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Tomorrow begins today

Interview with Marcus Fendt

More and more companies are adding electric cars to their fleets – fortunately! But do we have to worry about our electric grid reaching its limits at some point? No, we don’t, says Marcus Fendt of The Mobility House. A major part of the solution can be found in the electrified fleet itself, says the Managing Director of the company that provides fleet charging solutions. Intelligent, software-supported charging and energy management systems will do their part as well, he adds.

Mr Fendt, electric mobility is picking up speed – particularly in companies. How is The Mobility House positioned in this regard?

We focus – as a partner of the Volkswagen Group since 2014 – on providing holistic support that covers all aspects of electrification to company fleets: This includes in particular the planning, set-up and intelligent management of the charging infrastructure at each company location.

Let’s say that I want my company to switch to electromobility. What would I specifically receive from you?

Marcus Fendt: Everything begins with detailed analysis and consultation. Our employees would ask you such questions as: “You have just ordered 20 ID.3s and want to install 20 charging points for them – but what is your long-term strategy? Do you plan to add 20 more six months from now?” We use the answers to such questions and other information to draw up a charging infrastructure concept that determines the best-possible location for the charging points and addresses the question about whether employees will have to use the public infrastructure. As you look towards the future, you may be planning to install your company’s own PV system. This is another issue we address on our list of questions in order to integrate electric mobility into your company on a cost-effective, scalable and intelligent basis. After all, you do not want to dig up the car park once again after you order the next 20 ID.3s.

What do you mean by “intelligent”?

“Intelligent” basically means one thing to us: We view electric cars as a flexible part of an overarching whole and not just as a simple replacement for gasoline-powered vehicles. Here is an example of what I am talking about: We started a business case at Stadtwerke München, a public service company in Munich, a few months ago. In the project, the electricity customer uses ChargePilot, an intelligent charging- and energy-management system from The Mobility House, that enables the utility to disconnect the customer’s charging points from the grid at agreed-upon times. The result: The utility can better spread out its capacities and can reward customers for their flexibility by offering a discount.

“Flexibility” is a good word to bring up: What role can vehicles play in this regard?

One of them is logically its role as a mobile electricity storage unit. If lots of green power is generated and is then used to charge electric cars, this process will help to balance the imbalance between an excessive amount of green power and a lack of it. In other words, the car can be charged when the sun is shining and/or the wind is blowing – and then return energy at such times as night when you would normally have to switch back to fossil fuels. The vehicle’s battery and bidirectional charging stations make it all possible. The more electric cars enter the market, the more interesting this storage aspect will become.

You are basically saying that the cars could give back the power…

Exactly – and not only to the place where the energy was generated, but also to the grid. In principle, the technology for this aggregate bidirectional charging process is fully developed and will soon be available on a cost-optimised basis thanks to economies of scale. One key point that still has to be addressed is the somewhat complicated issue of regulation: Up to now, our energy landscape has been based on huge central facilities – things like power plants that generate tremendous quantities of electricity. We are basically talking about a one-way energy street. A two-way street was never planned. We now have to readjust our way of thinking: If we have umpteen million electric vehicles on the road that can draw and return power, we will have a gigantic fleet of rolling energy storage units that are part of a software-supported alliance. Our tax system, for instance, is not prepared for this. We cannot check this off our to-do list yet. But I am confident that this issue can gradually be resolved when the first bidirectional electric cars are introduced in 2022. Some states in the United States have already addressed the issue. In California, for instance, electric school buses that are used for only a few hours in the morning and afternoons and spend the rest of the time sitting on huge car park are used as mobile power storage units and are compensated for this service.

Could you give us an idea about the ultimate impact of these new energy storage units?

Over the past 100 years, a total of 40 gigawatt hours of storage capacity was created in Germany by pumped-storage hydroelectricity plants – a level that nearly exhausted its potential. With 10 million electric cars, we can generate 500 gigawatt hours in just one decade. And that is just a ballpark figure.

When you talk about electric cars, you almost have to talk about the necessary amount of grid capacity. In consideration of what you’ve told us today: Do we in Germany need to expand our grids at all?

You have to draw a distinction here. If my company is located in a small industrial park, you will certainly have to upgrade your grid technology starting at a particular charging infrastructure level. But there will definitely be no need for a major expansion of grid capacities that you frequently hear about – a number of studies have definitely answered this question. We will be able to solve the challenges related to capacity with intelligent software that – as I mentioned earlier – will open up a number of new avenues. In principle, this is nothing new. Take cloud storage as an example: Not too long ago, every office had a server cabinet that provided the required data-storage capacity. Today, just about every company is using cloud-based solutions and software tools that intelligently manage data traffic.

When you add it all together, you are talking about a promising future. But what about today? Should companies that want to electrify their fleets wait?

In our work with company customers, we sense a feeling of uncertainty that goes along with the euphoria – after all, we are talking about a fairly sizeable investment involving an extremely dynamically evolving technology. But experts like us who focus on nothing else come into play here at the very latest. And I can tell you one thing in good conscience: The sooner that you as an entrepreneur focus on the issue of e-mobility, the more experience you gain and the more you think about the future now, the better you will be prepared for tomorrow.

News on the topic

Status: 12. November 2021

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