Charging electric vehicles has never been so smart

During the 2nd General Assembly meeting in Amsterdam in June 2023, the consortium was introduced to the Energy Community in the Eastern Docklands neighbourhood and some of its prosumers. In addition, there was a presentation from Equans, a company that manages 5000 charging points for electric vehicles (EV) throughout the city of Amsterdam.

We took the opportunity to have a chat with Roberto Balzarelli, Manager Energy and Technology at Equans E-mobility and Rein Boshuisen, Consultant Smart Charging. We talked about charging stations across Amsterdam and the Netherlands, their role in the energy sector, the challenges they face and much more.

Where are you located and where do you operate?

Equans is located throughout the Netherlands. We are a large technical installation service provider with approximately 6,000 employees in the Netherlands and 90,000 worldwide. Our E-mobility department in the Netherlands operates from Dordrecht and Zaandam, which are very close to Rotterdam and Amsterdam, respectively.

What are your main tasks?

We are Charge Point Operators (CPO), and we collaborate with the large municipalities. We fulfil the public charging needs by investing in chargers, installing and operating them.

What does a charge point operator do?

As CPOs we invest in charging infrastructure, we install, operate, and maintain the chargers. We also supply electricity for the EV driver. Furthermore, we believe that there is a strong potential in using the available flexibility to balance our energy portfolio. We also leverage charging sessions in order to relieve the pressure on the local grid, we call this ‘smart charging’.

What are the biggest challenges that you see coming up in the public domain?

In the past two years we faced quite some challenges: the shortage of semiconductor chips in 2021 and the sudden rise of energy prices in 2022. These showed us how an unexpected event can have a significant impact and increase costs in all sectors. For us this means that we should be prepared and create more flexibility in our supply chain and energy contracts.

I believe that the future of electricity will be very different to what we have seen so far, the risk is that electricity price fluctuation will be a recurring theme due to the growing amount of sustainable energy sources. We will have to explore different energy markets and purchasing strategies. Also, we will need to better understand how we can influence charging behaviour to assure better utilisation, minimize cost for EV drivers and alleviate pressure on the grid in peak hours when congestion occurs.

Could you elaborate more on the congestion issue?

Congestion will soon become a daily issue: the electricity grids are getting full, and we cannot add any more chargers. Right now, this is not yet critical, since most cars are still gas or petrol fuelled. However, as soon as the number of EV increases, we will need more charging infrastructure. The only way to increase that will be by smart charging, and of course increase grid capacity.

What is a Smart Charge group and how do you interact with them?

The Smart Charge group is a group of chargers that are connected to our software. We combine them in a in a logical way, so they match the infrastructure in the street. For example, if there are four chargers in one substation, we put them in one group and we set the grid maximum on that group. That means that if there is only one car charging, it can still get the maximum capacity. However, if all the chargers are occupied, we would have to slow them down to meet the maximum grid capacity.

How do you increase the renewable portion of the charging power?

To do that, we have a daily forecast of the available percentage renewable. When the available quantity of renewable energy is high, we ask the cars to charge at full speed. On the contrary, when there is not so much renewable energy available, we can downscale them. We always start with full charging speed to make sure there are no issues with starting the charging. However, after about a minute we lower the charging speed.

So, our role as a CPO is to combine all these constraints mentioned (Energy portfolio, TSO, DSO, renewable portion) into a specific smart charging signal per group. And with all that we ‘smarten’ the charging sessions on our network.

Does the Distribution System Operator (DSO) know what the usage of the capacity of the transformer is?

The system operator knows how much electricity can be produced and how much the vehicles normally draws. Therefore, by converting this knowledge into a model we can obtain a signal on how much power we can use.

Normally there is just one peak production meter, which is read once or twice per year. Hence, based on the model and by combining it with the smart meter data and the wind and solar forecast, the capacity can be predicted by the DSO.

How are you involved in RESCHOOL project?

We are involved in RESCHOOL through a contract we have with the municipality of Amsterdam. In the Eastern Docklands area, where the project’s Dutch pilot is located, there are 15 public chargers. We operate 13 of these. Throughout the project we will aim to optimize the charging speeds for these chargers based on the signals provided by the RESCHOOL project team in Amsterdam.

Everything about the Amsterdam pilot can be found here. If you are curious about the latest news of the RESCHOOL project, please check out website and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.