How do you build a charging plaza?

The evolution to plug-in hybrids and full-electric vehicles has gained momentum.  And Colruyt Group wants to be a pioneer in this.  But how do you build a modern and future-proof charging plaza?  Colruyt Group Technics project manager John Coudron reflects on the biggest challenges of this project and praises his team’s amazing drive to succeed.

Looking towards the future

“It's not only today's demand we have to meet,” says John. “In three or four years’ time, our charging plazas at our office buildings still need to have sufficient charging capacity. That’s why we did our homework first: number of parking spaces, staff figures, mapping the number of company cars and personal cars, etc. We then went to work with those figures.”

"Time for the construction plans: we determine the layout of the cables and the charging posts so that the contractor can start. Three companies are building charging plazas at the same time to speed up the process. And that requires a lot of follow-up. At the same time we're making electrical diagrams, carrying out cable calculations, commissioning the electric signs, ordering material, etc. The wheels start turning.”

Distributing energy

“By the end of October, early November, we’re aiming for 370 additional charging stations at the office buildings, bringing the total to 564 charging stations (including four fast chargers). This brings us to the main issue: how do you distribute the available energy?”

"At crucial points, we install energy meters that are read continuously. This allows us to keep track of our real-time consumption and carry out peak management. The charging plazas are incorporated in our SCADA system (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition).  This control system monitors the safety of our infrastructure and sends commands to the charging plazas to consume less.”

"During active charging sessions, a distinction is made between full electric cars and plug-in hybrids.  We first get the charging posts of the plug-in hybrids to consume less power.  If this is not enough, the charging sessions of the full-electric cars are also reduced in terms of consumption. By monitoring the energy consumption in this manner we make sure everyone is able to get home.  In this way, the charging plazas are always able to charge at maximum capacity, within the limits imposed by SCADA, and we ensure that customer impact is minimised.”

Continuously evolving

“Another thing we’re working on is policies. The current policy allows four hours of charging, which means everyone is able to charge their vehicle. But this complicates matters, for example, regarding charging when electricity is 'cheap'. Electricity is always more expensive in the morning than in the afternoon when the solar panels are generating maximum green power.”

“As you can tell, it gets quite complicated.  Everything is rapidly evolving. We also want to make sure we spend our money wisely: it’s a constant balancing act between being good stewards of the budget and being pioneers, between charging need, investment and cost. But it also makes it very interesting of course: we have to make rapid decisions and it really does make a difference.”

John reiterates: "This project has a fantastic team. The project managers on site, for example, are all indispensable. Some of them have been with us less than a year! I really want to thank you for your drive.”

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