Charging anxiety on the fringes of Norway

The Trondheim partners in MATCH have recently carried out field work in the island municipality of Hvaler. How to integrate charging of EVs related to tourism in the local grid is one of the key concerns in Hvaler.

Last modified: 06.12.2016

In the final week of November 2016, the Trondheim partners conducted field work in the island municipality of Hvaler, located in the south east of Norway. Signifying the beginning of the case study, which will include end users of new power tariffs, electric mobility and local/private microgeneration and prosumer activity, the setting was a public meeting about the future of electric vehicle charging on Hvaler. This encompassed two important aspects of smart energy technologies, which the MATCH project is seeking to cover, namely EV charging and how to engage local communities in smart energy strategies.

The meeting was held at the city hall at Hvaler’s easternmost island, Kirkøy. Included among the participants were local politicians, private residents, owners of EVs, local business people, shop owners, one smart charger manufacturer, as well as representatives from NCE Smart Energy Markets, who are conducting R&D on smart energy technology use on Hvaler. The municipal manager started off the meeting by describing the consolidation of dispersed activity on smart energy technology into an EV charging initiative, designed to make the remote island community a practical destination for EV drivers. Since the trek down to the southernmost tip of the island takes the driver quite far from the mainland where most of the charging infrastructure is, the island realized it could be associated with a substantial charging anxiety for potential EV driving visitors. The island itself enjoys a booming tourism from Easter to late summer, and the motto for the new initiative was meant to reassure this group of visitors: “If you can reach us, you can reach home”. Ultimately, EV drivers will not have to stay the night should they find themselves in the south of Hvaler.

Charging stations at Hvaler city hall. © Hvaler kommune

Charging stations at Hvaler city hall. © Hvaler kommune

However, there are some challenges related to such an initiative. Initially, Hvaler has been struggling with a scarcity in electricity supply, a bit of an uncommon challenge in Norway. The single connector which goes out to the island from the mainland has often been under strain, especially when many cabin owners visit the island during cold Easter weeks and consume much electricity for heating. This has been alleviated somewhat with smart metering, which Hvaler was one of the first communities in Norway to extensively make use of. Even so, some concern was noted at the public meeting about the plans for putting even more strain on the local grid with EV chargers. EV chargers are after all capable of exacting  a substantial load on the grid, especially when fast-charging . The effort at expanding Hvaler’s charging infrastructure then needs to be done in a considerate manner, and while leveraging the possibilities inherent in smart managing these loads together with local production capacity.

The effort is already underway however, and the strategy laid down by the municipal administration is to connect with local forces such as local businesses to ensure a mutually beneficial and “reasonable” charging infrastructure to result. For local business there might also be a competitive advantage to be gained by providing dedicated charging equipment. The island of Hvaler is not different from many other places in this respect: many owners of EVs simply pull an extension cord out the window of their cabin or the garage to their car. This can result in suboptimal charging and poses potential risks of overheating and even fires within the electrical systems of dwellings, which are seldom designed specifically for connecting energy intensive EVs. Another issue, which is becoming more pressing in the times ahead, is that of new tariff structures and charging by power use instead of total energy used. Consequently, charging or using electricity for any purpose at peak hours will be quite expensive. Hvaler has already introduced power tariffs, something which immediately garnered much attention and public debate. Many were unprepared for the sudden increase in prices, realizing they of course spent most of their energy within peak hours. How people deal with these issues materially (i.e. with local production capacities), and how they are treated as matters of concern in the local public sphere of the little island community of Hvaler, will be the main topics covered by this case study. We will start gathering more data on this case by the end of this year.

/ William Throndsen (NTNU)