The future is electric

by Tony Lucas, Head of Future Energy & Technology

While it might be difficult to envisage today, in the not-too-distant future most of us will be driving an electric vehicle (EV) to get us from A to B.

Admittedly this seems like a pretty huge challenge when combustion engine vehicles still dominate the Australian market, with EVs making up just 0.6 per cent of new car sales last year.

But it’s starting to slowly change, with the number of EVs sold in Australia more than tripling from 2,216 vehicles in 2018 to 6,618 in 2019. These are very small numbers in the scheme of things, so what makes us think things will turn around so quickly?

It’s quite simple, the benefits of EVs are so compelling.

First, EVs can help reduce Australia’s carbon emissions and therefore contribute to our efforts to combat climate change. Transportation is the second highest source of carbon emissions in Australia, making up nearly 19 per cent of greenhouse emissions.

The economic benefits are also stacked heavily in favour of EVs, not least because you don’t have to worry about petrol costs anymore. They will also play an integral role in the future of our electricity system.

EVs are essentially batteries on wheels that have the potential to help make our electricity system more flexible and responsive, and to help us manage peak demand events. There are also benefits for owners of EVs if they can optimise how they use and charge their vehicles, helping them manage their power costs.

How can EVs help the electricity grid?

Operating as mobile batteries, EVs can provide flexible storage to help manage demand across the network if this is coordinated and managed effectively.

EVs can absorb excess renewable energy generated in the middle of the day and discharge back to the grid during periods of peak demand.

Conversely, without a degree of coordination, there is a risk that an increased volume of EVs across the network could lead to constraints across both the wholesale energy markets and distribution networks. Imagine if there was significant growth in EV ownership in future and everyone returned home in the evening and charged their cars at the same time when demand is already at a peak?

How can EV owners benefit?

Smart charging solutions potentially offer the key to unlocking the value of EVs for both the energy market and for EV owners.

This week, Origin launched an EV smart charging trial in partnership with automotive and energy partners and funding from ARENA.

Working in partnership with Custom Fleet, Hyundai, Nissan, Schneider Electric, GreenFlux, Ausgrid and United Energy, we will provide residential and fleet owners 150 smart chargers that work three times faster than regular charging.

The smart chargers will be connected to Origin’s proprietary Virtual Power Plant (VPP) so we can optimise the charging of these EVs to reduce the impact on peak demand and absorb excess renewable generation during the day. Origin’s VPP orchestrates distributed assets such as residential and commercial-sized batteries, residential air-conditioning units, electric hot water and pool pumps, industrial chillers, water cooling pumps for our power stations and this is growing every day.

The VPP will direct the chargers to turn on and off and up and down in line with the wholesale price – charging vehicles when prices are low and turning off chargers when the price is higher. We can help bring down the price of running an EV for owners as well as manage demand and load on the system. Origin will look to use insights from the trial to design EV charging solutions for more customers that reward EV drivers with faster and cheaper charging.

Fleet owners lead the way on EV take-up

In Australia, while very few households have EVs today, we are slowly starting to see some good momentum with the fleet sector leading the way.

Origin has commenced the process to transition our fleet of passenger vehicles to electric, with 10 EVs operating in the fleet so far and a plan to electrify as many vehicles as possible.

We have partnered with one of Australia’s leading fleet management providers, Custom Fleet, to offer business customers an end-to-end EV fleet management solution which will provide the best vehicle, charging, energy management solutions to make it seamless for customers to transition their fleet to EVs.

Where to next?

The opportunity for the energy sector, for policy makers, regulators and governments – is to help provide the right settings that make it easy for customers to realise the benefits of owning an EV.

Origin’s trial with the help a grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), will help shape the way forward and the role that EVs can play in a future energy world that is smarter, cleaner and more efficient.

Trial applications are now open

EV owners can apply to be one of 150 participants by submitting their details here.

Want to learn more?

Tune into episode two of our So Watt? podcast as we chat about all things EVs:

This Project received funding from ARENA as part of ARENA’s Advancing Renewables Program. The views expressed herein are not necessarily the views of the Australian Government, and the Australian Government does not accept responsibility for any information or advice contained herein.

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