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Porto Santo: energy autonomy via electric vehicles

Published by on 01.20.2021 - 3 min

Started in 2017, the Smart Fossil Free Island project uses the electric vehicle and its technologies to help make Porto Santo an autonomous island — in terms of its energy supply — exploiting only renewable energy sources. Here’s the outcome so far, three years after its launch.

Porto Santo: zero-emissions target

Porto Santo is a 42 kilometer-square island belonging to the Madeira archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa. Even though the island is windswept and gets a lot of sunshine, its energy breakdown is 85% from fossil fuels and only 15% from renewable energy sources. At the same time, the authorities aim to make for an island with zero emissions and able to support its own energy needs. The challenge is to successfully store energy from the sporadic production of wind and solar power installations. The aim is to reach 90-100% of the island’s energy breakdown, allowing for mass electrification. To reach their objective, in 2017 the regional government, Madeira’s electricity company (EEM) and Groupe Renault joined forces. Project codename: Smart Fossil-Free Island.

Porto Santo Renault Zoe

A smart ecosystem centered around the electric vehicle

Energy storage was evidently a crucial part of the setup, and is how the electric vehicle came to be at the center of a smart ecosystem that combines smart charging, two-way charging or reversible charging and repurposed batteries. When it went live, the Smart Fossil-Free Island comprised 14 Renault ZOE and six Kangoo Z.E. cars, 40 charging points on the island and two storage units running on Kangoo Z.E. and ZOE batteries that had reached the end of their useful lives as automotive components. Now repurposed as stationary storage units in Porto Santo, they provide backup to the power grid. With smart charging, the charging of the vehicle adapts to the available renewable energy sources and demand. So the power grid and vehicle communicate with each other in order to help balance out supply and demand, production and consumption.

Two-way charging goes even further, making it possible to feed power back into the power grid; for example when there is high demand. When connected to the network, the electric vehicle battery serves as a storage unit for the energy produced by the island’s wind turbines and solar farms, and then draws on it when the time is right. This is the idea behind vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. “With V2G, the electric vehicle absorbs energy and supplies it back out. So it takes on two jobs: transporting people or goods from A to B and acting as a storage unit that’s able to supply power to the grid when needed. Rather than being nothing more than an appliance that uses energy, the electric vehicle becomes a service provider,” says Yasmine Assef, Director of the Energy and Charging infrastructures program at Groupe Renault. Two ZOE cars equipped with this technology have been on the island’s roads since March 2019.

The final piece of the puzzle: repurposed batteries, used together as stationary energy storage systems, add to the vehicles’ storage capacities. It’s a new use for batteries after their useful life as automotive components that doubles their life cycle to 20 years.

The Porto Santo experiment works. It’s not just a concept, but a model that can be rolled out in smart cities.
Yasmine Assef Director of the Energy and Charging Infrastructures program at Groupe Renault.

porto santo batteries

An operational model that can be applied everywhere

“The first results show that this setup has raised the percentage of renewable energy use to 16.4% during vehicle charging and that the island’s emissions have already dropped by 15%,” says Thomas Raffeiner, founder and CEO of The Mobility House, technology suppliers for the project. The number of electric vehicles involved in the project on the island has doubled, now totaling 40. The islanders are embracing electromobility and getting vehicles themselves. The WWF, partner of Groupe Renault, conducted a 2019 study that was able to conclude that, with this smart ecosystem, all-electric mobility and an energy breakdown approaching 100% renewable energy, the island’s carbon footprint could be slashed by 90% by 2030.

For Yasmine Assef, the experiment in Porto Santo shows above all that “[it] works, it’s not just a concept but a model that can be rolled out on other islands and also in smart cities or districts — a model that can be applied in real life.” According to Assef, the project is also a demonstration of Groupe Renault’s vision when it comes to the role of electromobility. “Renault is convinced that electromobility is an essential driving force behind the energy transition. It was important for us to launch this first smart island initiative to show what we believe in.”


Copyrights : Paulo Calisto (Renault Portugal), Renault