So Watt?

Join comedian and former Block contestant Andy Saunders on our new podcast So Watt? to discover everything that’s new in the world of energy, and what’s in it for you.

So Watt?

Join comedian and former Block contestant Andy Saunders on our new podcast So Watt? to discover everything that’s new in the world of energy, and what’s in it for you.


When was the last time you thought about where your energy comes from? Behind all of our appliances and devices is an entire network powering our lives, and that energy grid is changing, and fast.

So Watt? you may ask.

Join comedian, sustainability and renovation enthusiast (and former The Block contestant) Andy Saunders as he helps lift the veil on the complex world of energy; what’s coming, why you should care, and most importantly, what’s in it for you.

About Andy

You may recognise Andy as one half of ‘Andy and Deb’ – popular contestants during the 2019 season of The Block, returning for The Block All Stars in 2020.

Or maybe you have seen him performing his critically acclaimed comedy at a festival or show sometime over the last decade. Or perhaps, you are simply just like ‘Andy who?’

Well, let us introduce him.

Here he is below with his wife Deb.

Deb and Andy

They live in Wallabi on the mid-north coast of NSW, 92km south of Port Macquarie, with their four children.

They are passionate about sustainability and renovating, and operate a boutique holiday accommodation called Bask at Green Point.

And in addition to being the host of ‘So Watt?’, they are also currently appearing on TV screens now on another show called ‘Renovate or Rebuild’ on Nine Life.

Through six episodes, Andy will be your host on a journey through the world of energy from EVs to solar and batteries and online gaming!

So Watt? Trailer

The show that questions everything you thought you knew about energy, and explores the solutions that exist today. Hosted by comedian Andy Saunders, So Watt? will take you on a journey through the energy sector to find out what’s happening, why you should care, and most importantly, what’s in it for you.

So Watt? is brought to you by Origin, with production and scripting from the team at Lawson Media.

Episode transcript

So Watt – Trailer

Alina Dini: So I’m just accelerating now and as you can hear again it’s still really quiet.  I’m going to press the accelerator down a little bit faster so you can feel how zippy it is. And it’s just… it’s fun, you know? It feels like a roller coaster…

Andy Saunders (Host): When was the last time you thought about the energy you use? About the car you drive? And about all the appliances and gadgets we have in our homes? 

Jo Quirk: Oh, my partner’s really into the biggest telly on the planet. So we have a very large telly. 

Marc Niemes: I can tell you no kid appreciates how much energy they’re using if they’re sitting on a PlayStation or LED bulbs… it doesn’t mean anything to them because they’re not having to earn the income to pay for that

Andy Saunders (Host): G’Day, I’m Andy Saunders and this is So Watt? a podcast from Origin that questions everything you thought you knew about energy… and explores the solutions that exist today. 

Greg Jackson: Remember that we’re in a world of dramatic change… but if we get the renewable transition right, we could be at a world in 10 to 15 years, where we’ve eliminated the carbon impact.

Andy Saunders (Host): I’ll explore whether you should switch to an EV, get a battery for your home, and find out why energy companies are trying to pay you to turn off power. 

Matt Duesterberg: Last August… we saw some of the hottest temperatures on record… but what was crazy is that we were just not prepared as a grid.

Zack Fitz-Walter: Simply by providing that feedback… to turn off our appliances, or to save some energy, gives us this kind of goal or this challenge. And then to really reinforce that behavior by providing some kind of reward. It can motivate us to change our behaviour.

Andy Saunders (Host): We’re even going to speak to the father of photovoltaics (or solar as I like to call it)… 

Martin Green: Yeah… maybe modern photovoltaics, father of modern photovoltaics.

Dorota Bacal: Now when you’re producing the silicon solar panel, you reach the temperature range of 1000 degrees Celsius, that’s a lot of energy… This energy and this emissions are paid back within two years.

Andy Saunders (Host): We’ll learn how technology is making it easier for us to understand what we’re spending, what’s powering our homes and what it might look like in the future. 

Chau Le: And in that future… in my future, there would be electric and autonomous travel pods. You can tell that I’ve been watching too much Jetson when I was small…

Dom Pym: I actually think that everyone will be driving around in electric cars, everyone will have battery backup, and everybody will be using a solar or wind or some other form of…  renewable energy in the future. And so it’s just about the journey from here to there.

Andy Saunders (Host): So Watt launches on Wednesday, November 10th. Find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or visit originenergy.com.au/sowatt. That’s S-O-W-A-T-T.

Andy Saunders (ALT LINE): So Watt is available now, listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or visit originenergy.com.au/sowatt. 

So Watt? Episode 1 – Power To The People

Whether it’s shopping online, hailing a taxi, or booking a hotel, technology has completely transformed the way we purchase products, and access services. And it turns out, the same thing is happening in energy. A new breed of energy company is disrupting the industry, changing the way retailers operate, and empowering you to make smarter choices.

So Watt? is brought to you by Origin, with production and scripting from the team at Lawson Media.

Episode transcript

So Watt – Episode 1 – Power To The People

Andy Saunders (Host): G’Day I’m Andy Saunders and I’m a comedian….to some, and welcome to episode one of So Watt? – a podcast from Origin that questions everything you thought you knew about energy. My wife Deb and I are former contestants on The Block. That experience, as well as renovating a number of properties, having kids, running a small business and a busy home means we have little time for much else. Let alone understanding the complex world of energy – even though our house is jam packed full of it, pent up and let loose. But living a coastal life in Wallabi Point – on the New South Wales Mid-Coast, also means access to magnificent beaches. And I love to surf… 

Andy Saunders (Host): So when I’m out for a surf, I’ve often found myself thinking: I wished I could surf for a living and ‘I could do more, live more sustainably, at the very least know where the energy comes from that powers our lives.’ 

Andy Saunders (Host): So where does our energy come from? What can we expect in the future? How can we make smarter energy choices, and best of all, save money along the way? Throughout the series we’ll look at solar energy, electric vehicles, batteries for the home, virtual power plants, disruption and the customer experience, and even turn energy into a game. I’m determined to find out as much as I can, and I’ll take you along for the ride.

Andy Saunders (Host): So, where better to start understanding my own energy use than at home with Deb, because I think she knows everything.

Deb Saunders: Uh, okay. I’m probably not real up on that…

Andy Saunders (Host): Righto, that went well…show’s over…series done. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Deb and I are pretty much on the same page: a basic knowledge of our energy consumption but we do want to find ways to improve. 

Deb Saunders: Look, we have always thought about things like switching the lights off? We’re not doing that all the time. But it is, we’ve had the conversations definitely. But I think now as you know, we’re growing older and we’re learning a little bit more… about sustainability… So you know, we’re on that path. Definitely. We’re looking at switching out lights and things like that in our own home to reduce energy costs… And I think we’ve got a lot to learn. But yeah, we’re willing students. We want to learn more.

Andy Saunders (Host): Ohhh, she’s so gorgeous…

Andy Saunders (Host): So maybe the first step on this journey needs to be understanding how the energy grid that keeps our lights on actually works.  

Ariel Liebman: It’s actually gotten a lot more complicated to answer that question in the last 20 years than it used to be.

Andy Saunders (Host): This is Professor Ariel Liebman.  

Ariel Liebman: Director of the Monash Energy Institute, an energy climate nexus focused institute at Monash University. We’re cross-disciplinary, and I am a professor of sustainable energy systems in the Department of Data Science and AI and the Faculty of Information Technology.

Andy Saunders (Host): Professor Liebman is here to give an overview of Australia’s energy sector. Most of the population live on the East coast and are actually connected to what’s known as the National Electricity Market. 

Ariel Liebman: There’s the physical system that creates and generates the electricity and moves it around. And then there’s the market, as you call it, which is a complex mixture of agencies and companies, which both generate and or retail electricity. There is also the other energy grid that we often don’t think about so much, but is in the equation, and that’s the natural gas grid. Which is a smaller part of domestic electric energy use, but it’s still important, although it may decline in importance over the years as we switch towards renewable energy.

Andy Saunders (Host): Switching to renewable energy is actually a big deal for our energy market. We love renewables in Australia, but our grid, like many all over the world, was actually designed for more traditional sources. 

Ariel Liebman: Probably three types dominate in Australia, coal, gas, and hydro traditionally, and now of course, we’ve got a lot of large scale wind and solar…. And then once you’ve generated this energy you have to transport it to the consumers and that’s done through both high voltage, long distance transmission lines and lower voltage distribution networks.

Andy Saunders (Host): It helps to visualise what we’re talking about. Imagine a physical power plant, huge turbines spinning, which are generating electricity that is fed along power lines, or into distribution networks. But there are other options out there that many of us are familiar with. 

Ariel Liebman: The other one is the emergence of new technologies, such as primarily rooftop solar. And when you combine that with the discussion around the urgency of addressing climate change issues, consumers have also become much more engaged in both the issue and the ability to do something about that issue. Which mostly for most customers, is either putting rooftop solar on or signing up to a electricity plan that is something like a green power certified plan where they can be somewhat assured that their electricity is coming from renewable sources. 

