“I was born in a go-kart, and that’s why I love racing so much.” The words of Jean-Éric Vergne, the new ABB FIA Formula E World Champion, have an almost prophetic ring to them. The phenomenal driver from Pontoise, 30 kilometres north of Paris, also claims he could use a steering wheel before he could walk. With a background like that, it’s hardly surprising that his rise has been so stratospheric: Vergne is the youngest French person (he's 28) to have driven a Formula 1 car and the only driver to have been a member of three different Formula E teams (Andretti, DV Virgin Racing and now Techeetah). And, just 24 hours before Didier Deschamps’ French team won the (soccer) World Cup in Russia, he was crowned Formula E World Champion on 14 July, which was also, very fittingly, Bastille Day.
“Watching his black and gold car streaking between the purple Enel X graphics with the Statue of Liberty in the background was really exhilarating,” begins Christian Weeks, Head of Flexibility Solutions, Enel X North America. It is Sunday afternoon, race two of the Qatar Airways New York City E-Prix has just finished and the title is in the bag: Vergne is champion and Audi Sport has topped the team standings. The two E-Prix of the weekend have proved a huge success: “It was like a huge festival. The public responded with a massive influx,” continues Christian Weeks. “We are here in testament to Enel’s growing presence as it has extended its partnership with Formula E for another five years. Starting from next season, Enel X will also be Official Smart Charging Partner. So, basically, we are adding front stage to backstage. As of the 2018-2019 season, in fact, we won’t just be managing the energy loads for the races through our smart meters and large storage equipment sporting the brand of Enel X’s energy accumulation management software subsidiary, EnerNOC, we’ll also literally be charging the electric cars themselves. That will be a great technological challenge.”
Imminent changes for Formula E
Red Hook is a former fishing village which was founded by the Dutch in 1636. Cobbled streets, low-rise red brick warehouses and the long hook-shaped pier that gives it its name, all help it retain its maritime ambience. The views of the Big Apple skyline from this promontory at the mouth of the Hudson River are unique. They say the Statue of Liberty stares you straight in the eye from here (she’s just three kilometres away). And it certainly feels like that from the Formula E stands. In the first zero-impact E-Prix, the twenty single-seaters speed along silently at over 200 km an hour as they negotiate a circuit which at, 2.37 kilometres, was the longest of the season and wound its way through cruise ship terminals and converted warehouses now home to artist studios and trendy eateries. Red Hook is going through a period of rapid change – very much like the Formula E technology itself. Next season – the fifth in the sport’s hitherto brief history – will see Enel usher in a truly momentous change: thus far, drivers have been forced to switch to new cars when they pit because the batteries were never powerful enough for a full race. That will no longer be the case.
“Even from the first race in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on 15 December next, things will be a bit different,” explained Enel Formula E Project Manager Chris Regan as he strolls around the pits: “The single-seaters will have a new all-Italian chassis, and batteries with a larger storage capacity that is almost double that of the present ones. That will allow us to ensure that the drivers can complete the whole race and we are confident that will make the racing even more spectacular as the outcome will pivot on their skills. Enel will also be working on improving other factors, such as energy storage, the use of green sources and battery charging, which will be much faster. Don’t forget, however, that Formula E is like a little city that moves around the world, and it is the ideal setting for testing out new technologies that can then be applied to city smart grids and the e-vehicle world.”
Who knows whether this is the Formula E that Alejandro Agag, Jean Todt and Antonio Tajani had in mind that famous evening in 2011 when, as they chatted over dinner, they came up with the idea for the electric single-seater championship. Seven years on, their dream has become a wonderful sustainable speed circus that delights spectators and also invites reflection on the need for an increasingly green future. New York mayor Bill de Blasio has set a target: he wants one car in five registered in the city to be electric by 2025. “It’s no coincidence that Formula E decided to round off the championship here,” says Italian Consul General to New York Francesco Genuardi. “The Big Apple has always been a future-forward laboratory, an example for other cities around the world to follow. Enel’s presence here demonstrates that Italy’s leading industrial group is competitive and has every intention of being one of the key players in the change that is taking place.”
To ensure it manages the upcoming transformation most effectively, Enel created Enel X, a division focused on innovation, sustainability and digital solutions. Enel X’s recent arrival in the US came about through the acquisition of three important partners: EnerNOC (smart energy management services), Demand Energy Networks (smart energy storage software) and eMotorWerks (e-mobility solutions). The latter showcased its e-mobility-related gem in the corporate Race Suite at the Formula E event. The Enel X JuiceBox is an innovative residential product that grabbed the attention of Enel’s guests, partners and employees alike. Preston Roper, Chief Marketing & Operating Officer eMotorWerks, informed us that “Juice in American slang isn’t just a drink but also means energy. With the Enel X JuiceStation Fast, we can charge an electric car in under 30 minutes and with the Enel X JuiceBox, which is already available on the US market, we are bringing convenient charging into American homes by smartphone too.”
Formula E for the smart grid and renewable sources
The partnership between Enel and Formula E goes well beyond electric mobility-related innovation and extends to smart grids and energy from renewable sources. Enel X has already been putting its know-how to good use in New York, by developing no less than 14 energy improvement projects. One is actually based in Brooklyn not too far from the streets where the electric single-seaters did battle. The Marcus Garvey Village is a 625-apartment residential complex for which the Group has developed a leading-edge microgrid. It is essentially a solar energy storage system that uses lithium ion batteries for a standalone grid. It is a smart, clean project that makes the entire district more resilient. The Marcus Garvey Village Apartments Microgrid project, which boosts the efficiency of the system and cuts energy costs, won last year’s ESNA Innovation Award. “It’s an important plaudit,” says Nick Lombardi, Senior Manager of Utility Business Development Enel X North America, who ran the project, “and demonstrates how strategically important investing in technological research is for our company. And also how important it is to continue experimenting with innovation in the magical world of Formula E.”