The perfect recipe for a Living Lab: Smart Solar Charging

smart solar charging koning
King Willem-Alexander connects up bi-directional system

Every year, dozens of Living Labs start up at Utrecht University. Each Living Lab starts with a question, vision or challenge which is then put into practice. Where possible, Living Labs are situated at Utrecht Science Park or in the city of Utrecht, giving the possibility for concrete results to be incorporated directly into business operations. Smart Solar Charging is a perfect example: a revolutionary project with the campus and the city as a living lab, in which generating and storing solar power and returning excess energy to the grid is becoming reality.

Peaks and troughs

Energy management: in a nutshell, that is what this Living Lab is all about. You can generate energy - a huge amount on a sunny day - with solar panels, but what happens to it after that? How do you ensure that all the energy generated can actually be used? That's where Smart Solar Charging comes in. Smart Solar Charging enables locally-generated solar power to be stored in electric cars via smart charging points. Both the charging point and the car battery are 'smart', which means that they can both charge and discharge. When the sun is not shining, the fully charged car battery can return solar power back to the electricity grid (and thus provide a house with electricity). This way of generating, storing and returning excess energy creates flexible storage capacity that reduces peaks on the electricity grid.

Robin Berg explains Smart Solar Charging

The researchers

The Smart Solar Charging project has the potential to be widely adopted in Utrecht and other cities. For this potential to be exploited though, it must be properly and thoroughly explored. Professor of Integration of Photovoltaic Solar Energy Wilfried van Sark is one of the principal researchers at Smart Solar Charging; I've been a solar power expert for a long time – far too long, van Sark laughs. Working with Robin Berg, two research teams, the Utrecht Sustainability Institute (USI) and a further ten commercial and non-commercial parties, van Sark is researching the applicability of this project, working on a business model for and with network operators, and looking for opportunities for future implementations with the Municipality of Utrecht.

Living labs

When the first bi-directional charging points arrived in Utrecht Science Park, Smart Solar Charging became a Living Lab just as the university had envisaged: with charging points for visitors & community members of Utrecht Science Park and, at the same time, a place for researchers to conduct their research. The Smart Solar Charging Living Lab has a total of five testing grounds in and around the city of Utrecht. These are five areas where 'smart charging points' have been installed and shared cars are available. Testing, monitoring and development is done here on the basis of results from the Living Lab.

You put it in place, examine, analyse and modify until it's just right. That's exactly what a Living Lab is.

Prof Wilfried van Sark
Prof. dr. Wilfried van Sark

We can simulate and measure a lot of things in the Living Labs in Lombok and Utrecht Science Park, says van Sark. After all, the campus brings together different aspects of life into a single environment: living, working, healthcare, research and education. The Utrecht district of Lombok is also very suitable for trying out all kinds of new projects, as the chronic shortage of parking spaces means that shared cars are very welcome here. We discovered that people in Lombok are content with having the Renault Zoë as a shared car, says Sark. People in another neighbourhood in Utrecht seem to prefer a more expensive model; residents of Leidsche Rijn find Tesla cars more fanciful. Which car is on offer determines whether people want to participate or not; we hadn't thought about that when we started. You can only really test this kind of thing in real life, says van Sark.

We drive solar academiegebouw

Towards an energy-generating future

Van Sark sees Smart Solar Charging as an essential part of the energy transition. Some 240,000 households in Utrecht own a car. If only 8500 of these households switch to a bi-directional car with Smart Solar Charging, the whole of Utrecht could make use of green electricity generated by solar panels for a whole day. The potential is enormous.

This Living Lab is the result of a collaboration between Utrecht University, Utrecht University of Applied Sciences and the companies LomboXnet, We Drive Solar, Smart Solar Charging, Stedin, Last Mile Solutions, The People Group, Jedlix, NewSolar and Siers, led by the Utrecht Sustainability Institute. The development and scaling up of bi-directional charging is made possible with the cooperation of ElaadNL and Renault Groupe. The Smart Solar Charging project is partly facilitated by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Opportunities for West II.

Want to know more about Smart Solar Charging? Visit the Smart Solar Charging. website.