A new way of managing the grid with the help of electric vehicles will be implemented in the New Zealand capital city of Wellington under a partnership announced on Wednesday between Melbourne-based Greensync and energy provider Wellington Electricity.
The partnership will see a new business model piloted, called EV Connect, that will integrate electric vehicles (EVs) with the grid when being charged effectively transforming them into a distributed “mesh” that could keep electricity prices in tow while addressing the pressing needs of additional demand on the grid.
New Zealand is a country with a higher than average mix of renewables – around 80% of power in New Zeland comes from renewable sources, lead largely by hydro (60%) and geothermal (17%).
In Australia, a high mix of renewables is highly criticised by the conservative federal government which suggests that “when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine”, energy supply will become unreliable and expensive.
As electric mobility drives forwards – and particularly so in New Zealand where the penetration of electric vehicles is far ahead that of Australia, and is predicted to reach 64,000 by 2021 – the extra demand on the grid by charging electric vehicles has been pegged as a potential negative if not managed.
Greensync wants to turn it into a positive, by integrating and managing the charging of electric vehicle batteries as part of the electricity grid, in what is believed to be a first for the Asia Pacific region.
In an exclusive interview with The Driven, GreenSync CEO Phil Blythe says the motivation behind the second phase pilot program (a first proof-of-concept has already been conducted), is to provide added flexibility through a distributed energy resource (such as EVs).
“The big driver is as we increase renewables into our grid we need flexible capacity and flexible systems that are able to counterbalance that intermittency for when the wind doesn’t blow and sun doesn’t shine,” says Blythe.
Greensync, which is a major tech company working in the APAC region with a focus on renewable and distributed energy, has developed a solution called deX (standing for decentralised energy exchange) that it will implement in the pilot program which has been partly funded by the New Zealand Low Emissions Vehicle Contestable Fund.
But what does distributed energy actually mean? And why do it?
“Distributed energy is quite simply, looking to connect smarter resources to our grid,” says Blythe.
“If we don’t find ways to connect smarter resources to our grid and we don’t find ways to effectively orchestrate the ways these devices to connect to our systems then we are going to overload the systems and we are to going to find ourselves in a situation that we can’t connect to these resources any longer.”
“In the case of electric vehicles, we want every household, every business and every building operator and every business to connect as many electric vehicles as they can into the grid, but we can only do this if we way orchestrate and coordinate the timing of when these charge stations are going to be in use,” he says.
The system, which is an open access digitial “layer” between the charging stations and EVs, and the grid, and can operate with single-phase AC, three-phase AC as well as DC charging, will be implemented in the second phase of the project which will involve fleet managers and electricity retailers to assess and give feedback on the ins and outs of the program and be supported by DER management platform GoodMeasure.
All in all, there are three aspects to how the system works.
“In simplistic terms what deX does is scheduling and coordination to allow the maximum amount of charging across the networks from these systems when consumers want that … and the [second] flipside is being able to ensure that the grid is protected and there is no overload and its balanced,” Blythe says.
“The third option is that when those batteries aren’t being used for charging cars they can be used to support grid in different ways.”
Basically, it means that instead of spending more money on increasing grid infrastructure, electric vehicles (along with solar, household batteries and other distributed energy resources) can be used to relieve downward pressure on the grid thus further driving up electricity prices.
As Blythe explains it, because of New Zealand’s high mix of renewables and relatively high penetration of EVs, Wellington is the perfect location for testing the program to use electric vehicles as part of a distributed energy mix (which can also include batteries, solar and other forms of decentralised energy resources).
Using electric vehicles as part of the energy “mesh” will also have a significant impact because transport contributes a higher percentage of emission in New Zealand due to the high renewable energy mix.
“It’s a locality that’s actually needing to plan ahead…its a fantastic demonstration of how we can solve the problem in a managed and forward looking way.”
It’s also a demonstration to Australia a shift in thinking about how intermittent renewable energy can be supported rather than diminished in a time when the reduction of carbon emissions to mitigate climate change is a mandate, not a childish whim as certain sectors seem hellbent on convincing us.
There may be some challenges to overcome – like any new technology – Blythe admits there may be some kinks to iron out but these will likely be simple hurdles like ensuring all fleet operators are using the same standards.
The focus right now is to get the system working at a macro level, to establish how to economically utilise existing infrastructure and be ahead of the curve as grid demand increases.
A future phase will delve deeper into the micro level factors such as how to encourage people to participate in the system and be compensated for switching off EV chargers when the grid is under strain.
The second “macro” phase of the EV Connect project will commence this quarter and continue into mid 2020, with the third “micro” phase is expected to commence in late 2020.
The results of the first phase of the project, which demonstrated the use of “spot-pricing” and the potential reduction of household energy costs can be found on the Wellington Electricity website.
Bridie Schmidt is associate editor for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model 3 and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.