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What exactly is smart charging?

Last updated on 25 January 2021

Smart charging, literally "smart recharging", makes it possible to optimize the recharging of electric vehicles. For example: 

  • by automatically initiating the recharging of your vehicle when your photovoltaic installation produces electricity.
  • by distributing the available recharging power among several vehicles connected to a company car park.
Smart charging systems are starting to appear on the market and open up new opportunities for electric vehicle users, but also for businesses, the power grid and the energy transition in general.

What is the point of smart charging? 

For consumers: optimizing recharging costs

If you produce some of your electricity, with solar panels for example, smart charging systems allow you to align the recharging with the times when your panels produce electricity.

You can also distribute the available electrical load between your vehicle and your household appliances by setting priorities or plan the recharge when the cheaper night rate applies. .

Vehicle-to-home (V2H)

In the same way as the vehicle-to-grid for the grid, today we talk about vehicle-to-home (V2H). Your electric vehicle could serve as a home battery, store your surplus self-produced energy and serve as a backup battery in case of a power outage, for example. A dwelling consumes about 10 kWh/day. The battery of most electric vehicles can provide 20 to 80 kWh.

For companies: managing the recharging of a fleet of electric vehicles

Thanks to smart charging, the recharging of a company's electric vehicles is managed dynamically and fairly (the so-called 'load balancing'). 

For example, if a company can allocate up to 25 amperes for recharging the electric vehicles in its fleet and has two recharging stations of 16 amperes each:

  • if only one vehicle is plugged in, it will receive 16 amperes
  • if two vehicles are charging simultaneously, they will each receive 12.5 amperes
Vehicle-to-grid opens up new prospects for companies

Companies with a large fleet of vehicles could provide flexible services to the grid. In other words, they could sell the electricity stored in the batteries of their fleet and thus generate additional income. The first pilot projects are already moving in this direction.

At network level: better management of consumption peaks

You don’t need a crystal ball to predict that electric vehicles will multiply on our roads in the years to come. This change in our modes of travel is not without consequences for the electricity network.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not the increase in our electricity needs that is likely to pose a problem (according to the CREG, one million electric vehicles would represent an increase in consumption of barely 4%) but rather the peaks in consumption when these vehicles are recharged.

Indeed, the balance of the network could be in jeopardy if all owners of electric vehicles decide to recharge it in the early evening, after coming home from work.

  • for the grid balance: if supply and demand are not aligned.
  • for the grid installations (low voltage cables, transformers, etc.): these can be overcharged as the network is not adequately equipped for an abundance of e-cars.
Smart charging essential for the development of V2G

Smart charging systems will enable us to use electric vehicles to store electricity when too much is produced or to draw it (for a fee) when the grid needs it.

Why is smart charging currently being developed?

Two observations contribute to the development of smart charging:

  1. On the one hand, studies today show that electric vehicles generally travel few kilometres (on average 15,000 km/year) and remain stationary 90% of the time.
  2. In addition, the range of electric vehicles is increasing. The standard today is over 300 kilometres. 

This favourable context is pushing the industry to take a closer look at smart charging and the opportunities it opens up, such as vehicle-to-grid. Several pilot projects are on the way: the City-Zen project in Amsterdam and Electric Nation in the United Kingdom.

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