February 7th 2020

Innovation makes charging stations ‘social’ and prevents power outages

With a technical adjustment, existing charging stations for electric cars can be made ‘social’. In the event of imminent local overloading of the power grid, they receive a signal and temporarily demand less or no power for charging cars. This will prevent an excessive power demand leading to power outages. Knowledge and innovation Centre ElaadNL in Arnhem developed two different modules that can achieve this which were revealed on February 4th by Ingrid Thijssen (CEO Alliander) and Henk Visser (director of Enpuls). Subsequently, a debate took place about the urgency and desirability of these innovations.

Social module response to rapid EV growth

The number of electric cars is growing spectacularly, and this is just the beginning. As a result, the demand for power on the existing grid will also increase rapidly, especially in places where there are many charging cars.

Because a modern electric car has a peak power demand that equals that of ten households, the numbers add up very quickly. When for instance ten cars start charging at the same time in a street, there are suddenly one hundred extra “households” active on the power grid. Depending on the local situation, overloading of the network can occur which can possibly cause a power failure. That is why the ElaadNL lab has designed a technical facility that makes it possible to intervene: the Social Module for charging points. The demonstration versions (Proof of Concepts) of the two variants will be presented on  February 4th.

Two techniques: centrally or decentralized

The ElaadNL lab has developed two possible solutions into demonstration versions. The first one works peer-to-peer, whereby the charging station uses a local mobile network – a “Long range, low power” (LoRa) wireless connection – to give a signal to temporarily charge slower or to stop charging. This signal comes from the grid transformer in the neighbourhood that measures the supply and demand of power on the local grid. Because all charge points in the neighbourhood reduce the charging speed, the power demand is reduced, and overloading is prevented. The cars are loaded faster again as soon as this is possible without causing an overload.

In the second Proof of Concept, communication works centrally. In that case, a signal is given from the grid transformer, but that signal goes to the Cloud and it controls the charging stations in the relevant neighbourhood by using the Smart Meter that is already integrated in the charging station.

In both cases the LED lights of the charging station that are normally blue during charging will turn purple when the Social Module is active.

Emergency provision supplementary to regular Smart Charging

The Netherlands is a leading country regarding research and testing of Smart Charging, proactively charging of electric cars with efficient use of sustainable energy. All kinds of variants are tested here on a large and smaller scales. Controlled charging with the Social Modules is a form of Smart Charging, but the unique thing about this technique is that it’s not used every day but only in emergencies. The Social Modules therefore act as a safety net in addition to regular applications of Smart Charging.

Dutch National Agenda for Charging Infrastructure (NAL)

After the presentation of the two techniques , a debate will commenced about the desirability of this development. In addition to being technically possible, as a society we must also determine who may use which form of control when charging electric cars. A panel of experts will discuss this question with each other and with the audience. This debate will be further elaborated in the context of the National Agenda for Charging Infrastructure (NAL).

Onoph Caron, director of ElaadNL: “Now that we have demonstrated at ElaadNL that there are various technical options for making charging points ‘social’, the next step is to debate this with each other. Which variant works best, centrally or peer-to-peer? But also: how do we want to arrange this as a society? I expect that when it gets really exciting, most people would prefer that the grid operator can control the charging of cars rather than having power outages more often. But formally nothing has been arranged for that. We are very curious about the response from the audience! “