Porto Santo, or how to successfully create an energy-autonomous “smart island” that’s on track for its energy transition

Many battles remain to be won to introduce the transportation of tomorrow and successfully achieve an ecological transition.

Renault Group’s latest victory on a small Portuguese island shows how electric vehicles and second-life batteries can form a smart energy management system in a given geographic region. But this amazing journey doesn’t stop at the borders of Portugal – it will inspire the conversion of other places into “smart territories” with shared transportation and energy autonomy.

Read on to learn about the five ingredients in the success of this mission that will also encourage other places to adopt the concept.

ingredient 1: choose your region wisely and set ambitious goals

Porto Santo is a 42 sq. km island near Madera, another Portuguese possession. This isolated island is buffeted by wind and receives a good deal of sunlight. Prior to 2017, it imported massive amounts of fossil fuels. Renewable energy (wind and solar) accounted for 15% of the energy mix but suffered from an intermittent production. Much work therefore needed to be done on this beautiful small island.

In 2017, the Smart Fossil Free Island project announced its goal of making Porto Santo the first “smart island” that is completely autonomous in terms of energy. The island was the perfect location for this.

ingredient 2team up with allies and acquire the right tools

A project of this type is hard to do on your own. Working as a team often yields benefits, but in this case it was the key to success. In 2018, the regional government and the local energy supplier Empresa de Electricidade da Madeira asked Renault Group for assistance in finding an innovative transportation solution. The team was formed, and the project was launched!

Electric cars are central to this system: 20 electric vehicles (14 Renault ZOEs and 6 Renault Kangoo Z.E.s) were made available for day-to-day use, supported by 40 recharging stations distributed across the island.

ingredient 3apply a number of innovations (and harness their complementarity)

The project involves leveraging three key new technologies designed to optimize energy management.

First, smart charging, in which car batteries are recharged according to the state of the grid and the available renewable electricity. Recharging is maximised during peak renewable energy production, but reduced when electricity demand exceeds supply.

Secondly, vehicule-to-grid (V2G), a principle according to which the batteries of electric vehicles can themselves provide additional electricity when grid consumption peaks require it. Finally, stationary energy storage is based on batteries that have been retired from use in electric cars and serve to store solar and wind energy that is produced on the island.

In this way, the batteries get a “second life”, doubling their potential lifespan.

ingredient 4enjoy your first victory

Today, the initial mission is (almost) complete. The proportion of renewable energy used to charge cars has increased by over 16%.The carbon footprint of an electric vehicle is 11% less than that of a diesel vehicle and 34% less than a vehicle that runs on gasoline. Those are the kinds of numbers we like!

The fleet of clean cars put into service in Porto Santo, which has already grown from 0 to 45 electric vehicles should soon number around 100. According to the WWF, a Renault Group partner for a study on the contribution of new transportation solutions to Porto Santo’s ecological transition, “the island could divide its carbon footprint by 10 by 2030” with these solutions, in which “storing surplus green energy in batteries is essential.”

ingredient 5capitalize on the experience and reproduce the model

But the Porto Santo experience is no miracle. It’s more like a prelude, or a trailer for a new future that can inspire other regions to become more sustainable and aim for carbon neutrality. The model can be reproduced on other islands (as has been done in France, on Belle-Île-en-Mer) or other regions, by adapting the equipment to each specific situation.

Initiatives based on the principles implemented on Porto Santo are now popping up in several parts of the world, opening the way to a future marked by urban ecology. In Utrecht, a city in the Netherlands with a population of 350,000, the start-up LomboXnet launched its “We Drive Solar” project in partnership with Renault Group in 2017. And a fleet of 150 Renault ZOEs designed for car-sharing is currently being rolled out in the Lombok district. These vehicles’ operation depends on solar panels set up on the roofs of schools, which power a network of 100% eco-friendly recharging stations, some of them bidirectional, according to the V2G principle.

Already available in three countries – France, Belgium and the Netherlands – the Mobilize smart charge mobile application encourages intelligent recharging. It rewards users financially for their contribution to reducing the carbon footprint of electricity production, and therefore the greenhouse effect..

In the framework of the Advanced Battery Storage project,

Mobilize is involved in a number of installations to enable the widespread use of low-carbon energy in the national electricity grids. After their automotive life, or while waiting to be used, batteries for electric vehicles are grouped together in containers and connected to high-voltage networks. Their energy storage function allows them to absorb, in real time, the differences between energy production and consumption. By compensating for intermittency, ABS helps to increase the share of electricity produced from renewable energies.  Eventually, the project – rolled out in France and Germany – will reach a capacity of 70 MWh.

Renault Group created Mobilize in order to replicate the virtuous experimental model of Porto Santo in many other areas and at various scales (building, district, citiy, island…). Acting directly with local actors is the winning asset to accelerate the transformation of our living spaces. Renault Group has also set itself the goal of achieving carbon neutrality in its European operations by 2040… 10 years ahead of the European Union’s trajectory.

So to play in the same league: the ingredients are here.