If there were a place where millions of people could recharge their electric cars, then electromobility would be a far more natural choice. And a place like this does exist, as the “LamA – Charging at Work” (German: “LamA – Laden am Arbeitsplatz”) project shows.
In big cities with especially high nitric oxide figures, like Stuttgart, Freiburg or Dresden, the air is often unbreathable. “If people cannot reduce the number of vehicles, or don’t want to, a higher proportion of electric vehicles would help to significantly improve these figures,” says Peter Majer, who is head of innovation at the Freiburg energy provider Badenova, as well as a partner in the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft project. “However, the lack of public charging points still deters a lot of people from buying an electric car today, for example because, as tenants, they don’t have their own garage with charging facilities.”
But at the same time, the most common car owners are also white-collar workers and laborers. They drive to work, leave their private car there in the parking lot during the day, and if they have to travel for work during this time, they might use company vehicles. At the same time, guests, who are usually from the area, visit the company for a few hours and park there. The parking lot of a big company would therefore be an ideal place to offer suitable charging facilities for electric company vehicles, as well as to private cars belonging to staff and visitors.
As Germany’s largest research network, Fraunhofer has now set itself the task of setting up company charging facilities on a large scale and further developing them in the process – all under the heading of the “LamA – Charging at Work” project. A group headed by Fraunhofer IAO installed charging facilities for electric cars, complete with grid infrastructure, at 38 institutes. The aim is to have 440 standard charging points and 40 fast charging points in operation across Germany by 2022. They are available to staff, service cars and institute guests. “For ‘LamA,’ we joined forces with the innovative Baden energy supplier, Badenova, because their network branches out about as widely as ours,” says Dr. Daniel Stetter, who is leading the entire project. “Badenova is a good fit for us, thanks both to this widely branched network and to the experience it has already gained in relation to researching the grid aspect of electromobility.”
While the main project “LamA” focuses on implementing charging points, grid capacity and control software, its sister project “LamA-connect” explores grid technology in even greater depth. “Here, we are testing out the use of Smart Meter Gateways (SMG) for example,” explains Majer of Badenova. “In Germany, SMGs are not only designed for reading out energy and gas numbers. They also allow highly secure communication and remote control of big consumers and storage facilities. This means they can be used to optimize the charging of electric vehicles and prevent the grid from being overloaded.” In a second sister project, “LamA-boost,” the future aim is to research the possibility of using batteries as boosters and stabilizers in charging grids.
The first concrete results of the project, which were reported at a LamA knowledge transfer event in February 2020, included the finding that “normal charging” via a power socket was enough for most requirements. After all, employee vehicles usually sit in the company parking lot for about eight hours. Fast charging at more technologically sophisticated charging pillars is rather an option for the company’s own fleet, which must be ready for use on short notice, and for third parties, whose e-cars can only stay in the parking lot for a short period of time.
Majer describes another result of the project: “At the start, we had a very centralized approach to controlling the charging. It turns out it is much better to leave that to the individual sites themselves to a great extent.” All the grid operator has to do is display the current degree of utilization using a kind of traffic light system, to protect the grid from being overloaded. This allows scope for customers to pre-register for fast or standard charging slots, for example by booking through a web portal. “The conditions for these booking procedures are something we’re going to develop,” says Stetter, the Project Manager at Fraunhofer IAO. “Billing for the charging power in a precise way will also be a key issue.”
“At Badenova, we have already been researching the technical grid requirements for electromobility for many years — and we have already worked together with the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. That made ourselves and Frauhofer IAO natural partners, so to speak, for the LamA — Charging at Work joint research project. The staff parking lots of big companies are ideal places to supply charging facilities for electric vehicles to three user groups: First of all the staff themselves, whose private cars are usually parked there unused for more than eight hours. Secondly, for the company’s own vehicles, which must be a lot more flexible and ready to be used at shorter notice. And thirdly, electric cars belonging to visitors who only park on company premises for a limited time. They all have different requirements in terms of charging times and quantities. The grid must be able to take these requirements into account and handle them without risk of overloading. The control software must be so intelligent enough to allocate the correct capacity, at the correct time, to the correct user. Then charging at the workplace can become a successful model, which is a prerequisite for bringing electromobility into widespread use. Incidentally, the companies that offer such charging facilities in their parking lots also have significant advantages. They will be perceived by staff and customers as more innovative, more sustainable and more service-oriented employers.”
Installing the first LamA pillars