• Réunion tackles energy challenge with solar-charged electric vehicles

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Réunion Island, an overseas French department in the Indian Ocean, is making a name for itself as a real-world testing ground to take electric vehicles from niche to mainstream, territory-wide. Located about 200 km southwest of tourism hotspot Mauritius, Réunion has a national park listed on UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The island is similar in size to Luxembourg and has a population of over 800,000.

Like the rest of the world, the island is facing climate change and sustainable energy challenges. Taking a total-solution approach involving a comprehensive series of green energy programs, Réunion has given itself an ambitious target of attaining energy autonomy where reducing the public’s dependency on internal combustion engine vehicles is a priority.

Teaming up for success
To implement island-wide clean electric transport from scratch, Réunion has formed a consortium of key stakeholders under a project named VERT (Electric Vehicle for a Technology-driven Réunion). In January 2010, Nicolas Sarkozy, the then French President, attended the launch of VERT to witness the signing of the letter of intent for the trial of 50 electric cars powered by solar energy.

Leading the consortium is car manufacturer Renault, which also provides the electric vehicles (EV). Sunzil, a major regional player in installation and operation of photovoltaic (PV) systems, is responsible for designing and fitting out the charging sites. Public utility EDF maintains on-going monitoring of the impact of EV charging on the overall energy network. TOTAL service stations serve as backup charging facilitiesfor drivers on longer routes. Schneider Electric is on location to supply EVlinkTM charging terminals and energy management software, and to actively participate in the commissioning, maintenance, and evaluation of charging networks.

“Schneider Electric has a full product range for our innovative solutions. When elements require customization, Schneider Electric fulfills the redesign,” said Yannick Melle, CEO of Sunzil Indian Ocean.

EVlink charging solutions adapt to deliver results
A key imperative of VERT is that the charging of EVs should not overstrain the island’s main electricity grid. Harnessing the energy of the sun is Réunion’s forte. Leveraging on the local solar energy know-how and collaborating with the consortium members, Schneider Electric contributed its expertise to building an autonomous solar-powered charging infrastructure where the needed power is generated at the charging points.

By December 2011, the first custom EVlink system specific to Réunion’s requirements was successfully installed at the EDF head office. The floor-standing EVlink terminals are connected to batteries charged by on-site PV panels. Hybrid PV inverters are installed for access to EDF’s central grid as backup for unforeseen situations only.

Another of VERT’s measures of success is the satisfaction level of EV users. Whether for the residential EV owner or a business operating a fleet, the experience of using an EV must be similar to that of driving combustion-engine motors in terms of vehicle readiness, and the safety, reliability, and convenience of “filling up.” For fleet managers, EVlink solutions ensure that the vehicles are always ready to go at optimized cost by allowing charging to be automated based on schedules, priority, or distances. A residential EV owner will have the convenience and cost savings of slow-charging their cars overnight at home using a wall-mounted EVlink Residential charger. All drivers can embark on longer journeys with confidence since they can charge up at selected TOTAL service stations spread across the territory at logical distances from one another.

Setting the benchmark
In tandem with making EV technology accessible to the general public, the project is also advancing the development of smart grids. As part of the complete EVlink solution, intelligent software consolidates data on consumers’ charging patterns, thus paving the way for the consortium members to work together to establish industry best practices for public charging infrastructures. This includes recommendations to determine the optimal ratio of charging stations to EVs, in order to minimize capital and operational costs while maximizing return on investment.

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