Andy Saunders (Host): So we know that when we turn our lights on the power probably came from a gas, or coal-fired power plant. But increasingly the network is being powered by renewables – like solar, or wind, or even pumped hydro, which is a way of storing renewable electricity when it’s plentiful and using it later when demand is higher. The makeup of our energy grid is changing and we’ll explore that in more detail in a later episode. But there’s another change happening – and it’s being driven by tech.

Andy Saunders (Host): When companies like Uber and Amazon disrupted the taxi or shopping experience it was through technology. They transformed industries that weren’t really broken. Taxis always worked… but Uber changed our customer experience forever. So it seems only natural this would happen in the energy space.

Ariel Liebman: Yeah, well, definitely. And there’s two aspects to this. One of them is, is this this actually has been going on longer in Australia… So we have had a few rounds of innovative startups coming into the market, the latest crop, like Octopus, we do have similar ones, but they maybe not making as many inroads into the customer space. They’re probably the types that one would call aggregators, where they offer some technological components to their products.

Greg Jackson: Hi, I’m Greg Jackson, I’m the founder and chief executive of Octopus Energy.

Andy Saunders (Host): Octopus Energy is a startup that’s been making waves in the UK because of their focus on technology. 

Greg Jackson: We started in 2016. Really, to use technology to drive down the cost of energy for consumers, to make pricing more transparent, and to really see if we could make the transition to green energy faster and cheaper. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Greg isn’t your typical energy CEO whose been in the industry for decades and talks in complex acronyms… it turns out he’s a bit of a gamer. 

Greg Jackson: I tell you what, I’ve got a 14 year old son, and he can beat me at any game except Tetris… Last night, he and I were playing Tekken Six. Yes, on a retro arcade game that we’ve got in the house. And it was fantastic fun.

ANDY SAUNDERS: Ahhh… A man after my own heart. Turns out Greg doesn’t just love playing games; he started his career making video games.

Greg Jackson: You know, this was the day of the sort of eight bit home computers. And it was fascinating because, you know, I started as a sort of teenage sole programmer in a bedroom. And I think, you know, even then, what I saw was the emergence of more powerful computing, as we went from eight bit to 16 bit. As you went from being able to do stuff as a sort of one person, or small two person team, to really requiring big teams to create games. And I think, you know, I saw the degree of change, and that was back in the mid to late 80s. That was happening in the world of video games or home computing. You could just imagine where that was going to go exponentially with the world, which is why I decided I should go and get an education because I went to university and then because I think the entire prospect of this amount of change was both terrifying and thrilling. And we sit here today, you know, in the 2021, when you’ve got a phone in your pocket, which has got just in one app the entirety of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s vision of the future. Nevermind all the other stuff you can do.

Andy Saunders (Host): Greg’s not an energy CEO… well he is… but he isn’t… but he is… but he isn’t… Do you get where I’m going with this? And this is a trend we see amongst other disruptors. 

Greg Jackson: You know, when you look at the companies that have changed society, through technology, they don’t tend to have come from the sector they change. So you know, Uber wasn’t set up by cab drivers. You know, Amazon wasn’t set up by shopkeepers. And I think in our case, you know, I started life writing video games. And I think, you know, for me, technology’s always been really core to how I think about the world. I think the most important thing in the run up to this business was that in 2003, I started a business which ended up building enterprise software. We built large platforms for big organisations. And I think when we did that we really got a front seat ride, as different industries faced the technology disruption. And so when we sold that business, we kind of looked around the world and said, What’s the biggest sector where we can make the biggest difference through technology? Energy stuck out a mile, you know, customers are underserved, they’re overpaying. They spent half the time chasing around call centres that don’t want to help them. And then critically, it’s a sector which had held back the fight against climate change. So for a whole pile of reasons, we kind of thought this was, you know, our opportunity to make a big green dent in the universe.

Andy Saunders (Host): So Greg might not be a typical energy CEO, and Octopus is definitely not a regular energy company. In fact, you’d probably call it a tech company first. And the tech problem it decided to solve was energy, and specifically renewables. 

Greg Jackson: Government here in the UK, and many other countries had been subsidising renewable generation. And see, we’re beginning to see a reasonable amount of renewables on the grid but what you didn’t have was any real consumer understanding that this brought benefit. In fact, on consumers, all they saw was extra levies on their electricity bills to pay for these renewables. So I think at that time, and it was only a few years ago, but you know, there was a sense that green energy was expensive. It was kind of a luxury. And, you know, actually, it’s amazing how things have changed so quickly.  

Andy Saunders (Host): Octopus entered a UK market dominated by incumbents who did offer renewable sources, but Greg saw a lot more potential. He also realised there was no way Octopus could win a price war. But where they could win was customer service.

Greg Jackson: So it’s actually one of the inspirations for starting the business was the pain points I experienced as a customer of energy companies. And aside from pricing, which was a pain point I’d experienced, and that we read about what in the headlines, what you tend to find with energy companies is, customers only call when there’s an issue. But because companies are running all these different systems, you know, some of them 20 or 30 years old, not always properly connected with teams that are trained to handle one particular system. So you get handed from one team, to another, to another. Whenever there was an issue, the resolution of that was drawn out and painful. And you spend a long time on the phone with often brilliant people who were constrained by systems. Now, because we’re from a technology background, we set out from the beginning to create a single platform that covers every aspect of the customer’s experience with us, so that whatever they need solved, our team can help them.

Andy Saunders (Host): What really set the company apart was tech, after all Greg is far more likely to design an app than run a power plant. So rather than jumping onto one of the legacy platforms, Octopus developed its own customer service platform, called Kraken. That’s K-R-A-K-E-N, if you want to look it up, and it powers their whole business.

Greg Jackson: And what Kraken does is it runs the entire company, you know, from the bits that estimate how much energy energy everyone’s going to use, and work with generation, both our own and third point generation to make sure we’ve got that energy every moment of time, through to the bit that calculates how much everyone’s used and starts working out their bills… And so I think the first thing was, by having this kind of consolidated 21st century in the cloud platform built by us for energy, you make fewer mistakes, so customers don’t need to phone as often, if they do find they’ll get better service. And if they choose to contact us by any other medium than phone, they’ll get great service.

Andy Saunders (Host): Origin even noticed the huge potential of Octopus and Kraken, so they purchased a twenty per cent stake in the company, and soon Origin’s entire retail customer business will be run on the platform. It was clear that Kraken wasn’t a huge sea monster, but it was changing the UK energy market, and had potential to go global. I really wished it was the monster though…

Greg Jackson: When we were two or three years old, as a business, we kind of knew that in our technology platform Kraken, and our operating model and our vision for the future, we were sitting on something special. And yet here in the UK, the incumbent energy companies and indeed, around most of Europe, were fairly dismissive. Like so often in a sector that is ripe for disruption, the incumbents just don’t spot, you know that technology is going to give people the edge it does.

Andy Saunders (Host): If Kraken looks at my energy use data, finds me the cheapest way of powering my home, and provides me guilt free electricity by committing to renewables, then it’s fair to say Greg’s disrupted the energy sector.

Andy Saunders (Host): We know disruption has happened with taxis, and shopping, but let’s look a bit closer to home. What Octopus is doing in energy in the UK, is kind of familiar… and that’s because it’s happening here, down under… in banking?

Dom Pym: I’m Dom Pym, I’m probably most well known as co-founder of Up, which is Australia’s first digital bank, and now probably our most successful digital bank. So that’s, that’s what I do day to day, that’s my day job. But I also help other startup founders and get involved in the community and work primarily with FinTech businesses. And also within the sort of… the energy or save the planet type things… anything to do that’s alternative or interesting, that, you know, sort of looks generations ahead. I’m also interested in that sort of stuff as well.

Andy Saunders (Host): Okay…okay, seriously, imagine Dom’s job interview? They ask him; ‘Okay, what are you looking for in this role?’ He answers; ‘Well, anything that saves the planet! That’s alternative or interesting!! That looks generations ahead!!! Brilliant! 

Andy Saunders (Host): Dom, as his LinkedIn profile states, is an entrepreneur, technologist, innovator, investor and co-founder of the digital bank Up. Whereas my linkedin profile says “I am none of those things and far from it”. So Dom, what is Up? 

Dom Pym: Actually, Up was the first cloud hosted bank in Australia, it was also the first mobile only bank. So I guess it’s really what your definition of digital is, some people call them challenger banks. And then that can also encompass, you know, banks with branches and all that. So in terms of what it was, as I said, first mobile only bank, so you have to have a smartphone to access Up. And we’re also the first bank in Australia that you can download the app, and within a couple of minutes, you could literally have money in your account and be doing banking, you know, maybe buy a coffee or or whatever it is you want to do. And so that’s a bit of a game changer. Because before UP, it could take anywhere between two and 10 business days to set up a bank account, and to get a card and then activate your card and put it in your wallet, and all sorts of things. And you know, all of that just seemed a bit archaic, to us. And we really wanted to disrupt it and make it so that you can download the app and then instantly have a bank account and away you go. And so that’s really, when we talk about a digital bank, it runs on the cloud and the Google Cloud Platform is what we use. And it allows you to instantly activate one or more bank accounts. And so that, that’s really for us what the definition of digital means…

Andy Saunders (Host): With Up, Dom and his colleagues set out to disrupt traditional banking.

