SIEIL stands for Syndicat Intercommunal d’énergie d’Indre-et-Loire. It also stands for leadership. SIEIL was established in 1937, and it unites 260 cities in France and counts over 500,000 people as its customers.
In France, cities own the cables and lines of electrical distribution systems, but SIEIL is the administrative union. Its mission is to monitor the concessionaires of electricity and gas to ensure quality, reliability, and equal access to energy.
In addition to its supervisory functions, SIEIL plays a key leadership role in the promotion and use of electric vehicles. It has an annual budget of 40 million euros, more than half of which it invests in technology.
Dominique Ménard, SIEIL’s General Director drives a Renault Zoe. Pascal Balpe, the organization’s Technical Director, drives a hybrid. Both charge with Ensto.
When it comes to EVs, SIEIL knows what it’s talking about. The company fleet consists of four EVs and nine hybrids. Currently, 200 EV charging points dot the streets of SIEIL’s jurisdiction, France’s 37th Department. Before the beginning of 2016, that number is expected to double to 400 and include two new 50-kW fast charging points.
SIEIL chose Ensto for a variety of reasons, with software of critical importance. SIEIL has ordered software which can connect and monitor 1,000 poles. Using a tablet computer, or even a smart phone, Pascal Balpe is able to monitor the network in real time. “You see who’s charging based on their RFID card, how much electricity they’ve used. If there’s a problem we can react quickly – a maximum time of three hours.”
But the chief benefit of the software will be in the future says Balpe. “Now is just the beginning of the story. It’s like Google collecting data. We know where the poles are, what kind of cars are connecting, when and how often. This data has huge value.”
The software itself is intuitive and simple to use. “A child can use it,” says Balpe.
The two great loves of France, SIEIL General Director Ménard will tell you half jokingly, are wine and paperwork. He means to illustrate how difficult and time consuming the process is of installing a charging pole on a city street in France, cities which are often listed as UNESCO world heritage sites. Ensto poles are aesthetically pleasing enough that they can make it through this rigorous process.
SIEIL also recently purchased “the wall”, a product which features two charging poles with an information screen between them. The screen won’t be used for advertising, but rather for tourism management: to highlight all the UNESCO treasures. There will be information about the Loire valley, location of bicycle roads, where to drink wine, visit castles. The first wall will be installed in Chinon, home of the president of SIEIL, Jean-Luc Dupont, who is also Chinon’s mayor.
In building an argument to place a 21st century charging pole in a village with history dating back to the fifth century (as in Chinon), it’s helpful if you can go beyond pretty.
The idea of the coffre marché came from France’s first love: wine. Ménard, Balpe, and Dupont, drinking wine from Dupont’s vineyard, experienced a Eureka moment where someone asked, “Hey, why doesn’t something like this exist?”
The “something” in this case was a “coffre marché,” a market box, which could be connected to an Ensto EV charging pole in order to provide eight 16-amp sockets and two 32-amp circuits for market vendors. This would save municipalities the expense of hiring an electrician anytime the village hosted a market or threw a community party.
“When you put something on the street the object should have a minimum of two uses,” says Balpe. “This is not a law, but rather a mindset of SIEIL.”
“SIEIL dreamt it and then asked Ensto to develop and patent it,” says Ensto’s Sales Manager Jérôme Perdu. So far 50 units have been manufactured. At the moment, SIEIL gives them free to villages who request them, but an economic model for it is in development.
While in many parts of France EVs are yet to take hold, the 37th Department sees them not as the future but the present.
“We see the growth,” says Balpe. “Two years ago, there were 16 EVs in the department. One year later we had 37 more. This year there are 97 more EVs. We’ve given out 400 RFID cards, and 30 percent of card users don’t live in the union’s area.”
What works well is popular. In France, goods made in Finland have a similar quality reputation to goods made in Germany. Says Balpe: “When you use this product in Finland with a lot of snow, and minus-40 temperatures, then you can be sure it will work well in France.”
It’s worked so well that there is a Tesla driver who’s brought local fame to Ensto. The driver finds Ensto poles superior to the Tesla system and likes to stop along his journey and charge in the 37th department. “It’s in the small village Perrusson,” says Ménard of the 1,500-population commune. “So he really stands out!”
Author: Scott Diel