Renault Leads Scheme For Fossil Fuel Free Island

Leading car manufacturer drives the integration of EVs with renewables and off grid energy storage

Auto manufacturers might not have the best reputation when it comes to climate change, but their new focus upon electric vehicles (EVs) may soon change that. In a move which looks to the future of energy creation and storage, Renault has partnered with a utility company in Madeira, Portugal, to create a new energy ecosystem on the island of Porto Santo. This will unify EVs, renewable wind and solar energy, and smart charging systems in the hope of making Porto Santo self sufficient and – most importantly – fossil fuel free.

Charging towards green energy

Renault is working with local Portuguese energy company Empresa de Electricidade da Madeira (EEM), which generates and distributes power in the Madeira region, including the small island of Porto Santo. In the first part of its new one and a half year trial, the auto maker has given its ZOE and KANGOO Z.E. electric vehicles to 20 islanders for them to use in their everyday lives. Vehicles can be recharged at 40 newly installed charging points around the island, which employ ‘smart charging’ – a system designed to charge EVs at optimum times based on the usage and availability of renewable electricity.

Later on in the trial, individual EVs themselves will be linked to the energy grid, enabling the car batteries to feed electricity back during peak times. This highlights the important role that EVs can play in electricity networks as sources of storage – a quality that is sure to be integrated into the grids of the future. In the third and final stage of the Porto Santo trial, Renault will make use of ‘second life’ – or repurposed EV batteries – to provide storage for solar and wind electricity.

Smart electric ecosystem

Renault and EEM are calling this model a ‘smart electric ecosystem’ – a term which recognises their integrated and holistic approach to renewables, EVs and electricity storage. Data collected from the Porto Santo trial will be invaluable to the creation of similar projects elsewhere, with the companies aiming to build a model that will be applicable to other eco conscious cities and islands.

In fact, this scheme is just one of several to have been unrolled across island communities around the world in the past few years. The Smart Energy Islands project, for example, led by Hitachi and supported by the European Regional Development Fund, aims to provide solutions to energy provision on the Isles of Scilly. To date, the programme has seen the installation of solar panels on local houses, and the development of an Internet of Things platform to enable the more efficient use of locally produced renewable energy.

This kind of venture demonstrates the ideal environment offered by islands for experimenting with new energy solutions. The isolation of island communities means that energy self sufficiency is seen as an important concern. What’s more, a regard for nature and relatively low numbers of inhabitants can generate increased motivation for clean energy solutions.

The car is king

Interestingly, the EV as grid storage solution proposed in the Renault Porto Santo trial could help to defend the very existence of the car as a means of transportation. Whilst automobiles have dominated our towns and cities for more than 100 years, some have questioned their continued existence in the face of alternative transport options and changing living habits. If cities are redesigned around the needs of pedestrians, public transport services vastly improved, and the commuter age consigned to a relic of the past, then we might see our attachment to the car disappear.

However, if the EV movement can secure fabled zero emissions status across the entire life cycle of the vehicle, from manufacture, everyday use and post life use, then it seems likely that our preference for cars will remain untouched as users will be purged of the guilt of pollution. Future car owners might not be driving their vehicle themselves, but they could achieve very important status in the electricity network. Charging EVs from the grid at off peak times and using them to charge the grid at peak times? Now that’s a renewables revolution.

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