The co-founder of Australia’s Tritium, a global leader in the electric vehicle fast-charging market, warns that energy utilities could be caught out if they fail to adapt to the possibilities of vehicle-to-grid charging technology.
Either way, says James Kennedy, the chief technology officer of the Brisbane-based Tritium, the electricity grid will never be the same:
Either the grid will have a massive new distributed storage resource, or consumers will have a giant battery on wheels that would enable them to take their home off grid, powered by rooftop solar stored and backed up by batteries.
Most major electric car manufacturers have baulked at so-called vehicle-to-grid technologies, worried that it may affect the durability of the batteries used in the EVs.
But this starting to change, led by manufacturers in Japan, where the issue of back-up has been a major focus since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and the new Nissan Leaf – to be delivered in Australia this year – will be the first mainstream model with such facilities.
“As soon as the market goes bi-directional, it opens up a host of possibilities,” says Kennedy. Tritium has so far concentrated on fast-charging infrastructure, but is also eyeing the home charging market if bi-directional charging becomes the norm.
“People underestimate how much energy is in their vehicles,” whether it is a petrol car an electric one, Kennedy says in an interview on The Driven podcast.
“There is 90kWh in a Tesla battery – that can power an average house for four to five days, including air conditioning.
“It is a significant amount of energy – we are not talking charing up for five minutes and leaving the battery flat, we are talking about days.
“Some of this sounds science fiction but the reality is that it is probably just a few years away. If you look at the rate of progress in battery chemistry … this is going to happen, just a matter of when.
“It means that (consumers) have an option to significantly reduce consumption from the grid. If you have solar on roof and the vehicle able to be plugged in, and you combine that with a small permanently installed battery in your house, you don’t need a big battery to make a difference.”
Kennedy says a small household battery could provide electricity – stored from the solar panels – to cover 95 per cent of use.
Should it rain for a week and the battery gets depleted because of insufficient solar, an EV with vehicle-to-grid technology can simply be charged elsewhere, such as a supermarket or other infrastructure, and bring it back home to power the house.
“All that missing at this point is enough storage. There is a real risk here that utilities … get left behind as people start putting batteries in by themselves and do what they want.
“On other hand, if utilities do get ahead, they could be owning and operating battery pack at customer’s house and receiving benefits.”
Kennedy’s observations highlight just one of the numerous opportunities and challenges in the rapidly changing electricity market, something that will be an immense challenge to existing building models, and rules and regulations.
Tritium’s current focus is on fast-charging units rates at around 350kW. This can charge an EV from zero to 80 or 90 per cent in 10 minutes, although not all EV batteries can be charged at that rate.
Kennedy says that while these charging stations will mostly be used to ensure long-distance travel, they can also be used to provide a charging service in the inner city to EV owners who have only on-street parking.
This way, they treat re-fuelling” in much the way they do now – visiting a petrol station once a week to top up.
Tritium has grabbed a market share of around 20 per cent in the global-fast-charging market, even though Australia itself has been a slow responder to the rapidly growing EV market.
That, however, could change soon as more EVs come on to the market, and prices fall. When they do, Kennedy, says, “they won’t be able to make EVs fast enough. Once you have driven an EV, you don’t want to go back to a petrol car.”