Dom Pym: So to be a disruptor. And to do something new and interesting, the bar is actually very high. The big four banks in Australia have amongst the best digital platforms and digital apps in the world, right?… And so for a new digital bank, to come into the market, there has to be some sort of reasonable value proposition. It can’t just be, it’s cheaper, or it’s quicker, or it’s easier, there’s got to be something compelling. Otherwise, why would people even try it?

Dom Pym: Customers don’t know what they want, like, particularly inside the energy sector. It’s a utility, right? And banking is somewhat a utility. So you get what you get and you don’t get upset. That’s how sort of most Aussie’’s would think about their utilities, right? I’ve got a water bill, and I pay it and I get water, I turn the tap on, that’s it, I turn the lights on, and then it works, you know… Most people won’t be thinking too hard about what sort of innovation can happen, but there’s this whole Silicon Valley influence of entrepreneurs and these entrepreneurs. This next generation of young entrepreneurs, that have grown up with technology, are basically looking to use technology to disrupt.

Dom Pym: I think it’s a perfect storm, you’ve got legacy industries that are dominated by a handful of players. And then you’ve got technology…

Andy Saunders (Host): So, the story of UP and of Octopus are starting to sound pretty familiar… 

Dom Pym: Accessibility of technology, the cost of implementation and maintenance of technology, the way that technology is disrupting those different industries, and the accessibility and usability from a consumer perspective, is what has sort of converged into this whole new economy… And what we found is that by creating an awesome user experience by creating an awesome brand, by having design embedded in everything we do, being honest, being transparent, publishing our roadmap publicly, for example…

Andy Saunders (Host): I’m pausing here to repeat those phrases: being honest, being transparent, publishing our roadmap publicly…remember, the person saying them is in banking. That’s not the kind of language you often hear from a bank. It’s usually, “Hi, how may I have your money?”

Dom Pym: if you bring all those things together, it’s the perfect storm, we’re seeing it in telecommunications, we’re seeing it in aerospace and space itself, we’re seeing it in internet technologies, we’re seeing it in banking, we’re seeing it in energy, we’re seeing it in consumer goods I mean, there’s pretty much not an industry that you can think of that is untouched by this sort of conversion of legacy businesses into modern technology businesses. And one way to sum it up is that there is no such thing as a legacy or traditional company anymore, every company is now a technology company. 

Andy Saunders (Host): You know when you notice a building that seems to have gone up overnight? Or a feature in the landscape that you didn’t see until someone pointed it out? I think that’s where I’m at. That’s what I’m feeling. At the start, I wanted to know where the electricity comes from when I switch a light on. But who would have thought the answer reveals that our world is undergoing such massive change?

Dom Pym: Yeah, for me the number one thing is awareness, right. So, before I started getting interested in this type of stuff, I had no real interest. Like I would get a bill once a quarter or once a month in my letterbox and probably put it in the bin, or the shredder, like I didn’t really look at it, direct debit, or whatever, I just sort of ignored it, I had no real interest in what my energy consumption was, or my carbon footprint was, or you know, whether I was taking it out of the grid or putting into the grid. And none of that was really interesting for me, once I started taking an interest in it, it just snowballs from there.

Greg Jackson: Remember that we’re in a world of dramatic change. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Here’s Greg Jackson again. 

Greg Jackson: Recognise the world in the next 15 or 20 years will be totally different… So think about the way the world is gonna change around you… but if we get the renewable transition right, we could be a world in 10 to 15 years, where we’ve eliminated the carbon impact. And at that point, it’s less about energy efficiency, and about just what do you want to spend money on to make for a more comfortable, enjoyable life. The critical bit to that is making sure that we do get to the zero carbon system. I think it is an incredibly exciting juncture, where, you know, we can realistically start dreaming of a world of zero carbon, zero guilt, electricity. 

Andy Saunders (Host): So, we’ve taken a few steps on this path to exploring the complex world of energy. We’ve learned how energy is generated and distributed to homes, but also that technological disruption is driving change for the better. 

Ariel Liebman: So we’re in an unprecedented period in history in fact of technological change. When we’re in it, it doesn’t feel as fast, but it’s much faster than the Industrial Revolution took to happen and the PC revolution or the you know, the 80s, where suddenly you could actually afford a computer on your desk. We think that’s normal now, but it wasn’t that normal. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Remember when Dom said he sought out interesting things that look generations ahead to help save the planet…well, if none of that resonates with you – listen in to this next bit. 

Dom Pym: I’ve got young kids, and so I just care about the future, I just want them to live in a world that is awesome, you know, and that is sustainable, and that, that their kids, you know, will have a future. And I think that we easily get into a debate… about fossil fuels or about sustainable forestry or, you know, whatever it is. I’m not political, like I’m not that interested in having the debate. I just try for me, and my immediate family and my immediate friends and my colleagues to just help make a difference where we can. 

Andy Saunders (Host): All of this disruption across our economy is really offering us choice. So whether it’s grabbing a taxi, choosing a bank, or deciding our energy provider, technology is giving power back to us, the consumers. Companies need to be focused on innovation if they want to succeed in the new economy, and all of this tech is just enabling us to make better, smarter choices.

Andy Saunders (Host): Perhaps Deb and I can do a little bit more than change the lightbulbs or look at installing solar panels. Those are important steps, but it feels like there’s more we can do…Let’s see what Deb has to say, ‘cause she is my little self help guru. I call her this because all of our conversations are about improving me as a person.

Deb Saunders: Our 12-year-old, about to turn 12-year-old son has been pestering us to buy an electric vehicle for years, he loves the Tesla’s and he’s really, really interested in all of that sort of thing. So probably the most I know about that is through him and what he’s told me.

Andy Saunders (Host): Get ready for your EV smile Deb, Because In episode two of So Watt? – we’re in high pursuit of an electric vehicle and the smile that happens when you drive one. 

Alina Dini: It’s so smooth and quiet and peaceful when I drive, that I find myself feeling more relaxed sometimes in my car than in my house.

Andy Saunders (Host): So Watt? is the show that questions everything you thought you knew about energy and it’s brought to you by Origin. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Production and scripting by the team at Lawson Media.

Andy Saunders (Host): If you’re keen to know more about Origin’s approach to customer experience – I’ve left a great blog post in the episode show notes.  

Andy Saunders (Host): You can learn more about the podcast and listen to other episodes at originenergy.com.au/sowatt, or just hit subscribe in the podcast app you’re in right now.
Andy Saunders (Host): I’m Andy Saunders, and I can’t wait to speak to you next time.

So Watt? Episode 2 – That EV Smile

Electric Vehicles have been around for more than one hundred years – but new battery technology, and cheaper manufacturing costs, mean we’ve seen a resurgence in electric cars, and buying an EV is now a possibility for many people. But what will it take to see EVs go mainstream, and should you consider buying one?

So Watt? is brought to you by Origin, with production and scripting from the team at Lawson Media.

Episode transcript

So Watt – Episode 2 – That EV Smile

Alina Dini: So I’m just accelerating now and as you can hear again it’s still really quiet. I’m going to press the accelerator down a little bit faster so you can feel how zippy it is. And it’s just, it’s fun, you know? It feels like a roller coaster. And when I take people for test drives and give them the chance to put their foot on the accelerator, I am never without a smile. In fact they call it an EV smile.

Andy Saunders (Host): An EV smile! Woah – I want one of them. I want an electric vehicle smile! Hi, it’s Andy Saunders here again and this is So Watt? – a podcast from Origin that questions everything you thought you knew about energy… and in this episode, I’m going car shopping.

Andy Saunders (Host): Now, in the past I might have gone looking for a big thirsty monster that chews up the highway. A V8 muscle car with too much torque, rocker rollers, five on the floor, 4 exhausts, and so on… but that’s not gonna get me an EV smile. That’s just gonna get me arrested…. and I don’t want to get arrested… again.

Andy Saunders (Host): So, in this episode I’m going to get the facts about electric vehicles. Look, I’m just going to call them EV’s from now on. EV’s have been around for more than a hundred years now, but these days batteries are much more advanced and cheaper to make, which means more people are jumping on the EV bandwagon. Or should I say, into an EV station wagon. First off, what is an EV and how does it differ from a vehicle with an internal combustion engine? 

Scott Nargar: An EV is a lot different to an internal combustion engine that stores the petrol on the back of the vehicle and then powers an internal combustion car. With an EV we have a large battery in the vehicles and the car goes through and pulls that energy from the battery and it runs an electric motor which then propels the vehicle up a hill or, around the, around the city streets…

Andy Saunders (Host): This is Scott Nargar – from Hyundai Australia.

Scott Nargar: I’m the Senior Manager of Future Mobility and Government Affairs at Hyundai Motor Company Australia.

Andy Saunders (Host): Gotcha, sounds exciting.

Scott Nargar: So we go from having a couple of thousand moving parts in an internal combustion engine to having about four to six moving parts in electric vehicle. So there’s a lot less servicing maintenance, there’s zero noise, so it is a whole different driving experience but not dissimilar to what you’re doing today when you’re driving a normal car around the streets. 

