Owning an electric car in Australia could become much more than just driving from A to B with a reduced carbon footprint, according to Nissan Australia which launched the new version of the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle in Melbourne on Wednesday .
Nissan confirmed at the launch that the new Leaf, with a 40kWh battery, will be a V2H (vehicle-to-home) energy asset – meaning that, unlike other electric vehicles, it will have the capability to charge your home (subject to further testing with Australia’s network owners and operators).
Called bidirectional charging, the 40kWh Leaf (and for that matter the 62kWh version which is not yet slated for an Australian release) essentially has the capability to become your personal, massive, mobile battery.
This means it will be able to not only store energy by plugging into your home, workplace or other destinations such as shopping centres with free charging, or from DC fast-chargers – it will be able to serve that energy back to your home.
And it could be available to use in Australia within six months.
The technology is already being used in countries like Japan, says Nissan’s global head of electric vehicles Nic Thomas, who attended the event while visiting from Japan.
As Tim Washington, CEO of charging solutions provider Jetcharge put it when speaking at the event, “Cars will be an energy asset first, and a mobility asset second.”
“What I mean by that is you are going to use your cars probably more as batteries than as vehicles.
“As we know vehicles are parked 90% of the time – that is one of the criticism levelled at cars. But what if they are the most efficient asset that you have because it’s doing work even when its parked?
“That’s when bidirectional charging comes into play.”
It’s a different approach that of Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk, who wants to offer an option for Tesla owners to make an return on their electric vehicle investment by renting them out as “robotaxis”.
The lower driving range of the 40kWh Nissan Leaf – up to 270km when driving in city conditions according to the US EPA rating system – is more than suitable if your usual daily driving needs including getting to work, or the shops, and back again.
The rest of the time, it can instead serve another purpose – becoming an energy source for your home.
Otherwise known as V2H (vehicle-to-home), the technology has the potential to not only help the consumer save money by either charging off rooftop solar for free during the day then using that energy to power lights and appliances at night, or charging at off-peak rates overnight for use during the day.
It also has the potential to smooth out the “duck curve” that is associated with large penetration of rooftop and large scale solar.
“In the middle of the day now we have this influx of solar energy,” explains Thomas. “The way we distribute and consume energy is fundamentally inefficient … what we need is flexibility in the system.”
“It’s great that we’ve invested all this money in renewable energy but fundamentally we’re wasting most of that energy because its all being generated in the middle of the day when we don’t really need it.
“What the system needs is batteries. The system needs storage.”
“If we can level out those peaks by absorbing the energy in the middle of the day and the middle of the night when its much more available and give it back to service those peaks then we can make the system much more efficient.”
“When you’re driving it, and it’s a fantastic, fun car to drive – when you’re not driving it, it’s a battery.”
Controversially, Thomas says that installations such as the grid connected Tesla big battery at Hornsdale in South Australia is a waste, despite the fact that its performance – both for the grid and financially – has been widely admired.
“It’s a complete waste of resources because what we can do is have cars that are also batteries and those cars are parked most of the time,” Thomas said.
For those considering buying a home battery, the 40kWh Leaf offers up to 4 times the energy storage capability.
For an average home using 15-20kWh of power a day, it could provide up to two days of power in the case of extreme blackouts such as the situation in South Australia that led Tesla to strike a deal with the South Australian government to install a big battery.
When will Australians be able to buy into this new way of using cars as an “energy asset”?
With demo models of specialised charging boxes already on the way to Australia, Nissan Australia’s manager electrification and mobility Ben Warren says its just a matter of testing the technology and ensuring it is suitable for Australian requirements.
“The good news that while this takes a little bit of time, the vehicle we see today is capable from the factory right now – it is future proofed for not only the EV world but also the future energy ecosystem,” says Warren.
The Driven understands that testing is being conducted by Delta, with monitoring specialist Solar Analytics also playing a role. (Listen here for our Solar Insiders podcast where this is discussed).
Expected to be available to use within six months, after the purchase and installation of the home charging box, it will be a reality sooner than robot taxis.
In time, vehicle-to-grid (V2G) may also become available in Australia – however this will require more testing and regulatory investigation before being accepted.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.