where they’re using electric trucks for deliveries. You have a ton of distributors that want to do the same thing, so that’s another big focus for us.

Charged: As far as sales channels, automakers are partnering with equipment manufacturers like yourself. They want to sell a charger with the car. There are also installers that are buying hardware from various manufacturers. Then I guess there’s a certain amount of selling directly to fleets and end users. Through which of those sales channels are you selling most of your hardware?

Andrew Taddoni: I would say it’s a mix, based on the application. On the residential side, Amazon and Home Depot are big avenues for us. There are a lot of homeowners that are buying these chargers themselves from these retailers. 

The automakers, a lot of them only offer Level 1 chargers, and leave the homeowner to do their research, buy a Level 2 unit themselves, and then hire an electrician to come and install it. So that’s a big focus for us, not just through retail stores and online, but also, we have a lot of electrical contractors that are getting calls to do installations. That’s a big, big piece of the market.

I went through the process of buying a plug-in hybrid myself, and aside from startups like Lucid and Rivian, and Tesla of course, I don’t feel that they are focused on actually selling the charger. I think they’re more focused on selling the cars. Some are doing a better job than others, but a lot of customers need education, not just on the product side, but on the installation side in their homes, which we’re trying to give at Leviton. 

We’re also spending a lot of time with third-party companies that are selling turnkey solutions. I think we need to strategically work with everyone right now, because the opportunities are coming from all different areas and directions. 

Charged: At the other end of the spectrum from the EV newbie who just wants to know how to plug it in, what do you have for the nerds who want to keep track of how much energy they’re using and how much it costs?

Andrew Taddoni: With our whole-home smart solution connected via the My Leviton app, we offer the Leviton Load Center, which includes a smart panel; the core of smart devices and switches controlled by WiFi; and now our EV Series Smart Home. With the Leviton Load Center, there are smart breakers that will tie right to our charger, and every time you plug in, it will tell you your kilowatt-per-hour usage. This is going to continue to evolve over time, but I have the My Leviton ecosystem, and I can see in real time every day what my energy usage is per charge. 

I have a plug-in hybrid, so I only have 45 miles of true electric driving, but I plugged in every single day at home for a month, to understand what my electrical bill would increase by, and it was 32 bucks. I knew the exact number down to the penny. 

Charged: Your smart panel, does that require replacing the whole panel, or can it be retrofitted to the existing panel?

Andrew Taddoni: Right now, it involves replacing the whole panel. It’s a whole new system, but easier to install. Once the Leviton Load Center is installed, homeowners can snap smart breakers in and out, rather than wiring each breaker. It is a very, very cool system, but it’s an investment.

What we’re seeing more often than not is two scenarios. The customer installs a charger in a residential setting, realizes there’s not enough room in the panel, and the contractor says, you can either upgrade your current panel or put in a sub-panel, but you’re spending a lot more money. Some of the contractors do know about devices that allow you to do some sort of load management or load shedding in the home, which is becoming more and more popular. Leviton is looking into adding these types of products to our offering.

Charged: How much does the smart panel cost?

Andrew Taddoni: It depends. If you go with the panel itself, regular non-networked, it’s comparable to all the big names that are out there. If you put a level of smartness in it, it depends how many breakers you want to make smart.

Smart switches can be expensive compared to standard lighting controls, but as I always tell people, every single switch in their homes does not need to be smart. You probably have 10% of the switches or less in your home that actually need to be connected. It’s the same situation with the panel. You really want certain loads to be monitored—your EV charger, your refrigerator, your heating system, stuff like that. Maybe four or five of the breakers, so it’s not a huge expense. The bigger piece is the electrical contractor’s charge to install a new panel—that can get pricey. 

Leviton’s new 50 A heavy-duty EV charging receptacle

Charged: So, if someone’s going to have to install a new panel anyway, they might not be spending much more to go with a smart panel.

Andrew Taddoni: Correct. As long as you do it right. A couple of those breakers, you make smart. For the rest of them, we have non-networked breakers that are in line with everyone else’s, which can be switched as needed.

Charged: You make a 50-amp heavy-duty receptacle that appears to be specifically designed for an EV charger—it’s even got a little picture of an EV on it. Now, the average homeowner probably doesn’t see any difference from one receptacle to another, but I’ve been told by EVSE installers that the cheap receptacles at the big-box stores aren’t suitable for the sustained high power levels and the frequent plugging and unplugging of a portable EV charger.

Andrew Taddoni: The residential team at Leviton spent a lot of time redesigning the new 14-50 NEMA receptacle for the reasons that you just said.

Say somebody has had a receptacle in their garage for a long time and they come home with a plug-in charger, and say, “Let me just plug it in and I’m good to go.” But they don’t know who installed that receptacle, they don’t know what it’s rated for. And very few of them, other than our new receptacle, are rated to pull power for four to six hours or more. If I start my dryer, in 50 minutes it’s done and I’m not going to do it again for another few days. But charging an EV might mean pulling current for four to six hours every day. Wouldn’t you want a product that has been tested? The torque requirements are way more robust. Everything on the inside of that product is built to survive regular charging four to six hours at a time or more to ensure that there are no issues from a safety standpoint.

Very few of them, other than our new receptacle, are rated to pull power for four to six hours or more. If I start my dryer, in 50 minutes it’s done and I’m not going to do it again for another few days. But charging an EV might mean pulling current for four to six hours every day.

Leviton recently launched a 40-amp plug-in version of our EV Series Smart Home charger as well, so this and the receptacle bundle nicely together. If you prefer a hard-wired unit, we have 32-amp, 48-amp, and even 80-amp models for the home. The homeowner can choose what’s most convenient for them.

Charged: It seems like every day I read about a new company getting into the game, some of them startups that make nothing but EV chargers. You’re at the other end of the spectrum—you make loads of different electronic devices. Does that give you a competitive advantage over these other companies?

Andrew Taddoni: Yeah, I think it gives us a huge advantage. If there’s a slowdown in the overall market, some of these startups, are they going to face challenges? Customers need the right service and support. Leviton has been doing it for 118 years, and we don’t only rely on our EV charger sales. We have a whole infrastructure of products that supports the overall company.

Here’s what we’re hearing from site hosts and electrical contractors: “I want to come to Leviton because I’ve dealt with you in the past and I know the name.” It’s been a really strong message for us to say: “Yes, we will be here to support you. We’re not going anywhere in the EV charging world—we’re continuing to invest in it.” 

Also, we’ve been in the manufacturing world for quite some time, so we understand the dos and don’ts, the pressure points, etc. We have an army of people, not just on the product side, but design manufacturers, a full marketing team, a very large customer service team, and a tech team that will take care of the products that are installed.

Charged: Do you have some other new products coming out that you’d like to tell us about?

Andrew Taddoni: Now that Tesla’s NACS connector is becoming more common, we’re going to be in this world of adapters for a little bit, so we have an NACS adapter that will easily pop right onto the front of our J1772 connectors, and it will make sure that our chargers can charge any of the Tesla models, or any future cars that are going to require a NACS port. It’s going to take some time for automotive manufacturers to flush through their inventory and put this new NACS port on there, but it is something that’s going to happen, and we have an easy, convenient solution. 

And then we’re coming out with a dual-port unit for the commercial, public use customer. We have a single-port charger today—that’s our EV Series Pro with AmpUp software. Our dual-port 48-amp model allows multiple cars to charge at the same time if you don’t want to install two on the same pedestal. We’re giving options to people. “What is your situation? What would you like to do? We’ll have a solution for you.” 

This article first appeared in Issue 67: January-March 2024 – Subscribe now.



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