Andy Saunders (Host): I just wanted Scott to give us an introduction into what an EV is – we’ll come back to him later on. We now know EV’s are quiet and run by a battery instead of an internal combustion engine. But there’s a lot more to find out, a lot more questions that I want answers to. Lucky for me there’s a company dedicated to answering questions that prospective EV owners, like me, might have.  

Alina Dini: My name is Alina Dini, I am a sustainability and energy professional. I work as Founder and CEO of Whirl, which is a company that is committed to making electric cars accessible to everyone.

Andy Saunders (Host): Before starting her company Whirl, Alina was the 109th person to be employed at Tesla in Silicon Valley, California. And yes Tesla as in Elon Musk. For those that do not know, Elon Musk is not an aftershave, he is a man, a brilliant man…I mean, we have to ask don’t we, what was it like working with the main man Elon? 

Alina Dini: Yeah. Look, Elon is a personality. Absolutely. But he’s also the most brilliant person I’ve ever come in contact with. I think many people would agree. So you know, with that kind of genius comes things that you have to adjust to. But I found him to always be very polite and friendly to me, and I have fond memories of my time working at the company, including the time I sat alongside him.

Andy Saunders (Host): After her time at Tesla taking people like Arnold Schwartzenegger for test drives, Alina moved to Queensland with her Aussie husband and banged out a PHD on clean technology customer experience, with a focus on electric cars. To be fair though, who wouldn’t do this. Any questions I have about EV ownership in Oz, this CEO will set me straight. In fact, one thing I wanna know is how far we can drive an EV before the battery dies and we’re left stranded by the side of the road looking like a galah, and we are about to start surviving on our own, Tom Hanks style in Cast Away. Wilson!

Alina Dini: Range is often one of the biggest issues that comes up when you talk about EV ownership. So once you’ve committed to owning one, you think, Okay, I have this limited range battery, I know what that means, because I have a mobile phone and a laptop. And I’ve experienced that sort of sensation of almost being out of charge before. You know the anxiety is overwhelming, you can’t possibly put that in my car. But the reality is that we have very little, as a people, we have very little consciousness of how much driving we actually do on a daily basis…

Alina Dini: And I can tell you that anytime I’ve ever gone on a road trip I’ve planned ahead. It doesn’t matter whether I’m driving an EV or a petrol car. I always know where I’m going to take a break roughly, because I want to go somewhere that’s convenient to me and I usually plan ahead by packing the things I might need. So in the case of being an EV driver, I would pack my travel charge cable just as a backup in case one of those public charging stations is occupied or inoperable.

Andy Saunders (Host): To be fair though, when I think about my daily use, it’s usually just around town – picking up the kids, dropping the kids off, picking the kids back up, dropping the kids off again. Picking them up again. Dropping them… Look, I really wished they would start walking around the house by themselves, they are teenagers after all. Lazy buggers. Actually I think they’ve gotta start taking the bus and ride their bikes for once, but the hallways are way too narrow! Anyway, I don’t really do that many long haul road trips. But I do live in a regional area…

Alina Dini: And I think what’s terrific about Australia is, Australia really cares about its regional residents. So we’re seeing a lot of infrastructure come into some of those smaller cities and thoroughfares to them to accommodate electric vehicle motoring through those locations, which is fantastic. The other thing that’s really important to note is that the electricity infrastructure that you need to own and operate an EV already exists. So all it’s a matter of doing is tapping into that and making sure you have access… by and large, the electricity is there, so it’s just a matter of accessing it. And a third point I’ll make is that we’re, as a society moving on from this sort of one size fits all solution to whatever we do. What’s great about an EV is whether you are, you know, at a lower affordability range, and you can only accommodate a secondhand car with a reduced range, that’s an option for you. Or if you prefer a longer range vehicle, and you have the ability to purchase one that accommodates that bigger battery that’s available to you. So… it’s no longer a one size fits all petrol engine car that you must drive, but there are lots and lots of products and ways to access them that can enable you to become an electric vehicle motorist, if you choose.

Alina Dini: My advice is find someone who, who owns one. So you might have a friend or a colleague or a neighbor. If you don’t, you can visit our website and talk to electric vehicle owners who are available for a virtual chat. Notwithstanding that, there are lots of YouTube videos, and podcasts, and case studies available online you can read through and understand what the ownership experience is like. And just really, think through the mechanics of what the lifestyle change might mean for you. Because once you do, you realize that it’s actually not a huge shift. And there’s a lot more to be gained from being an electric vehicle owner than what is perceived to be an impediment. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Okay, Alina’s given me a good place to start: think about my driving habits, what’s my average range distance, find someone to hit up for a test drive. But even if I do all of this I still want to be sure that there’s decent infrastructure out there. Places for me to charge. It’s not like I notice EV charging stations in the same way I notice petrol stations, why is that?  

Doug McNamee: Power really is everywhere. And there’s really no reason why you can’t charge an EV anywhere you like.

Andy Saunders (Host): This is Doug McNamee. Doug is the founder and CEO of JOLT Charge.

Doug McNamee: JOLT is an Australian chargepoint operator. We are an urban fast-charging network, which operates currently the largest fast charging network in South Australia. And we’re building over 500 chargers in Sydney, in partnership with Ausgrid.

Andy Saunders (Host): Doug started JOLT after looking for EV charging stations close to his apartment in Sydney and finding none. Knowing that most people live along our eastern coastline within forty kilometres of major cities, he then discovered that 85% of the trips urban dwellers make, are less than twenty kilometres from their home. But, there were very few urban EV charge stations. 

Doug McNamee: Like everybody, right, I am a consumer first. And so thinking about my own consumption needs identified a gap in the market from a supply side. And so then started thinking about, well, what type of solution would I potentially need as as a driver and as a customer, and so from there, built on… various business plans and the like, to found the company whilst I was working my old job and, and started, you know, thinking about it more deeply from there. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Doug saw a gap in the market which he filled, by giving away EV charging for free. You know my favourite anything starts with free.

Doug McNamee: We give out seven kilowatt hours per person, per day, which is about 45 kilometres of range. So that’s what we offer for free. So after which time, you can buy energy. So depending on your consumption needs, you may buy more on a weekend, or you may be fine with the free charge, it really just depends on how you’re, you’re using your car and what your use case is. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Eventually, JOLT aims to have 5,000 EV Chargers operating in urban environments. 

Doug McNamee: Yeah, it’s a big number… But, you know, Australia needs over 35,000 DC fast chargers to reach our targets that we’ve set for 2030…. Our chargers are fast chargers, too, right? So the average charge time on our network is, I think it’s 19 minutes or something like that. So we’re not looking for, you know, somebody to come and spend 15 hours at one of our sites. So being able to access it conveniently is a really critical piece of that.

Doug McNamee: Now we’re seeing that… dramatic growth in the number of EVs that are arriving in Australia on a monthly basis. And as a result, you know, the demand for convenient fast charging is is shifted. So, you know, I think understanding, you know, the difference between the charging speeds and their locations is probably something that is starting to become apparent… 

Andy Saunders (Host): Yeah, I’m always worried my phone is going to run out of juice, or how fast I can charge it. So it’s only natural I think about how fast or slow or convenient it might be to charge my EV.  

Doug McNamee: The charging landscape is divided into three… levels… level one, which is essentially the speed that you would charge your car at home. And so that can be AC charging, that ranges from one kilowatt, you know, maybe through to about seven kilowatt hours. The charging speeds that you’ll get on that could be, again, depending on the size of your battery, but it might be eight hours through to maybe 12 or 15 hours from zero to 100. You then move into what they call level two. So level two charging is, you know, traditionally also being called destination charging. And that’s these faster AC charging speeds… And again, depending on the type of car you’ve got, you will have, you know, charging speeds that will vary from, you know, maybe four or five hours through to eight hours or something like that. 

Andy Saunders (Host): AC, that’s the kind of power you get from a socket at home. Eight to 10 hours of charging is fine and all, but before you get too thunderstruck by what’s happening here, the real key to unlocking that highway to hell, is what’s called DC – or direct current.

Doug McNamee: Which is when we start and see a more efficient transfer of electrons. So the grid runs on AC, the batteries in the car all run on DC. So when you start and get to those DC fast charging levels, you start and have energy, which is coming into the battery, which is already in DC… it’s been inverted, and it’s now DC. DC then allows you to increase the speed of the charge. So you see charging in what we call DC level three, or fast charging, starting at 25 kilowatts, and it goes up to 350 kilowatts, you know, 350 I think they’re calling that ultra fast charging, and then you’ve got… fast charging and DC fast and a whole bunch of different names that kind of fall into that. But I think, more broadly speaking, that division between AC and DC tends to be where we start and see that step change into fast. And that allows the car to generally take the energy more efficiently because it doesn’t have to rely on the inverter which is already in the car.

Andy Saunders (Host): That charging landscape relies on fast charging, but where are the EV charging stations? Why aren’t I seeing them? Am I blind to EV stations? Do I have EV station phobia? Please Doug, tell me.

