Ireland Using Wind Energy to Recharge Electric Vehicles

The magical Aran Islands at the mouth of Ireland’s Galway Bay usually have all the airs of a land where time has stood still, yet they are powering into the 21st century after receiving eight electric vehicles to be used by 24 households in a pioneering wind power trial over the next three years.

The project, coordinated by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) and the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, is meant to demonstrate the smart-grid technologies needed to transfer and store wind energy in electric cars.

The Mega e-City electric cars, with a top speed of 40 mph (64 km/h) and a maximum range of 50 miles (80 km), are being test driven by eight households for one year, followed by another eight households in 2012 and eight more again in 2013. The Mega City is built by French niche-vehicle maker Axiam-Mega Group.

Each household has been fitted with a smart-charger unit that can be accessed remotely to allow the matching of available wind power with vehicle-charging requirements. The project aims to show the significant potential of charging electric cars using wind turbines, particularly under the difficult access conditions of an island environment.

Specifically, it seeks to both demonstrate the efficiency, reliability and maintainability of electric vehicles, as well as demonstrate the potential for locally generated wind power to supply their electricity requirements while also reducing reliance on imported fuels.

The test region includes the Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer islands, covering 18 sq.-miles (47 sq.-km). Inishmore is the largest island and is accessible by passenger ferry, but there is no car ferry. The road network on each of the islands has a speed limit of 32 mph (50 km/h).

The Independent newspaper says the islands draw a portion of their electricity from wind farms on Inishmaan and nearby Connemara on the mainland.

Initially, the EVs will be powered by a mix of wind power and electricity. But the proportion of wind-powered electricity will grow significantly as storage is improved.

“I am confident the lessons to be learned from the use of electric vehicles on the Aran Islands over the next three years will benefit many other communities throughout the country,” Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Pat Carey says in a statement.

Social Protection Minister Eamon O Cuiv says island communities often feel they are among the last to benefit from new technologies.

“But in this instance, the people of Aran are to the forefront in pioneering an innovative and novel concept that offers tangible benefits in terms of reduced energy costs and a decreased reliance on imported fuel,” he says. “Participating households will benefit from a transport fuel cost saving of up to 80%.”

O Cuiv says the EV project is only one step in a larger project to show how wind and ocean energy might be used to provide the electricity, heat and transport requirements for the Aran Islands.

“By demonstrating the benefits of reduced energy-import reliance and costs, the islands could also serve as a learning model for the future energy system for the whole of Ireland,” he says.

SEAI CEO Owen Lewis says Ireland has the twin goals of replacing 10% of its passenger vehicles with EVs by 2020 and of exploiting the availability of renewable energy resources, in particular wind.

Under government plans to put 6,000 EVs on the road by 2012, a grant of €5,000 ($6,646) is available to car buyers toward the purchase of the vehicles.

Lewis says the project on the Aran Islands is among the first initiatives worldwide to demonstrate the potential for electric vehicles fueled by wind energy.

“We are most encouraged by the positive reception to the project to date,” he says. “Aran is a particularly useful test bed, as the islands have an abundance of wind power and mainly domestic consumers.”

The EVs are being supplied by Green Machines Ltd., while Merrion Fleet Management Ltd. is providing full maintenance and support services for the trial. Klockner Moeller Ireland Ltd. developed the smart-charging units to meet SEAI’s technical requirements.

By Alan Harman,