The 12th edition of the EDPR University Challenge 2020 has seen the participation of the EIT InnoEnergy Master School from the Smart Cities program. The joint collaboration of students from the Belgian university KU Leuven and KTH in Sweden was able to bring together different expertise and to bring home the 3rd prize! The awarded idea is called E.Connect, which provides innovative ways to boost the electric vehicle charging infrastructure to make EV charging affordable and smart.
In order to understand more about the project, the CommUnity Post met the students behind the project.
Note: This interview happened after the end of the Spanish/InnoEnergy regional competition. The first 3 projects participated as well in an international competition against the EDPR winners from Portugal and Brazil and the winners will have a chance to go to Madrid and Silicon Valley
Congratulations on your achievement! Can you tell me a bit more about yourself and about your idea?
Aiman: “Hi, my name is Mohd Aiman Khan and I am a second-year student in Energy for smart cities, I am currently in KTH Stockholm, Sweden. I am the founder of E.connect and I came across this idea during my bachelor thesis and I developed it further during my course in Entrepreneurship at KU Leuven, where I met Chandra and Dries”
Chandra: “Hi I am Chandra Kant Jat, a Ph.D. student in the electa group of ESAT at KU Leuven and also associated with EnergyVille in its decision support for grid operator and HVDC groups. I met Aiman during my teaching sessions for the Power Electronics course”
Dries: My name is Dries Van Elst and I study religious sciences and with a degree in applied psychology and some background in digital arts and I helped Aiman in presentations and video making”
Can you tell me more about E.Connect and what is the problem you are addressing with this solution?
Aiman: “So, my idea is to develop innovative chargers for charging electric vehicles. At the moment, there are multiple problems with electric vehicles and for now, they are mostly connected with costs, range anxiety, and charging infrastructure. E.Connect focuses on the charging infrastructure. At the moment, there are many different standards around the world (about 9) and most of them are not compatible with each other. The chargers also have a low utilization factor, require high investment, and offer poor customer support. Moreover, the electricity cost is low, so the breakeven is pretty difficult.
E.Connect aims at solving these problems with three different products:
1- E.Connect Public charger- an all-in-one charging station that removes the main hurdle of compatibility. It has a modular design which makes it easier to update/upgrade. Such a design makes them easy to install for small to medium and large businesses. Moreover, it will also follow a standard model to make maintenance easier and cheaper.
2- E.Connect Workplace charger- features a novel movable robotic charger. This charger requires low initial investment due to the reduced number of standalone chargers and reduced cost at workplace charging stations by up to 55%. With the help of Data Analytics for the customer (consumers), we can also provide customized optimal charging schedules
3- E.Connect Private charger- Mainly for residential building. Here we can also use the demand flexibility provided by EVs to support grid operation and improve penetration of solar users in the grid and also improve stability of the grid ”.
Chandra: “Most of these will be installed at the distribution level, so we also looked at the impact that these charging stations may have on the grid and how their data patterns can be used to support the grid operation with increasing renewable penetration.”
How much of this idea was helped by the EDPR Challenge participation and by the entrepreneurship course?
Aiman: “My initial investigation of this idea was only from the research side, with main focus on developing the prototype but KU Leuven and the EDPR challenge actually helped to improve my understanding of what the customer needs, what issues are the customer-facing so that now the idea has been completely re-shaped and is now based more on the customer’s needs and perspective.”
Chandra: “Indeed with this project we performed the complete market analysis to estimate the initial investment we may need and what we could achieve with it, how much will be the acceptance of this product from the consumer side or the initial sale of chargers based on performance from similar products and how much would be the return on investment and the breakeven point of the venture. So all these realistic analysis was done and incorporated during this challenge”
Dries: “From the design perspective it was nice to discuss something that I didn’t know too much about and how to make this product with a design that was suitable for both sides, the producer and the consumer.“
How difficult it was for you to work on an idea that is really engineering-focused?
Dries: “It was quite a challenge, mostly to understand what is realistic and what is not, but Mohd Aiman did a great job in explaining it to me.”
And how was for the engineers to approach the problem with a different perspective?
Chandra: “We had a lot of discussions on parameters and technical details, but these are not really important when you present the ideas to a jury that are focused on the economic benefits of the product.”
Aiman: ”Considering that electrical vehicles are not yet so diffused in the market makes you realize it is important to explain first what the current problem is and explain to people without a technical background a solution with an engineering perspective is not the best choice and sometimes even counterproductive. So explaining to Dries was already a very good first example of how understandable the presentation and the idea was and also allowed us to iterate and emphasize the various aspects of the product that are more appealing to the final users .”
Are you also planning to go on with this idea and transform it into a startup?
Aiman: “Yes we are working on developing the prototype as part of my Master Thesis at KTH. Moreover, I have also applied for the KTH startup incubator and Battle of Green Talent Competition where the idea is under examination, so fingers crossed!”