Doug McNamee: Everybody lives and uses their time in different ways, a big part of what we do at JOLT is optimise for people’s time. So if you are into exercise, you might be using our charges that are adjacent to a gym or one that’s at a pool. If you are a footy fan, you might be using the ones that we’ve got at footy ovals, if you like to surf, you might be using our beach chargers. What we have is, I guess, a large network that we’re building that is going to cater for a very large percentage of the population. And so we’re finding that, you know, people optimise for what they want to do with their time, and that’s an optimum location for them to charge.

Doug McNamee: I got an email from one of our happy clients, customers I should say, from our brand new charger in Mona Vale, which is adjacent to their favourite sushi restaurant. So they love that. And that’s like the optimum, you know, set-up for their lifestyle and what they want to do.

Andy Saunders (Host): No wonder I wasn’t noticing EV stations like I do petrol stations. They’re all at footy ovals, gyms and sushi bars!! I think part of the evolution with the idea of potential EV ownership is about matching behaviour with needs. It feels like we’ve been doing things around the wrong way, know what I mean?  We used to drive those gas guzzlers, running on empty, pulling off the highway and limping into the petrol station. But with EV’s we have the fuel in the form of charging stations, located at places we like to go!! So they’re coming to us instead of us going to them! I like that!

Doug McNamee: I guess as a general rule of thumb, we like, you know, sites that can be accessed 24/7, have safe locations for people to be able to charge, you know, lighting, things like that. A lot of those are things that we can build in if they’re not already there. But it’s about creating a user experience that… allows people to spend their time how they want to spend. And I guess that’s one of the biggest benefits of EV charging over, you know, other propulsion mechanisms is that power really is everywhere.

Andy Saunders (Host): And there should be no reason you can’t charge an EV anywhere you like. 

Doug McNamee: It really comes down to what people do with their car and how they think about it. But at the end of the day, you know, understanding what you use your car for and what’s that purchase actually for I think is going to be the key to understand what would be best for you.

Doug McNamee: That process can unlock your perception about, you know, what you need your car for, and how you need your car, and then it gives you, like, the freedom to kind of think differently.

Andy Saunders (Host): Unlocking my perception – the freedom to think differently – wow…Okay,  so that’s the urban environment taken care of, and it’s great to know what’s coming. But I don’t live in the city. In fact I live hours out of it, and I don’t fall into that 85% of people that live within 45 minutes of the CBD. So if I’m going to unlock my perception and think differently I need to know the experience of an EV owner living regionally, remote, out in the sticks… And I don’t think they’re gonna be so easy to find. 

Tim Devereaux: I’m Tim Devereaux – live in Harvey, Western Australia.

Andy Saunders (Host): Okay, that was a fair bit easier than expected. 

Tim Devereaux: I’m early 60s and retired and enjoy doing things for the community… and interested in sustainable energy and electric cars.

Andy Saunders (Host): Okay mate, don’t rub it in. Tim lives in Harvey, a little town of a few thousand people, smack bang between Perth and Margaret River.

Tim Devereaux: Oh, it’s a great little community minded town, population actually in the town is about 6000 people. But it’s spread over a big area taking in quite a few other towns… Very good access to Perth, it’s about 150 kilometers to Perth.

Andy Saunders (Host): Tim, his wife and family landed here a few decades ago. He’s a pretty knockabout bloke. He’s been a plumber, dairy farmer, worked in mining and ran his own home maintenance business. And, like a lot of us, he always thought he could live a little more sustainably. 

Tim Devereaux: My parents have always been very conscious of the resources and what we have in the world. And my… brother studied environmental science. So he always was (a) passionate carer for the environment. And so I guess a bit of that rubbed off on me. And then, in more recent years, I looked at solar power and conserving energy and reducing our reliance on coal, and looked at it for many years. But then about seven years ago, I put solar power on my house, and started to get a bit more involved and making more effort, I guess, towards cutting my reliance on fossil fuels.

Andy Saunders (Host): Okay, so Tim had an interest in renewable energy and sustainability. He threw a couple of solar panels on the roof, maybe had a compost bin out the back. A lot of us probably tick those boxes. But still, it’s a massive leap to go from solar panels to jumping behind the wheel of an EV, isn’t it?

Tim Devereaux: I researched for six or 12 months… and I finally settled on a Hyundai Kona electric… Because living in the country, I wanted a reasonable range. And although it was four times more than I’ve ever spent on a car before… I worked out that I would save approximately $30 to $35,000 in fuel over a 10 year period, traveling about 30,000 kilometers a year. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Okay, so that’s like putting eight to ten dollars back into your bank for 3,650 consecutive days…or skimping on those lattes and choccy croissants…

Tim Devereaux: So I researched it for six or 12 months and then went ahead and purchased one and never looked back. I love it.

Andy Saunders (Host): ‘course you did. But do you get the range? 

Tim Devereaux: I can travel about 400 kilometers, doing 110 at highway speeds, slower speeds, you can do 550 kilometers on a charge. So for me, I can go to Perth for a weekend, not have to worry about charging, come home and then plug it into my solar power and charge it and I haven’t stressed about it. There’s no range anxiety, it just works. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Now I know there’s EV’s that have less range, that offer about three hundred k’s on one charge but still when we go on a road trip in petrol cars we pull over for a pit stop, grab a bite, stretch the legs. Yeah okay, so when EV drivers do that, they plug in – top up  and tune out. Okay, alright, now I think I am getting it.

Tim Devereaux: People just have got this mindset of they’ve got to get there in a hurry. And we’ve actually quite enjoyed this stopping and taking time for lunch and having a look around a town.

Andy Saunders (Host): Depending on the town though… I think it is a mindset thing. In fact it’s starting to feel pretty zen if you ask me. But, I found out Tim’s Hyundai Kona cost him about $65,000, which isn’t cost effective for most of us. It’s about four times more than he ever spent on a car, but the thing is, he knows it’s going to pay off. After ten years he’ll have saved upward of $35,000, if not more, because his EV hasn’t guzzled 25 – 30 thousand litres in petrol. This mindset thing, it’s about the future being affected by the present – and, there are cheaper EV’s are out there with more coming down the track. Failing that, we need to start investing in very long extension cords.

Tim Devereaux: If you can afford it, do it. I think one area where people would really benefit are people who are retiring… putting money into an EV is a really good investment. Because you’re paying not just for the EV but reducing your costs into the future once you’re retired. 

Tim Devereaux: I’ve got a lot of my friends who drive big four wheel drives, still guzzle diesel fuel and regularly joke with me about it. Several of my neighbors and friends ribbed me about my solar power, saying that I wasn’t contributing to the poles and wires down the street. But now several of them have gone out and got bigger systems than I have, and are very happy with their systems and are proud to show me their phones and what their system is currently producing. So I think the fact that one person does it – it rubs off… and people see that it works, they’re more happy to take it on board, because someone else has already tried it and taken the risk. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Unlike me, ever, Tim’s done his homework. He’s researched his driving habits, took a risk and it’s already paying off. Let’s swing back to Scott. Remember him from the start? 

Scott Nargar: What are you actually driving each day and could you live with a battery that’s a bit smaller?… So understand what your driving requirements are and choose a battery that suits that. Yes, you will do longer trips a couple of times a year when we, we can get out of the house and explore Australia after COVID. But we can save a whole lot of money between that by buying a battery or a car that suits our needs…

Scott Nargar: With Hyundai in Australia, we have hybrid vehicles on the road, plug-in hybrid vehicles, or full battery electric vehicles and a couple of models of those, and we’ve got a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle on the road today as well as our normal complement of internal combustion… As global emission regulations starts to impact around the world and as we see countries especially in Europe looking to ban the sale of internal combustion from 2025, 2030, 2035 as a global car manufacturer, we need to be prepared to have vehicles that go into every market in the world and meet those emission regulations or internal combustion bans so we’re working very hard to deploy a range of zero emission vehicles being electric and hydrogen fuel cell around the world now, and we’re doing that here in Australia with a number of models. 

Scott Nargar: We’ve got EV’s on the road now, but the Ionic five and the cars that have come down the track after this one are what we really need to compete with internal combustion today and then enhance that experience and make it better. 

Andy Saunders (Host): In the past, many EVs were actually just modified versions of cars built to have an engine. They weren’t designed to be filled with batteries so they didn’t make the best use of space. However, things are changing.

Scott Nargar: We are moving to a vehicle that has got a dedicated platform and in Hyundai we call that the E-global modular platform. So that’s a platform that will be used by Hyundai and we also own Genesis and Kia. So there’ll be a number of vehicles that run that platform, it will have an 800 volt battery… 350 kilowatts of energy that will be able to go into it… so we can charge a vehicle from 10% to 80% in about 18 minutes.

Scott Nargar: Every five minutes you charge is about 100 kilometres of range… far different to what we’re seeing today with electric vehicles that can take up to 45 plus minutes to fully charge one of the high voltage batteries today on a charger, so this really moves to the fastest chargers available in the world and the fastest intake of energy into a battery of any cars in the world. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Having a car designed from the ground up to be electric – offers huge advantages. Not just to the functionality of the vehicle – but also to the user experience! 

