Tesla is not the only company that is bringing the wonders of renewable energy to the islands of the world. Last February, Renault helped electrify the Portuguese islands of Madeira and Porto Santo, located hundreds of miles out in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Morocco.
Islands present unique challenges when it comes to electricity. Either they have to be supplied by undersea cables, which are expensive to install and expensive to maintain, or they have to use fossil fuels — typically diesel — to power generators on the islands themselves. Either way, residents pay some of the highest electricity prices in the world.
Now Renault has agreed to make Belle-Île-en-Mer, an island off the northwest coast of France near St. Nazarre, a “Smart Island.” What does that mean? It means a fleet of electric vehicles to help people get around the island without tailpipe emissions. It means solar panels on as many roofs as possible. And it means using recycled EV batteries to store some of that solar power for use after the sun sets.
According to The Drive, the vehicles will be a mix of Renault Zoe 5 door hatchback sedans and Renault Kangoo ZE vans. They will provide ride-sharing services for island residents and visitors. Newly installed EV chargers for the vehicles will be powered by solar panels installed on the roofs of local buildings. A digital control network will shift power to where it is needed. Panels on a school will light classrooms during the day and EV chargers on weekends and at night.
EV batteries that are no longer suitable for use in vehicles are still capable of storing electricity to power the electrical grid. Renault will install a number of so-called “second-life” batteries to collect renewable power and store it for use later.
While the new “Smart Island” system will make a big reduction in carbon emissions possible, it is also a testing laboratory for microgrid technologies that can be applied to other situations on the mainland. “It will be possible to carry over the Belle-Île-en-Mer system not just to other islands but also to cities and suburban areas,” says Gilles Normand, senior vice president of Renault’s electric vehicle division.
The lessons learned on Belle-Île-en-Mer will help show how electric cars, storage batteries, and renewable energy can best be integrated into the electrical grid in more situations. Companies like Tesla maintain that batteries for energy storage need different chemistry than batteries intended for automotive service. Projects like this one can help resolve any issues and lead to a better understanding about how to bring distributed renewable energy to more people for the least amount of money.