“Smart charging: when the mobility and energy sectors meet”

Published by on 07.04.2019 - min

Smart charging not only enables electric car drivers to save money, but it also plays a role in energy transition by helping to balance out the power grid. Yasmine Assef, Deputy Program Director of New Energy Business, explains.

You’re developing the ZOE smart charging device. How does it work?

First, let me tell you that smart charging is hardly science fiction; it is here today. Some of our customers are already using it: with the Z.E. Smart Charge app accessible to all ZOE users in the Netherlands, and via a specific application which gives access to the fleet of ZOE for carsharing use in Porto Santo. This island in the Madera archipelago currently has a fleet of 20 electric vehicles. Over 220 users have been enjoying them since the service was launched at the start of 2018. The goal is to grow to 100 electric vehicles in circulation on this territory by 2020, which is 10% of the island’s total number of vehicles.

Smart charging is recharging your electric vehicle battery at the right time thanks to your car’s connectivity. This means triggering a charge cycle to avoid stress on the electricity grid, to promote the use of renewable energies and to enable everyone to better use their own solar production. In other words, charging becomes flexible and involves the electric car in balancing supply and demand on the electricity grid.

Why is it important for the power grid to be balanced? And what’s in it for the driver?

The energy sector is facing two trends: on the one hand, an increase in electricity demand with the rise of electric transport, and on the other hand, the development of renewable, intermittent, scattered energies, which are much more difficult to control than conventional channels (nuclear, hydraulic or gas). As a result, managers of electric grids are faced with a higher demand and more fluctuating electricity production. However, a real-time balance between consumption and production is essential to keep the power grid functional. This means a constant frequency of 50 Hz.

In this context, the arrival of electric vehicles on the market should not be seen as an added constraint, but as an opportunity! This is because adapting an electric vehicle’s consumption habits is relatively simple. When the car is plugged in long enough, it transitions into smart charging mode.

Smart charging also allows the driver to reduce the cost of using their electric vehicle. In practice, it saves drivers from having to switch subscriptions when electricity needs increase, or from paying too much for electricity. It can even get drivers paid for having helped rebalance the grid.

What is Renault’s role in the field of energy?

Yasmine Assef
Yasmine Assef, Deputy Program Director of New Energy Business.

Multiply the current 40 kWh stored by a ZOE battery via a fleet of several thousand electric vehicles: you obtain a significant energy bank that will help stabilise the grid and assimilate renewable energies.

Charging is not only smart, it is also reversible. With bi-directional charging, the car is an integral part of the power grid. It can store renewable energies surpluses, and send it back into the grid when consumers need it most. The vehicle-to-grid (V2G) principle is key to rolling out electric vehicles on a large scale and at reduced costs.
A total of four ZOE prototypes with this technology onboard have been in circulation in Utrecht, the Netherlands and in Portugal, since the start of 2019. ZOEs equipped with V2G technology can transform direct current (DC) from the battery into alternating current (AC) to be used by the grid.

What are the challenges that need to be met in order to boost the interaction between the electric vehicle and the power grid?

Connectivity is the first step. With our smart charge smartphone apps, we have chosen to make our cars connected, without having to depend on the station connection.

But besides the technical aspects, the bigger challenge lies in how we work. At Renault, we don’t hesitate to take off our car manufacturer hats, because the stakes behind the electric vehicle pertain to multiple areas: mobility, energy, data, locality, accommodation, etc. Innovation will have to go through collaboration.

We bring different stakeholders together even when they are not used to working together. This includes large companies as well as startups, network providers, electricity suppliers, data specialists, and of course public decision-makers, on different scales. For example, we are currently working on the issues behind interoperability and network integration, and we’re participating in the discussions around next-generation regulations. The electric vehicle and smart charging, especially reversible, must find their place in the energy market!

A good relationship between all of the value chain’s players is paramount, and the interest of the customer must be kept at the centre of all discussions. In short, the adventure is only just beginning.  

When it comes to bringing the energy and automotive fields together, we could say your background is a case in point, can’t we?

Yes indeed! Since earning my doctorate in electrical engineering, I’ve spent most of my career in the energy sector. I’ve managed major infrastructure projects as well as power grids. My role was thus readily found when I came here to Renault.

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