Scott Nargar: So it is a really phenomenal experience. And we’re gonna see that from a number of manufacturers as well, you know, we’re going to have some great cars here, we’re doing very well against our competitors. Right now we’ve got you know, the next generation, actually, I wouldn’t even say the next generation, I’d say we’ve skipped a generation going from what we’ve got now to where we’re heading, the technology inside the vehicle is, is just phenomenal what it can do and what it achieves. And the comfort, the practicality it’s like sitting in a – in an armchair in your house. 

Scott Nargar: Once every couple of years, while judging that a car would come along, you’d say yep, this is a game changer now. I wouldn’t hesitate spending my own money on a car… and that’s a choice that people need to make themselves… With any EV, whether it’s ours or Nissans, or Tesla’s or MG’s. Go into a dealership, drive one, because what we find is most people that put their backsides into an electric vehicle, don’t want to get out of it. If they can live with the range of that particular vehicle, they’re driving and it meets their needs, then yeah, you are the you’ve made a decision that this is going to change the way you do things. You don’t need to go to a service station, in fact, your home becomes a service station, you can charge the vehicle up in the garage, you can use off peak energy, if you’ve got solar, you can charge the car through solar, a lot of manufacturers are moving to technology called Vehicle to Grid. So we’ve got Vehicle to Load working to power devices and things off the vehicle. But in the future, we’ll have it where you can power the house. 

Andy Saunders (Host): A couple of phrases jump out at me: Vehicle to Load; that means the stored energy in your EV battery being used to charge appliances like camping gear, electric bikes, coffee machines. The other was Vehicle to Grid – some Energy Operators also call it Smart Charging. Now imagine EV ownership is booming, and all these EV drivers come home after work and plug their cars into the grid at the same time. Energy consumption is peaking out. So, to combat that, EV’s will have visibility to the energy grid. Energy operators will be able to see when they’re plugged in. Now to help explain Vehicle to Grid or Smart Charging further I need to go ‘Full Jetson!’ or get my Tron on.

Chau Le: Hi, I’m Chau Le. And I’m the General Manager of Corporate Strategy and E-mobility at Origin Energy.

Chau Le: When we reach mass adoption of EV we might see a lot of EV’s plugged into the grid at the same time… and this coincides with the peak period for the energy markets as well as the wholesale network because that’s the period where your household energy consumption is also at its peak. So that’s definitely the scenario that both energy retailers as well as the distribution network are trying to avoid.

Chau Le: So it’s the ability to manage the charging of these EV’s to push it away from the peak periods in the wholesale energy markets and the constraint on the grid, push it away from that peak evening period into the midnight off peak period. And then more importantly into the midday period where there is excess solar in the energy system. 

Chau Le: So having a very flexible EV load that can be turned on when there is this excess renewable energy and soak that up, will add value to customers’ solar system, because they’re not being curtailed. They’re actually using all of that excess energy to power their car basically for free. 

Andy Saunders (Host): And then, in the future, as Scott says, we’ll be using our EVs to power our homes.

Chau Le: That would be kind of the next evolution of smart charging, that we want to to really tackle is imagine like your car battery, acting as Tesla powerwall. And soaking up the solar energy that you would have had to export back into the grid or worst case being curtailed. Soaking that up and then in the evening peak period, being used to power your fridge, your aircon, your dishwasher, and basically, you’re getting energy for your car and your house for free. That would be kind of Nirvana.

Andy Saunders (Host): Thanks Chau, I can always rely on you to go ‘Full Jetson’…

Chau Le: I’ve gone full Jetsons…

Chau Le: I haven’t spoken about my Jetson vision publicly so it’s been really good to have that conversation.

Andy Saunders (Host): Back on earth now, picking up with Scott…

Scott Nargar: So you can sell energy back to the grid, or use energy from the car that you’ve picked up elsewhere in the network, and you power your house with that at night. That’s really the big game changers. And what it does for people like Origin, and other energy producers around Australia, it actually helps balance out the grid. So if we can help absorb energy from the grid, when there’s a lot of excessive wind and solar, the cars can soak up that energy. And then at night, when everyone’s got the TVs, the heaters and the microwave on, the oven going. The kids have got all the TVs going with their Xboxes the cars can then dispense energy back in the grid and help maintain that frequency in the grid. The cars enable better performance of the grid. And that’s what everyone’s looking for with EV’s. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Sometimes we don’t even know what we’re looking for but it’s staring us in the face. Like my mum used to when I was naughty, in other words, she stared at me constantly.

Scott Nargar: We need to make cars safer for the environment. And this is where zero emission vehicles come into it. And the technology that’s here now is as practical and as durable as internal combustion technology. In fact, in a lot of cases better. And what’s coming in the next five to 10 years is just the next level beyond that, they’ll become more efficient, they’ll charge faster, the cars will perform much better than that, then internal combustion and they do that now. It’s just mind boggling to know what our engineers are working on, what other engineers are working on around the world and other factories and competitions a great, great way to innovate, you know.

Scott Nargar: So there’s a number of different manufacturers doing a great job here in Australia, we just want the whole nation to step up and look at what’s happening. If it’s happening in Germany and America and the UK and Italy, Spain, you know, some of the biggest countries in the world. They’re already starting the transition, started it many many years ago. Let’s just look at what’s happening and jump on board.

Scott Nargar: We’ve got great resources, why not use our great renewable resources to power these vehicles of the future. I keep saying vehicles of the future, they’re the vehicles of today.

Andy Saunders (Host): So imagine you’ve done your research. Like our mate Tim over in W.A. You understand your driving needs. You keep a log book for a month and estimate how much you spend on petrol every year. And the outlay for an EV? Might be more money than you’ve spent on any car before, but from day one, instead of depreciating, this EV is saving you money into the future. You’ve looked at EV charging infrastructure, it’s there already and more EV stations are rolling out every day. Range anxiety is a thing of the past. Occasional road trip’s are not a problem. The power is there. Unlock perception. Plug in. Recharge. Yep, I know what Alina means, about that EV smile, I thought my fuel fumed smile was good but this is great.

Andy Saunders (Host): In the next episode of So Watt?, what if energy was all a game? Would you turn off your appliances if it meant you could get some free cash, or even win a car? Yes Please.

Matt Duesterberg: And so we made an app to really get consumers to change their behaviour to create energy reductions… We were seeing Uber democratising taxi service across the world, Airbnb democratising hotels or lodging across the world. Why couldn’t we do the exact same with energy?

Andy Saunders (Host): Join us next week for episode three.

Andy Saunders (Host): So Watt is the show that questions everything you thought you knew about energy and it’s brought to you by Origin. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Production and scripting by the team at Lawson Media.

Andy Saunders (Host): If you’re keen to know more about Origin’s approach to powering the EV space – check out some of the resources I’ve left in the episode show notes.  

Andy Saunders (Host): You can also learn more about the podcast and listen to other episodes at originenergy.com.au/sowatt, or just hit subscribe in the podcast app you’re in right now.
Andy Saunders (Host): I’ve been Andy Saunders, ‘I’ll be back’ in the next episode.

So Watt? Episode 3 – It’s All A Game

Imagine if your energy provider asked you to use less electricity? In fact, to shut down – switch off – unplug. And if you did, just for an hour, they’d reward you. Would you think, what’s the catch?

So Watt? is brought to you by Origin, with production and scripting from the team at Lawson Media.

Episode transcript

So Watt – Episode 3 – It’s All A Game

Andy Saunders (Host): Imagine if your energy provider asked you to use less electricity? In fact, to shut down – switch off – unplug. And if you did, for just an hour, they’d pay you. Would you think, what’s the catch? I know I would. 

Jo Quirk: Well, the first thing was that you get paid to save energy. So it’s kind of (a) win win. And the more I looked into it, I thought it was too good to be true, but it’s true. 

Andy Saunders (Host): This is Jo Quirk, she’s an Origin customer using Spike. Spike is a reward program that encourages customers to help reduce the load on the energy grid by switching off their appliances, lights and anything else that chews through the juice.   

Jo Quirk: And the more I looked into it, it’s also got some… parts to it where you get higher rewards if you meet certain targets. So it makes you look at the results. Have the results come in yet? We’d always keep saying to each other: ‘We got the results yet?’ So it takes like, about a day to get the results in. And yeah, it just felt like this competition we’re having with ourselves to win. 

Andy Saunders (Host): And what does Jo win? Stick around to find out. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Hi, it’s Andy Saunders here again and this is So Watt? – a podcast from Origin that questions everything you thought you knew about energy and explores the solutions that exist today. And in this episode, an episode I am very excited about, we blow your mind with the concept of energy companies paying you to NOT use their power! 

Andy Saunders (Host): You’ll hear from Jo again, after she finishes counting her money, but right now I’m going to introduce you to episode three and the concept of gamification.

Zac Fitz-Walter: So gamification is the application of game design elements to non game contexts. Gamification has its roots in video games, the idea is that video games can be really engaging. 

Andy Saunders (Host): This is Zac Fitz-Walter, he’s a gamification designer and educator. In his time as an educator and consultant he’s seen games evolve away from the screen and out into the real world. And I’m not talking about games like red rover, cross over, or leap frog.

