E-volution - Charging, always and everywhere

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We dive into the world of electromobility in this series with SWIO and take a closer look at people who are passionate users and pioneers. We also explain the exciting developments in this field and show how visions of the future are gradually becoming reality.

"I'm driving. Come on, you can have a drink …", Jean-Paul Erasmy laughs heartily as he quotes this sentence from an advertisement. At the end of the 90s, there was a television ad that showed a couple arguing in a friendly and charming way about who would be allowed to drive the VW Bora to pay a visit to a friend. Jean-Paul has such exchanges with his wife all the time, and not out of pure nostalgia. Driving their small, modern electric car is so much fun that no one wants to give up the privilege. The full-time mortician got his first all-electric car in the summer of 2014 and has been the proud owner of no less than six electric cars since then. As a self-proclaimed car freak, he feels passionate about all kinds of cars, "whether electric, petrol or diesel, front or rear-wheel drive, from SUVs to sports cars", but when he talks about his experience with electrically powered vehicles, it quickly becomes clear that they are a breed apart.

"It's a different, more relaxed driving experience. It is not about driving fast. You hear what's going on around you – the people, the surroundings, even the sounds of the forest." Jean-Paul Erasmy appreciates not only the comfort provided by technical amenities such as the standard auxiliary heating, but above all one thing about electric cars: that you don't lose any time. You can fill up at home, at work, while shopping or going to a restaurant. He recalls his experiences in Eastern Europe a few years ago. Even then, he says, you could organise your journey by app in countries like Slovenia and Hungary, using the available charging stations to plan your trip. Assuming a certain flexibility, this was still fun, affirms Erasmy.

When Alex Michels, Head of Asset Management at Creos and responsible, among other things, for the area of electromobility, is asked about the model pupils in terms of infrastructure, he points to the Nordic countries. "Norway has endless electricity from renewable sources. But the right accents are also being set there. Among other things, the price of electric cars was brought down to match that of combustion cars early on through tax incentives. I was recently in Oslo, where very many electric excavators are used on construction sites because the civil engineer gets a better rating by using such vehicles." In addition to Norway, the Netherlands is also a frontrunner in terms of the number of charging points per kilometre of road. "People who don't have access to a charging station in the immediate vicinity of their home can request one from their Dutch municipality, and it will be installed promptly." In Luxembourg, other actors must now ensure that the charging infrastructure in the public space is adapted, says Alex Michels, because the need is greatest there with a constantly growing electric vehicle fleet, as not everyone owns a garage.

He has been driving an electric car himself for three years and points out that in everyday life you only have to go to the electric pump every three to four days. The fact that Luxembourg is a country of short distances must be taken into account when planning the future electricity grid. Alex Michels emphatically explains that the grid expansion is not only carefully planned, but can also be implemented in practice. "The problem to be solved with electricity is not the connection capacity in the grid, but that in the house. I'll give you an example: with a normal water connection, as provided in our houses, you couldn't fill an Olympic pool within a reasonable time. But there is enough water. It is similar with electricity."

Charging needs explaining

  • Electricity are electrically charged particles, the so-called electrons, which flow like a river in a certain direction. Volt (V) refers to the pressure that makes the electrons flow. A normal household socket supplies 230 V. Ampere (A) refers to the number of electrons that flow. In the case of the household socket, it is 10 A. If you multiply the two together, you get the electrical power expressed in watts (W).

  • If you want to charge an electric car, the duration of the charging process depends on various factors. One limitation is the power source. For example, if you charge an electric car with a battery capacity of 70 kWh using a "Schuko" plug via a normal household socket, this takes 31 hours. Using a fast-charging station with a special plug, this is possible in 25 minutes (80 percent charged). It is advisable to have a wallbox installed at home. This allows the battery in this example to be charged from 0 to 100 percent overnight without any problems. Further limitations are possible due to the charging cable and the car's internal charging station.

  • Household sockets only tap into one of the three phases of the household connection. Kitchen appliances such as the oven or the electric cooker, which need more power, draw on three phases. This is referred to as high voltage current, which is also required by wall charging stations. These must therefore also be installed by an electrician. Alternating current (AC) flows in our electricity grid. However, batteries can only store direct current (DC). So the current must be converted during the charging process, either in the car's internal charging station – this is called "AC charging" – or directly in the charging station – this is called "DC charging" for such fast charging stations. Losch Luxembourg was the first private company in Luxembourg to install two publicly accessible Hyperchargers at its site in Junglinster in summer 2021. They have a charging capacity of up to 300 kW and are integrated into the Luxembourg Chargy network. The project was realised by SWIO, a brand of the Losch Group.

Alex Michels

The national energy and climate plan envisages the creation of an additional 20 percent electricity volume by 2040. In this target scenario, up to 550,000 electric cars are expected, but the volume also covers other areas of application, such as in the context of data centres. The most important thing, he says, is the grid development of high-voltage lines and the expansion of road and local networks in order to be able to cope with a sporadically high power consumption. But it is not only peak consumption during the evening hours that needs to be regulated. Michels throws an interesting figure into the room. On the basis of international studies, he says, it is known that 80 percent of charging takes place at home. In the future, however, there will be surpluses in the electricity grid, especially during the daytime when the sun is shining – and electricity is cheaper then – and this electricity should not be wasted. "So you have to ask yourself: when and where should the car be charged in order to make optimal use of the grid? My motto is: an energy transition is not possible without the electric car." He alludes to the use of the car's battery as a storage device. One must now look at the power cycle as a whole. In Germany, every second photovoltaic system is now sold with a battery. "To have an order of magnitude: A large, powerful electric car with a full battery could supply a house for a week."

