Car Industry

Renault Group uses old batteries and new cars to power a 'smart island'

The small Atlantic island of Porto Santo is getting a big technological leg up, thanks to a pilot program by the Renault Group.

Renault

When I hear the phrase, "smart island," I start getting visions of Syndrome's island lair from Pixar's "The Incredibles." Thankfully, Renault's plans for Porto Santo, one of two islands in the Madeira archipelago, are slightly less nefarious.

Porto Santo is a small Portuguese island off the coast of Morocco that once served as the home of Christopher Columbus and his wife. Now it's mainly a tourist destination, which, along with the fact that consistent power generation due to isolation and geography is a challenge, makes it the ideal location for a three-phase pilot program by Renault that will offer residents an energy-efficient way of life.

A small fleet of 14 Renault Zoe EVs and six Kangoo electric vans will spearhead the pilot program on Porto Santo.

Renault

Renault's plan starts with electric vehicles. A small island like Porto Santo is an ideal use case for many of Renault's electric cars like the new Zoe and the Kangoo Z.E. 33, given the short distances between destinations and the relatively low speed of traffic. Renault will provide vehicles to 20 volunteers and work with the Madeira archipelago power authority (EEM Empresa de Electricitade da Madeira, SA) to install 40 public and private charging stations on the island.

Next, in late 2018 -- and this is where things start getting interesting -- the vehicles will be used to provide energy back to the grid during times of peak consumption, essentially serving as big, wheeled backup batteries that will stabilize the whole system.

The third and final -- and my personal favorite -- part of the program involves using second-life batteries from Renault electric cars to act as energy storage devices, much like the cars were doing in the second phase. These batteries would have otherwise been scrapped, but will now serve as stationary backups for the power grid on Porto Santo, storing energy produced during high wind and sun days by the solar and wind generators on the island and pumping it back into the grid as needed.

During times of high demand, the batteries in the Renault EVs can put energy back into the grid.

Renault

"We are delighted to be teaming up with EEM today to establish this unprecedented smart electric ecosystem which demonstrates to what extent the electric revolution is changing our everyday lives beyond just transport," said Eric Feunteun, electric vehicles and new business program director. "Our aim is to build a model that can be carried over to other islands, eco-districts and cities, while consistently striving to achieve large-scale rollout of electric mobility solutions that are affordable for all."

This is a really interesting solution to the problem of power and mobility in small, isolated areas. We'd love to see this trial succeed and be rolled out at scale to other municipalities around the world, particularly those in economically challenged areas where other larger-scale investment might not be financially attractive to companies.