Zac Fitz-Walter: There’s this idea that if games can be so engaging, if games like World of Warcraft, and if games like Pokemon Go can be so engaging, then how can we take these engaging elements and apply it to non game activities to make them more engaging as well? 

Zac Fitz-Walter: So one of my favorite examples is Zombies Run. It’s an application, which essentially adds a zombie apocalypse narrative to your running experience.

Andy Saunders (Host): About 70% of Australians are considered to be gamers, whether they know it or not. Whether you crush plenty of candy on your phone, race luxury cars from your couch, or are motivated to run faster because of a zombie apocalypse like Zac is, then you’re a gamer.

Zac Fitz-Walter: The way it works is you go out, you run, you put your headphones in, and you listen to a narrative unfold, about a zombie apocalypse. But then sometimes during your run, you might hear zombies start to breathe down the back of your neck. And at that point, you then have to speed up, run faster, otherwise the zombies get you and all the things you’ve collected in the game. So that one’s really exciting, and quite a different example of gamification being used effectively, and that that application alone has had over 4 million downloads, there’s been 29 million kilometers run and 3.7 million zombie chases out there.

Andy Saunders (Host): If it takes a zombie horde to motivate some to change behaviour… 

Zac Fitz-Walter: So gamification design falls under the umbrella of behavior design, where designers are looking at ways in which to help promote behavior change, whether it’s to exercise more to learn a new language, or to save energy. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Or avoid a zombie plague. Games work best when people are motivated to engage with a task after being prompted. 

Jo Quirk: Yeah, well they usually give you at least 24 hours notice that it’s going to happen so I know a lot of families will come home and do the washing, and make dinner, and things like that. We wash clothes at all various times, so if we know a Spike hour’s coming we just don’t do the laundry that night we’ll do it the night before or the night after, or even the hour before or the hour after…  If the spike hour is going to be on a weeknight, and it’s usually between like five and nine… they will average out your previous 10 week nights electricity usage for that hour. So if it was the six o’clock hour or the nine o’clock hour… They call it the forecast and you can always see what the forecast is and what nights they’ve based it on… But the target that they set for you is this forecast is the average of your previous 10, seven to 8pm’s on a weekday. So it’s an average, so it’s actually really easy to beat your average… and if you beat your forecast, you get points. And so if you beat it by a lot, you get more points.

Zac Fitz-Walter: So simply by providing that feedback of giving us an hour when we need to turn off our appliances, or to save some energy gives us this kind of goal or this challenge. And then to really reinforce that behavior by providing some kind of reward. It can motivate us to change our behavior, especially when there’s no motivation to begin with. Having some kind of reward or incentive is a great way to encourage people to change their behavior. 

Andy Saunders (Host): And Jo’s reward after switching off? Points which can be converted to cash or even gift cards.

Jo Quirk: We’re currently sitting on 44,366 points. So it’s $443.66. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Jo’s quarterly energy bill is pretty high. It’s usually around five hundred dollars. She doesn’t own a home so can’t offset that by installing solar or a battery, so anything that eases the strain helps in a huge way.

Jo Quirk: There are other benefits other than points, the points you can cash them out and it goes straight to your PayPal account or you can swap them for gift vouchers for like JB, Bunnings or Woollies or Kmart or whatever. There’s a few different stores… But, every now and then they’ll have a thing called a Mega Spike hour, where, aside from all the other bonuses that you might get based on your status or your streak, they double your points as well. So sometimes we might get $40 an hour, which is insane. But that would usually only happen if it’s the middle of summer, and there’s a heatwave, probably they happen a few times a year and they’re like, please, please save energy at this time. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Heatwaves, extreme weather events and natural disasters like fires can trigger black-outs and outages that can roll on for weeks. But these events aren’t exclusive to Australia. Nor is the concept of incentivizing customers to power down. It arrived here after Origin noticed what OhmConnect in the US were doing. 

Matt Duesterberg: It was super hot in New York, and I was at a friend’s apartment, he had the windows open, and his AC, just going off full blast.

Andy Saunders (Host): This is Matt Duesterberg. 

Matt Duesterberg: Co-founder of Ohmconnect. I had started this about seven years ago, really with the intention of democratising the electricity sector for everyone to participate in.

Andy Saunders (Host): Matt was an energy trader in New York. That meant he knew the wholesale cost that… utility companies paid for energy, before selling it on to the customer. So, at his friend’s apartment, during the summer, he had a brainwave – probably during a heatwave.

Matt Duesterberg: And I was like, Hey, you know, you’re trying to cool the entire city of New York, that’s not going to work very well… So when we started OhmConnect, the idea was, how can my friend and every other New York resident actually see those wholesale energy market prices and then actually benefit from it?

Andy Saunders (Host): Matt saw a gap. So with a colleague, who later became his co-founder, they made this idea a reality, while at a hackathon focused on accelerating the transition to a 100% clean energy economy. Aaah… I remember the hackathon days, they were good. To be clear, I have no idea what a hackathon is.

Matt Duesterberg: And so we made an app to really get consumers to change their behaviour to create energy reductions. A lot of people in the energy sector really scratch their head and no one is looking at their energy usage at any time. But at the end of the day, same thing was happening across other sectors in Silicon Valley. We were seeing Uber democratising taxi service across the world, Airbnb democratising hotels or lodging across the world. Why couldn’t we do the exact same with energy?

Andy Saunders (Host): And again, gaming proved key to unlocking the future success that OhmConnect would find. 

Matt Duesterberg: Yeah, game mechanics is such a large and broad scope of different interactions that can happen. My co-founder Cadir Lee actually worked in the gaming sector and brought some of the cutting edge technologies into OhmConnect. So one of the biggest game mechanics that we use at OhmConnect is what we call status. And you can think of this kind of like airline miles. You can either be silver or gold or platinum. If you’re really, really good, you can get to diamond level. And once you hit those different levels, you start to unlock rewards.

Andy Saunders (Host): Spike works in a similar way, here’s Jo. 

Jo Quirk: I like that the lowest level is called gold. It’s gold, platinum and then diamond. And so we’re just like well what’s diamond how do we get there. So early days, the rewards that you would get for the hour, the amount of points that you get are much lower because these other sort of… you won’t be diamond status until I think we had to do five in a row that were diamond status or gold or platinum and you get then you get that status evermore so it means that you get not only the base points, but you also get 150% more points. And a point is a cent basically worked out to be so if you get 200 points for the hour, you’ll get $2 but after you’ve done it for a while it grows. They also have another bonus that’s a streak bonus… and on top of that I’m also now diamond status so we’re getting 150% bonus on that so we get lots of points for just doing an hour’s talking to each other or an hour or an hour going for a walk. It really adds up. 

Matt Duesterberg: Unlocking different types of game mechanics for different types of people are really important. There are a lot of game mechanics we tried, and it actually failed. So for example, we tried a fairly complicated mechanic called gacha mechanic. It’s very common in Japanese culture. But if you’ve ever played the Monopoly game that McDonald’s does, this is the same gacha mechanic, it combines two components. One is a spin or kind of a random draw. So for example, you get randomly assigned, in the monopoly mechanic, Park Place or Boardwalk, but then it also combines a collectible, you need to have both Park Place and Boardwalk. So the beauty of this mechanic is that you always feel like you’re gaining, you’re always building up your collections. And then you can then cash in a big reward. This is a very common mechanic in more complicated games. What we found is because our whole process is actually already very complicated, our users do not want to have also a complicated reward structure. So they really wanted, Hey, I want to just spend a win, and we’ll, we’ll get a prize if we actually win, or I want to have a collectible. So separating those out have been has been really powerful.

Zac Fitz-Walter: Yeah, I think it’s a great idea. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Remember Zac Fitz-Walter, the zombie fleeing gamification designer? 

Zac Fitz-Walter: What it does is it creates a more engaging experience for people to help motivate them to change their behavior. So you know, it’s doing a couple of things. And you mentioned a couple of key things there, which can help promote behavior change. So… OHMConnect and Spike, the Origin Energy’s Spike program is that. First of all, it provides us with feedback. So you know, these companies have information about our energy use… And so providing this feedback and in the form of a challenge, or a goal for people can be a motivating aspect, I guess. So it gives us kind of this sense of feedback or a challenge that we can tackle. So simply by providing that feedback of giving us an hour when we need to turn off our appliances, or to save some energy gives us this kind of goal or this challenge. And then to really reinforce that behavior by providing some kind of reward. It can motivate us to change our behavior, especially when there’s no motivation to begin with. Having some kind of reward or incentive is a great way to encourage people to change their behavior.

Andy Saunders (Host): Like Jo said earlier on, it’s win, win. When customers reduce energy, energy grids stay online. And in recent years, places like California and Texas have endured long-lasting blackouts from heatwaves, wildfires, and even ice storms. And in recent years here in Australia, we’ve also had our fair share during the summer months. 

Matt Duesterberg: Yeah, in August 2020. In California, when we had those blackouts, it was a variety of factors, the number one factor was it’s hot… It was super hot. And it was really putting a lot of strain on the grid, we had a lot of ACs going, and we’ve had a really ramp up in air conditioning installed in California for the past few years. So it was just kind of maxing out the entire grid. But there were some other components with the grid itself. So for example, we were still exporting some power. And that energy could have been used within the state of California. The other component was we had a few gas power plants offline. And then of course, we also saw some kind of reduction in solar performance, and some of the renewable performance as well. All of those factors combined to what was unfortunately just a few hours of blackouts with hundreds of 1000s of folks being out of power. Now nothing as catastrophic as what we saw in Texas, but certainly a big wake up call for the grid.

