About this good practice
The municipality of Utrecht has the aim to substantially increase the share of electric cars and of solar electricity. A main line of development concerns electricity exchange between solar panels on buildings, bi-directional batteries (of nearby parking cars), and the electricity grid, all connected via charging points, that not only allow to equalise electricity supply and demand through time, but also provide nearby storage capacity for solar electricity, hence keep the electricity grid balanced (= smart solar charging). The charging point technology has been developed by a consortium under lead of the Utrecht firm LomboXnet. A core element of the concept are bi-directional (car) batteries, allowing charging and discharging. Cars with such batteries in Utrecht are the Renault Zoe and Tesla. The bi-directional charging points can also be used by cars with conventional batteries (charging only).
This technical concept is combined with mobility innovation, such as providing shared cars. These are operated by “We drive solar” and usable by subscribers. In combination with low(er) parking standards this encourages less own car ownership and more modal shift.
The city’s task is to develop charging policies, define the content of charging concessions, decide on charging locations and conduct local regulation. The bi-directional charging has been tested in pilot areas. Utrecht has started the city wide roll-out of bi-directional charging points (already 500).
The smart solar charging concept is currently commercially operated by LomboXnet in the framework of a municipal concession, without funding. In the start-up phase 50% of the costs were covered by public co-funding: Horizon 2020 (IRIS project) or “Kansen voor West II” (ERDF; Smart Solar Charging).
Evidence of success
In 2019 bi-directional charging entered the commercial phase, which made Utrecht decide the city-wide roll-out of this concept. Now about 500 of the 1000 charging points in Utrecht are bi-directional ones, partly along with shared cars and low parking standards in new housing blocks. The concept is also being implemented outside of Utrecht, like at the world’s largest “charging plaza” (= parking area with solar panel roof) for a bank in Zeist and an additional development at ASR in Utrecht.
Potential for learning or transfer
Municipalities might become inspired by or even consider to adopt the described system, given:
1) its technical benefits (more charging capacity, sustainable electricity, storage capacity for green electricity, and balanced electricity grid),
2) the fact that a smart charging point can be inserted in any city, also where other electrification strategies have already started,
3) the demonstrated success of combining the technical innovation with spatial/housing/mobility policies, implying modal shift,
4) the demonstrated fruitful cooperation of the municipality, housing, mobility and energy firms and residents in planning, building and operation and financial management,
5) the innovation has been commercially operational within a few years.
Such experience should be inspiration for and transferable to other European cities. The transition might be supported by a new campaign on the European level promoting smart solar charging (by Stedin, the main electric grid provider in U