Electric car paradise: how battery power can benefit the whole community

Edward Stephens with electric Renault Zoe on Porto Santo

Police on the tiny Portuguese island of Porto Santo have acquired a new tool in their fight against crime – courtesy of Renault. The boys in blue have been given one of a batch of electric cars sent to the island by the French car maker as part of a unique testing programme, writes Edward Stephens.

“They love it. It means they can sneak up quietly on anyone they are trying to catch,” says Robert Diogo, the grid manager of EEM, the electric company of Madeira, jokingly. He was serious about the police loving their new Renault Zoe though, although on this virtually crime-free island which lies 20 miles north-east of Madeira the car is more likely to be used for more mundane police work than catching villains.

The police Zoe is one of 20, plus a handful of electric-powered Kangoos, shipped to the eight by four mile island as part of a plan to create a smart electric ecosystem on the tiny speck of land in the Atlantic.

The local mayor has one, as does a representative of the government, but the rest are being used by residents who have volunteered to take part in the project. The scheme has been so successful that two prototype Zoes have now been equipped to put any excess energy they don’t need back into the local grid when demand for power is at its peak.

The secret equipment on these, however, means they are only driven by Diogo and another EEM employee. Externally they are identical to every other Zoe on the island but the dramatically reduced luggage area hides a wealth of newly developed hi-tech gadgetry. If more of the prototypes are eventually produced it will mean more power can be put back into Porto Santo’s electrical grid when demand is at its greatest.

Renault Zoe police car on Porto Santo

“In Europe each country’s energy systems are linked and they can help each other out if one experiences a big surge in demand,” Diogo said. “On a small island like this we don’t have that luxury so we are working with Renault to try to find other ways of putting energy back into our system by using the electric cars.”

The island currently gets 80 per cent of its energy from four diesel generators and 20 per cent from renewable sources such as solar and wind turbines but the aim is to get the figures to 50-50 by 2025, hence the overall project‘s name, Sustainable Porto Santo – Smart Fossil Free Island.

The lucky islanders taking part in the scheme get their electric cars for two months during which time their usage is closely monitored and recorded. Smart charging is used to ensure each car’s battery is only charged when supply exceeds the island’s demands, mainly when renewable energy production is at its peak, and a vehicle can normally only be charged to the level that its driver regularly uses.

Renault Zoe on Porto Santo with the island's wind turbines in the background

In any event, when the demand for electricity is running at a level which is higher than the amount which the grid can reasonably be expected to supply, the charging of the electric cars stops.

Renault has also supplied the island with a number of pre-used batteries, some from Madeira, which are no longer powerful enough to be used in electric vehicles but which are ideal for storing energy. These “second-life” batteries from Renault electric vehicles are being used to store the fluctuating supply of energy produced by Porto Santo’s solar and wind farms. 

Stored as soon as it’s produced, this energy is recovered by the grid as and when needed to meet local demand. Renault says that for the first time it’s demonstrating real life re-employing of second-life batteries in a local ecosystem.

beach on Porto Santo

And there is no shortage of these batteries as governments around the world continue to encourage drivers to buy electric vehicles (EVs) and motor manufacturers introduce more and more battery-powered cars. The batteries used by electric vehicles can normally be expected to last up to 10 years but as their power for driving the car diminishes they still have enough capacity to be used for other purposes, like storage of energy. Fnding alternative uses for them will help to reduce their initial cost therefore benefiting both consumers and utilities.

So the Sustainable Porto Santo – Smart Fossil Free Island project will not only help the islanders but could ultimately benefit drivers around the world by lowering the hefty four-figure cost of an EV battery pack.

And, referring to the Porto Santo project, Eric Feunteun, Renault’s electric vehicles and new business programme director, said: “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.” 

Porto Santo - the capital of Villa Baleira

During my trip to Porto Santo I tried one of the Zoes for a few days and had no problem when it came to re-charging its battery. In fact, despite being a small island there were more public charging points there than in an equivalent-sized area where I live in the West Midlands.

Better still, I never had to queue for one, although on such a small island one full charge lasts a long time.

Renault, meanwhile, says that it’s extending beyond its role as a vehicle manufacturer to become a player in the smart electric and energy ecosystems, with the help of its partners. 

Robert Diogo with his Renauilt Zoe

The company’s cars have obviously impressed the island’s residents because a number of them taking part in the Smart Fossil Free Island scheme who had handed back their trial vehicles have subsequently bought a Zoe for themselves – at a very competitive price, thanks to the local government.

And to thank them for their help, they now also get the electricity to charge their car batteries at a beneficial rate, courtesy of EEM. I bet that wouldn’t happen in the UK.

For tips and advice, visit our Advice section, or sign up to our newsletter here

To talk all things motoring with the Telegraph Cars team join the Telegraph Motoring Club Facebook group here

A-Z Car Finder

 

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting.