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The next decade will see the massification of electric mobility. Our road infrastructure will be transformed by the new needs of these vehicles which will redefine our experience of this mode of travel.

THE FLIGHT OF THE ELECTRIC VEHICLE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

The promise of sustainable road mobility, offering the same quality of service as that using the heat engine, has been driving automotive innovation for almost half a century. The arrival of the first hybrid (Toyota Prius, 2009) and electric (Nissan Leaf, 2010) vehicles for the general public has helped to materialize this horizon. The transition has only just begun.

Sales of electric vehicles are increasing every year in Europe, although volumes remain low. The year 2016 saw 21,000 electric cars being registered in France, an increase of 27% compared to the previous year according to figures from AVERE. The autonomy of the batteries represents the main obstacle to the adoption of an electric vehicle, if we exclude the price which is – in part – compensated by public subsidy mechanisms.

The recent announcements made on this subject by Renault (400km of range for the new ZOE, manufacturer figure) and Tesla (632km of range for the new top-of-the-range model, manufacturer figure) represent an encouraging signal, which should support the deployment of electric cars.

While it will take many more years before the majority of the French fleet runs on electric energy, the France of electric mobility is being built today and its challenges have weighed on the players in the automotive ecosystem for a long time. The upgrading of road infrastructure and the deployment of recharging infrastructure are at the forefront.

THE DEPLOYMENT OF A LARGE CHARGING INFRASTRUCTURE

The creation of a sector and a long-term deployment

French ambitions are important, the 2015 Energy Transition Law (LTE) sets a target of 7 million charging stations in France by 2030. France then had only 13,000 charging stations.

This figure is also significant compared to the 11,269 operational service stations in France in 2015. These allow you to fill up and pay for it in a few minutes, while an electric recharge lasts, depending on the charging method, between 20 minutes and 12 hours. Thus, it is not only energy but also the uses and timing of road trips that are being transformed.

Charging networks mainly meet two types of needs, on the one hand, mobile charging, which is part of a travel chain and on which weighs a significant time constraint, the corridors of fast charging stations along roads have been developed for this purpose (Corri-Door, Sodetrel), on the other hand, parking recharging, which is part of an activity that does not involve a quick departure.

The electric charging offer still appears too fragmented today, despite initiatives in terms of interoperability (GIREVE) and referencing of the charging station offer (ChargeMap). Several large-small networks coexist on French territory, we find at their heads: Bolloré, EDF, Vinci, ENGIE, CNR, Tesla or even local energy unions deploying their terminal networks.

To overcome this fragmentation, initiatives are developing such as the KiWhi pass, a payment card compatible with several terminal networks offered by Easytrip, a subsidiary of the EGIS group.

The network of the territory in charging stations, the adaptation of the existing parking offer and the provision of charging services still offer significant opportunities. Companies from many sectors (mobility, real estate, energy) have expertise or competitive advantages that can be exploited in this market in the field of recharging and electric mobility services.

THE REINVENTION OF ROAD INFRASTRUCTURE 

The use of an electric vehicle also leads to rethinking the operation and missions attributed to the road. While it has hitherto been the support for thermal vehicles, several research and development projects have assigned new functions to it, in particular energy production and transmission.

The road as a powerhouse

The use of the road as an electricity production tool has several advantages. Energy is produced as close as possible to where it is consumed. Its production does not require the mobilization of additional land resources, which are increasingly valuable, especially in urban areas.

The Colas company developed the Wattway project, presented as the first photovoltaic road surfacing in the world. This solar covering is placed directly on the roadway, thus avoiding a laborious deconstruction-reconstruction operation. The first real-life test was launched in Normandy on December 22, where 1km of road is now covered with 2,800m2 of solar panels.

This test, in real conditions, will answer the doubts weighing on the use of the solar road. Foremost among these are the effects of wear and tear and dirt produced by use of the road, which threaten Wattway’s fuel efficiency. The thorny question of the economic model will remain!

Solar panels can also be placed above the roadway, as in the case of the Solar Serpent project, which installs them on shades, a few meters above the road. This solution has the advantage of being able to orient the solar panels to optimize their efficiency, they undergo normal wear and they protect, to a certain extent, the road from bad weather.

Photovoltaic energy is not the only way to generate energy on a road. Several start-ups are following the trail of piezoelectric energy (Innowattech in Israel and Undergroudnd Power in Italy), which makes it possible to recover the energy produced by pressure, in this case that of vehicles traveling on the roadway or the backs of ‘donkey.

The road as a charging station

The great need for recharging electric vehicles has led innovators to test solutions for recharging the vehicle during its journey. The use of the road as a charging station is part of this configuration. Two induction electric vehicle charging demonstrators are currently underway, in the United Kingdom and Korea.

The costs of such technical solutions are still very high. If their interest is confirmed, they would first of all concern the recharging of public transport vehicles at frequent stops (such as buses but also delivery vehicles).

THE ELECTRIC VEHICLE AS A PARTNER OF ELECTRICAL INFRASTRUCTURE

The interaction between electric cars and buildings (Vehicle 2 Home)

From the point of view of the network, the electric vehicle is seen as a battery with wheels. These have increasing storage capacities, 41 kWh for the new Renault Zoé and 100kWh for the latest top-of-the-range Tesla (P100D). In comparison, the daily electricity consumption of an average French household is estimated at 13kWh.

The electric vehicle will connect to residential buildings. In the case of private homes, residents can use the vehicle as a backup battery. In the short term, this use may appear limited, except in the few cases of use where the supply of a home is not guaranteed (The continuity of the electricity supply is not always guaranteed in the territories islanders, for example).

In the medium term, the use cases multiply. Several trends favor them, on the one hand the increase in decentralized energy production and, on the other hand, the probable increase in the cost of the latter. Thus, a building equipped with a renewable energy production tool must store the energy produced that it does not consume immediately. The vehicle battery can be used for this purpose.

The rise in the price of energy and the variation in its price over shorter cycles can lead home users to store energy for later consumption. That is to say, storing cheap energy to consume it at times when it is expensive. These use cases require a two-way charging station.

Car manufacturers are carrying out several experiments. Nissan and ENEL are working together on the subject and presented their Vehicle to Grid hub in Copenhagen last summer.

AT THE COMMUNITY LEVEL

The possibilities offered by connecting an electric vehicle to a smart electricity grid are even greater at the community level. A fleet manager, or parking lot, is projected into an energy manager position.

A city will thus use the electric vehicles in its car-sharing network as an alternative energy source. In Paris, the storage capacity of Autolib batteries can cover the average daily consumption of 8,000 French households for one day.

A private actor can also play this role, at the service of himself or the community. Mainly electric automobile mobility and parking is becoming an energy issue with high added value.

Finally, electric mobility will become more widespread alongside autonomous mobility, represented today by the first fully (Google Car) or partially automated (Tesla) vehicles. There will be many synergies between these two transitions.

An autonomous electric vehicle seeking out a charging station on its own and releasing it once it is finished no longer belongs to the domain of science fiction. On this model, certain constraints linked to electric mobility and relating to the driver could be reduced by the automatic pilot functions.

Lucas Griffaton-Sonnet

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