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January 6, 2021

Why islands love electric vehicles?

Energy solutions

As islands are usually not connected to the energy grid in the mainland, they have been building up their own ways to handle energy management. Island states have been highly dependent on imported fossil fuels to cover their energy needs, yet in recent years many have become forerunners in clean and smart energy management.

The smaller the island, the more potential it has in becoming a self-sufficient, renewable energy forerunner

Some recurring characteristics have been identified in the outermost regions of the EU. Energy needs in these remote islands, including for instance Madeira, Canary Islands, and Martinique, are growing yearly alongside the GDP. Rising energy needs can be covered with intermittent sources of renewable energy – especially wind and solar power that are much more competitive in islands than on the mainland. Producing electricity by burning fossil fuels is remarkably more expensive in outermost regions due to complex transport chains.

More than half of the primary energy needs in outermost regions come from transport.

Renewable energy and electrification of transport can, however, create a sort of a positive feedback loop. A shift towards e-mobility requires enough renewable energy to be available for charging. At the same time, the vehicles help in creating a smart grid that balances fickle energy production and consumption most cost-effectively.

Why islands are considered as promising lands for electric vehicles?

Renewables offer island states independence and safety, but also new chances and challenges. The most successful stories are born when active citizens participate in creating an energy system that supports their needs.

By today, many island states have already become forerunners in cleaner energy management and are taking bold steps towards sustainability. Iceland, for instance, is leading the way towards a decarbonized and electrified future.

Another real-life clean energy hero is the Azores archipelago. The Azores Islands have over 200 000 inhabitants, and they have been largely dependent on imported fuels. In recent years, geothermal energy, hydropower, and wind power has been introduced, making renewable energy sources to cover 12% of the current primary energy supply. At peak moments, renewable energy covers 100% of the island’s electricity demand. However, renewable energy power plants cannot be adjusted in a similar way as fossil fuel burning facilities which is why also the Azores has been forced to consider other balancing methods for energy production.

A part of their energy strategy is to build energy storage systems and electrify transportation. Local energy storages and electric vehicles, in a way, meet the same need: they both balance the fluctuating production and allow energy to be stored for moments of maximum consumption.

EV’s as energy storage: sounds too sci-fi, huh? Actually, that is a reality in many islands around the world.

“Grid congestion causes significant bottlenecks in utilizing variable renewable production and electrifying our society. Smartly controlled EVs can offer a solution on multiple levels – from an individual parking site to an area level,” Ville Väre from Virta’s Energy Business Unit explains.

Caribbean islands leading the way towards the modern congestion management exploitation

One success story has taken place on Maui Island in HawaiiAs the local energy project actors realized that EVs stabilize the use of electricity, they set up more charging stations and created a center to manage EV charging. Thecenter is linked to wind power systems and the local grid, creating a control system that offers demand-response for the local grid.

We at Virta have been working with congestion management tools already for years. When a Caribbean island Martinique needed help in developing the island towards a greener and cleaner future in 2017, we were ready to step into the game. By that time, Martinique island had already invested in solar panels and electric vehicles, aiming to decarbonize the island. Our job was to bring these green features together and solve the problem of a too congested and weak grid.

Smart EV charging connects electric vehicles with the grid. Basically, EV’s offer solutions to grid congestion on multiple levels: from an individual parking site to an area level. When the car is plugged in, smart charging can be controlled from the cloud, automatically or manually. As charging can be controlled rapidly depending on the local energy consumption and current production levels, EV charging doesn’t bring an extra load to the grid but vice versa. 

”EVs are the perfect solution, since charging power can be controlled rapidly. This enables the installation of more charging stations in wider areas. Large renovations and investments in the critical grid infrastructure can be avoided or at least delayed,” Ville Väre describes.

On a very sunny day, cars on the Martinique island are plugged in and can be charging with full power. Charging power is set to not exceed the maximum power that the local grid can handle, making sure overloading is practically impossible. When electricity consumption rises or the sun goes hiding, the charging power is momentarily dropped down. The local production and consumption are constantly monitored and shaped to match with the local parameters. 

Two-way charging, aka V2G, and what it has to offer

Vehicle-to-grid technology takes the demand-response one step further, enabling power to be also pushed back to the grid from the can batteries. The technology is already in use for instance at Portuguese Island Porto, where at times of peak electricity demand, vehicles that are plugged in can release electricity back to the grid.

Even though most current V2G projects are in a test phase, the vehicle-to-grid boom is expected to spread in the upcoming years. We believe that congestion management and demand response solutions will become mainstream in the next five years.

Islands are the first ones to be widely implementing the technology as renewable energy sources need to be balanced most crucially, and the results and implications can be easily measured in the island environment. We might think that these remote locations are running behind, but when it comes to smart energy management, they are actually way ahead – already living a smarter and cleaner future.

Learn more about V2G – A technology that has the power to transform the whole energy system

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