Andy Saunders (Host): By the summer of 2020 OhmConnect deployed a strategy that enabled them to change the load capacity and reduce the pressure on the grid. 

Matt Duesterberg: Yeah, we had some of our biggest events last August… during these blackouts, and we saved a gigawatt hour of energy during that time, which is the same amount to basically power San Francisco for an entire hour. And so we saw massive reductions from our user base. And it was hard for them. We were seeing in social media: ‘Hey, it’s super hot. But what I am doing is I’m saving energy and getting paid’. So what we did was we had correctly aligned incentives from the beginning. So if they turned off their electricity, they knew they would be compensated for it. So people were willing to take on that additional burden, because we had incentivised them properly. So there are some posts on social media saying, ‘Hey, I’m sitting in front of a fan, I’ve got my laptop on’. There’s a lot of references to swamp coolers, which is just basically a cooler with water in it to help cool you down during those really hot events. And people were prepping for it, because we’re compensating them for it and incentivising in the right way. And so when they, we had the first few events, we had compensated them. And later on that week, we had a three or four hour event. And people were like, Bring it on, give me another three hour event, give me another four hour event, because they wanted to be incentivised and get paid for it.

Andy Saunders (Host): OhmConnect don’t generate electricity and they’re not an energy retailer. They manage demand across the grid. It’s different to what Origin does here in Australia. But, as I said earlier, Origin saw how gamification worked for OhmConnect and it felt like a shared vision of a future energy landscape.

Brendan Manzie: And that’s where Spike came from.

Andy Saunders (Host): This is Brendan Manzie from Origin’s future energy team. 

Brendan Manzie: What we’re sort of seeing, you know, as a thematic and a real, you know, a shifting trend is that as we move to this more connected energy future, we’ve got more and more customers that are engaging in solar, more and more customers that are looking, perhaps, you know, adding a battery to store their solar, more customers now looking at EV’s, electric vehicles and thinking about, well, how might I charge that up, you’ve naturally got a real groundswell of, you know, much higher engagement you know. You’ve got a lot more folks thinking very hard about their energy, not just from a cost point of view, like how’s this bill, sort of looking this month? But looking at well, how’s this energy being produced, you know, how much carbon am I in my sort of making by being part of this. 

Andy Saunders (Host): In practical terms, Jo’s experience emptomises this trend. Even if she doesn’t drive an EV or have solar, in her own way she’s engaging with the energy future… but it’s a future that’s happening today.

Jo Quirk: It’s made it more obvious to me, you know, how much energy is used by standby products, how much energy some of our big appliances use, like for one of the Spike hours you know, we turn off the fridge for an hour, which was fine. Certainly the drinks fridge we turn off. But it was amazing how much our energy usage was reduced just in that one hour by those small appliances, or maybe they’re large but it was, it was amazing how much they were reduced by.

Brendan Manzie: So we sort of see that emergence of a real awakening of interest in a number of different customer groups. And that’s where we thought, Well, you know, something like gamification really can play a role. Because we’re no longer just talking about issuing the bill every quarter and servicing the customer in a really good way there. It’s really about bringing them on that path and that journey and kind of opening the door to what’s possible in that sort of more contemporary, connected and renewable energy system. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Brendan will join us later in the series. I just want to give you his take on the origin story of Spike….hahaha, get it… ‘origin’ story…because of the whole…Origin thing… uhh, tough crowd, oh well, there’s a first time for everything….anyhoooo…Now, remember our mate Zombie Zac. He has some great insight into why human beings respond to gamification so enthusiastically. 

Zac Fitz-Walter: Yeah, so researchers, in the past have hypothesized or theorized that games are motivating to the extent that they support three things. So three basic psychological needs, which is autonomy, competence, and relatedness. And this falls under the theory known as self determination theory, and it’s essentially saying that for for humans to flourish, then these three things need to be supported.

Jo Quirk: I think it’s brilliant. I don’t know if it’s my demographic or my personality type, but I love gamification of anything. So I think you just get that feel good feeling, a bit of an endorphin rush when you achieve something and meet a goal or exceed a goal. So gamification, I think, is quite good. 

Zac Fitz-Walter: Then there’s also the theory of flow, which is another interesting theory that’s been developed in research… When we have a challenge that matches our skill level, then we can get into this, this flow zone I guess, where you know, everything else kind of we ignore everything else and we’re so focused on the task at hand, and, you know, it feels good to achieve it… Researchers have looked at the theory of flow and how it’s been seen in sport; in dancing, things like rock climbing, you might have that feeling when you read a book, and you know, it feels like time flies past. And it’s the same for video games as well, you can sit down, think that you’ve played for five minutes, but in actual fact, an hour or two hours have gone past.

Jo Quirk: An hour goes very quickly. And there’s so many different things we do in the summer months, we would, you know, stop and have a barbecue and you know, we go for a walk or play games on our phones, or we have a nap or we just sit and talk. It’s been quite, it’s been good because we know that hour’s coming up.

Andy Saunders (Host): Zac’s explanation of gamification supports Jo’s customer experience. She has autonomy: that sense of free will over the choices she makes. Competence; Jo’s challenged with tasks neither simple nor impossible. And relatedness; she’s supported by members of her household and relates her experience to friends. And then of course in that flow zone, time flies, an hour goes by pretty quickly. Thanks Zac, any final words of wisdom? 

Zac Fitz-Walter: Yeah, sure thing. Gamification works really well when… (Zombie growl)

Andy Saunders (Host): Ewww, that’s gotta hurt. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Come here zombie!

Andy Saunders (Host): Poor old Zac. Zombies zero, Andy one. Right, back to it. Jo seems a pretty good fit for Spike. Obsessed in a good way, saving money, helping the planet. But, tech wise, is she the average Jo?… Okay, in terms of tech Origin requires customers to have a smart meter, where possible they can upgrade meters. But, how smart, how decked in tech does a house have to be? Matt from OhmConnect has seen things change a lot over the years.

Matt Duesterberg: What’s been amazing in my seven year journey is the number of different devices that is available in a home that controls electricity… When we first started, we often give people a free smart plug for example. Those users that’s often the first smart device in their home. They get a smart plug from OhmConnect. And then within three to six months, we find that those same users will, on average, adopt another one or even two devices. So they’re going from zero devices to three devices in six months. And so then all of a sudden, you’ve got this trajectory of a much smarter and enabled grid from the end user perspective.

Jo Quirk: We got some, I call them like Interferers, or just a little plug that plugs into the wall. And it could be a remote control in the kitchen, I could just turn on the amb, and these lights would turn on and I loved it. I said let’s get more of those lazy things. And when we went to look at them, we were at Bunnings. And we found these appliances that you could turn them on and off from your phone. Or if you’ve got a little Google machine, you could ask Google to turn them on and off for you. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Light sensors, a smart tv, a smart plug and a voice activated assistant. Not overly tripped out in tech. Pretty much describes many of our homes. There is also a Spike App as another way customers can control their appliances. Not like Magneto but similar..ish. 

Jo Quirk: You can connect it in the spike hour app. And you can have it that all those appliances that you’ve connected just automatically turn off when a spike hour is upcoming. 

Andy Saunders (Host): At the top of this episode I told you that if my energy supplier told me they’d pay me if I turned my power off, I’d think what’s the catch? The catch is that we’re in this together, this transition toward a better future with energy. Okay Jo, let’s shut it down for an hour.

Jo Quirk: Google, turn off everything. 

Google: Okay, turning 15 things off. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Hello? Hey, anyone there? 

Andy Saunders (Host): Um…guys??

Andy Saunders (Host): Hey, stop mucking around…turn the lights…

Andy Saunders (Host): Zac! NOOOOoooooooooo!!!! 

Andy Saunders (Host): Next week on So Watt – Solar. Australians are in love with solar. It’s part of our psyche. So what is it about solar that’s made over three million homeowners, and counting, install it? How do we take heat from the sun and convert it into free power?

Martin Green: Yes, there was a French scientist, Edmund Becquerel… And he just shone some light on these bits of metal that were immersed in some solutions and managed to get an electrical current out of it. So that was the first sort of thought that light could be turned into electricity…

Andy Saunders (Host):  Join us next week for episode four.

Andy Saunders (Host): So Watt is the show that questions everything you thought you knew about energy and it’s brought to you by Origin. 

Andy Saunders (Host): Production and scripting by the team at Lawson Media.

Andy Saunders (Host):  If you’re keen to know more about Origin’s Spike program – check out some of the resources I’ve left in the episode show notes.

Andy Saunders (Host):  You can also learn more about the podcast and listen to other episodes at originenergy.com.au/sowatt, or just hit subscribe in the podcast app you’re in right now.
Andy Saunders (Host): I was Andy Saunders… until Zombie Zac got his pound of flesh. Hopefully I’ll be OK by the next episode.