Shopping centre car park

A researcher from Sydney’s Macquarie University has said that car parks in an electric vehicle future have the potential to become power plants bigger than South Australia’s big Tesla battery.

Professor Graham Town of Macquarie University’s School of Engineering is about to publish research that describes how large car parks – such as at shopping centres – could form mini “power plants” that could help balance the grid.

With cars commonly driven to places such as office blocks or shopping centres and then parked for long stretches of time, the potential is “huge”, says Town.

Town’s research specifically considers the case of shopping centres, some of which are already installing electric vehicle chargers and providing energy for free.

“However it’s on a small scale at the moment,” he tells The Driven. Town’s research asks the question, “What if all vehicles were electric, how would it work then?”

“If you had a substantial proportion plugged in they could be sharing energy, or absorbing energy from photovoltaics,” he says.

The amount of shared power could be the equivalent of a microgrid, says Town.

Using data from a medium-sized shopping centre in Sydney that has 4,500 spaces, Town has shown that if filled with electric vehicles (that were fitted with bidirectional charging capabilities), the resulting storage would 1.5 times that of the Tesla big battery in South Australia.

“Depending on how the system is structured, the shopping centre could use or provide energy to vehicles,” he says, and that by adding rooftop PV, centres could be generating energy potentially to be provided for free as a service for shoppers.

Located in the middle of a city instead of in a rural area would make a difference also, says Town, as there would be less power loss as a result of transmission over distances.

Town, who plans to share his findings with the shopping centre in question, says that he believes that using carparks in this manner has the potential to support the implementation of 100% renewable energy.

“How much storage is needed to ensure everyone has energy all the time is still to be answered,” he says.

“But with electric vehicles I believe we would have sufficient capacity…if it is managed.”

Would shopping centre management be interested in utilising carparks in this way, is the other question.

“Shopping centres are always looking to improve utilisation of resources,” he says – and with carparks representing a large resource, it’s certainly on the cards.

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