An additional 5GW of energy capacity each year – enough for more than half of NSW’s current storage needs – could be supported by electric vehicles from 2030, according to UTS research director Chris Dunstan who will head the new RACE for 2030 cooperative research centre (CRC).
A national electric vehicle strategy, ostensibly to assist in the reduction of carbon emissions, is not expected from the federal Coalition government until mid-2020 – and what it ultimately envelops, and how well it aims to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles, remains to be seen.
But Dunstan, the new head of the $68.5 million Reliable Affordable Clean Energy for 2030 (RACE for 2030), and who hails from the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures, says EVs will play a significant role in Australia’s future.
“I have no doubt EVs will be a significant feature of the RACE for 2030 CRC because the case for it is so compelling,” Dunstan tells The Driven.
Dunstan has been talking to 91 industry and other education partners for more than a year about the CRC’s focus, and believes that the time will come when Australians weigh up the benefits of putting $10,000 extra into a new car rather than spending it on a home battery.
“When we have affordable electric vehicles [to choose from], would you rather put $10,000 towards a home battery that might provide 10-15kWh storage or towards an EV that could potentially give you more than usable storage,” he says. “We need to think about energy and capacity.”
Despite the reckless and incredibly misleading campaign against Labor’s target to sell 50% EVs by 2030 in the lead up to 2019’s May federal election, the Coalition’s own carbon modelling includes a 50% transition to electric vehicles by 2035.
According to Dunstan, the transition will work best if customers benefit in the form of cheaper energy – in which electric cars can play a part.
“Part of what is distinctive about this CRC is while we recognise that markets are changing, the focus is clearly and explicitly is on delivering benefits to customers,” says Dunstan.
“The clean energy transition is well under way and unstoppable but how quickly and how much Australia benefits from that transition will depend on how much customers feel like the transition is meeting their needs and working for them.
“That’s the overarching theme – how do we ensure that the CRC maximises benefits – reducing bills, affordable energy and clean energy.
“We are taking an evidence-based approach, looking at how do we deliver a clean energy transition? We want to look at the full range of options, and EVs are a significant part of that.”
With just over 1 million cars sold in Australia in 2019, even if there is no growth in the overall market, 50% of sales in 2030 would equal 500,000 vehicles.
While many of these vehicles would have 50kWh batteries or larger, if only 10kWh capacity from each vehicle were available to the grid through bidirectional charging that is 5GW capacity, says Dunstan.
And it would be more, as EVs claim more of the market share for each subsequent year (not to mention smaller numbers of EVs in the preceding decade).
As the project summary for the CRC’s electric vehicle research program notes, the current energy capacity of 14 million petrol cars at 1,400 gigawatts dwarfs Australia’s peak demand of 34 gigawatts.
Using petrol cars to generate electricity at home, is of course counterproductive to the ultimate goal of reducing carbon emissions.
But not so with electric cars, which are able to charge of rooftop solar, a grid that is transitioning to renewables, and even when powered off a coal grid are more efficient with the energy they use.
While much of the focus of the CRC, which currently has 17 nominated projects across 4 programs, is on the stationary energy sector, electric cars will form part of the evolution of the broader energy sector, he says.
“EVs have crucial role because they will provide largest reservoir of flexible demand. There is no doubt about there being a challenge in security and reliability on grid dominated by wind and solar, so how do we compliment that very low cost with capacity and flexibility on the demand and supply sides?” he asks.
“We could rely on baseload, pumped storage etc, but part of that picture is large load in form of EVs, but we have flexibility in when they charge because they are stationery 95% of the time.”
“The step beyond that is EVs’ potential as storage capacity both locally and at a system-wide level – that is an enormous resource.”
To help make this reality, the CRC is keen to work with charging infrastructure providers and carmakers such as Nissan, which is currently in the process of working on approval for its Leaf electric hatch to be used in vehicle-to-home (V2H) and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) systems.
“The case for it is so compelling I’d be very surprised if it didn’t happen and I think it will be happening on a very large scale,” says Dunstan.
“Australia happens to be in fortuitous position for rooftop solar, we are also for V2G and V2H because we have low density housing and so a close connection between houses and driveways – other countries don’t have that natural advantage.”
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.