"I am sure that smart charging will be absolutely necessary when the penetration rate of electric vehicles reaches 80 percent."

Dr Michael Schoepf

Electromobility could enable more efficient use of renewable energy sources. Dr Maxime Cordy and Dr Michael Schoepf are researchers at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Safety, Reliability and Trust (SnT) at the University of Luxembourg. Their two-year project INDUCTIVE – financially supported by Fondation Enovos under the aegis of Fondation du Luxembourg – aims to balance supply and demand using various monetary and non-monetary incentives. "You have to deal with a lot of variables: energy prices, electricity output in the grid, customer behaviour, etc.. You also need a global approach. Because you have to tackle the problem both on the side of the suppliers and on the side of the customers, " says Maxime Cordy. It could well be that the electricity market will change fundamentally in the course of the next few years. Last year, the researchers analysed the technological progress that has been made regarding electric charging and continue to study user requirements. You can still participate in their study. The findings are now flowing into the development of a prototype mobile app. The core is a decision-making system that can be used to plan and optimise the charging of electric vehicles.

Dr Michael Schoepf, Dr Maxime Cordy and their team

Local production and storage systems are also a basic condition for the market penetration of electric vehicles, according to the researchers. "The technical infrastructure is extremely important. I am sure that smart charging will be absolutely necessary when the penetration rate of electric vehicles reaches 80 percent, " says Michael Schoepf. "For smart charging, you need wall charging stations. However, in many apartment complexes this is not an option. Moreover, not every wallbox can be controlled by the energy provider. In addition, there are problems with data protection. On the other hand, as a customer you don't want to have to control everything manually, which is time-consuming." For user acceptance, it is essential that the systems always obeys the end user’s preferences. This has to be done with a low level of user intervention while being able to provide monetary benefits for the usage. For this purpose, the system also needs to anticipate the future vehicle usage and the likelihood of spontaneous vehicle trips the user’s might do.

Why use a wallbox at home?

  • A wall charging station can regulate the flow of electricity, which is gentler on the home's electrical installation. SWIO is a 360° charging management solution for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. With its charging capacity of 11 kW, the SWIO wallbox enables charging five times faster than at a household socket and is suitable for all e-vehicles thanks to its universal charging plug. The SWIO app and RFID card guarantee secure access to the wallbox. With the smartphone, the charging processes can be configured and controlled, and even adapted to the energy consumption of the entire house. For more information, visit www.swio.lu.

  • An appointment is made with the SWIO installation partner for a house check. The architectural conditions are checked and the application for the grid operator is filled out and sent in. In Luxembourg, all e-car charging systems with a capacity of more than 7 kW for three-phase connections (4.6 kW for single-phase connections) must be applied for and subsequently approved by the grid operator.

    After the application has been approved, the SWIO installation partner arranges a second appointment to install and commission the SWIO wallbox. At a further appointment, the grid operator checks whether the wallbox has been connected in accordance with the applicable technical guidelines.

    Each e-car charging system is connected to the SMARTY electricity meter with a control cable. If the grid is overloaded, the grid operator can switch the wallbox to a reduced load shedding mode. This means that the wallbox charges at reduced power for the required time. Afterwards, it automatically returns to normal charging mode, i.e. it charges again at maximum power. With the SWIO wallbox, you can therefore always charge, unlike other charging installations that cannot adjust their charging power.

  • The state subsidises intelligent charging points such as the SWIO wallbox with 50 percent of the acquisition costs (excl. VAT) and up to a maximum amount of 1,200 euros.

Marvin Rassel

By the way, each electric car has its own specificities. With "normal" AC charging using an in-house wallbox or public charging station, you can charge your electric car with constant power throughout. But how fast charging with direct current works depends on many factors. "This should be communicated better, " says Marvin Rassel, coordinator SWIO – EV Charging Solutions at Losch Luxembourg with regard to so-called DC charging. "The battery temperature at the time of charging plays a role, for example. In addition, the remaining capacity must be considered. The fuller the battery, the worse the charging curve. You have to consider that the power is not continuously called up with the same output during the charging process." E-cars adjust the charging power during fast charging according to the battery's state of charge and temperature in order to preserve it. When the battery is 80 per cent charged, the charging power decreases to such an extent that the charging time for the remaining 20 per cent can take just as long as from 0 to 80 per cent.

So, smart charging has many faces. Jean-Paul Erasmy would like to see a bit more "smartness" from his electrically transported fellow citizens in public spaces. "It bothers me that normal cars keep blocking charging parking spaces. Even plug-in hybrids often stand there for hours, although the charging time is very short." For him, the use of such parking spaces for charging is one of the great advantages of electric mobility and he would like to see the infrastructure continue to grow in this respect. "People are creatures of habit, " Erasmy says at the end of the conversation. This, he says, is the only hurdle to the widespread acceptance of electrically powered cars. For example, he says, he still mixes up the different charging cables regularly, even after all these years. "But no electric car has ever let me down. One of my petrol cars has let me down five times in the last five years."