Electric vehicle owners are often opting to charge their vehicles at times of peak energy demand in the late afternoon and evening, highlighting the need for smart charging technology, a study by utilities giant Origin shows.
The research shows there are a number of obstacles to getting EV users – both at home and the workplace – to invest in smart chargers, including cost and energy market literacy. But it says smart charging is essential to ensure the grid can support rapid growth in EV ownership.
Last August, Origin began a trial of 150 customers, roughly equally split between private individuals and fleets, to better understand how people were charging their EVs. The study, which will finish at the end of December 2022, received $838,000 of funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
The first phase of the study, which has now concluded, measured EV owners’ existing charging habits, without intervening with smart charging.
What it found was a mixed bag. In some ways residental EV owners were behaving in an savvy manner. Of the 70 residential EV owners covered, nearly 90 per cent had rooftop solar, and they wanted to use it to charge their vehicles.
As the blue-shaded aread in the chart below shows, there are three charging peaks in the day: one in the middle of the day, one at about 5 o’clock in the afternoon, and one at around 10 o’clock at night.
Origin said the peak in the middle of the day showed many customers were taking advantage of their solar panels to charger their EVs. “This is surprising,” the report said, “as it suggests that participants are already somewhat managing their load to optimise for solar.”
Interviews with participants also found a strong desire to use their own solar panels to charge their vehicle, rather than draw from the grid.
But the two other peak loads make less energy sense, as the period between around 5pm and 9pm is when the grid is at its busiest and electricity at its most expensive. That’s the prime time when EVs should – with the right equipment – be feeding back into the network or powering the house, not buying expensive electricity from the grid.
The answer to this problem is the use of smart chargers that respond to dynamics in the grid and automatically charge, stop charging, or even dispatch accordingly.
Origin found there were a number of obstacles to the uptake of smart chargers. It found residential EV owners were currently quite happy just to plug their car into a regular power point, as the chart below shows.
The most obvious obstacle is price. Origin said a wall charger could cost between $1,000 and $2,000 excluding installation. A smart charger, meanwhile, could cost between $1,500 and $3,000. Customer education is another obstacle – i.e. persuading customers there is a benefit to spending all that money.
Origin said the likely sharp rise in EV ownership meant getting people to use smart chargers was vital to ensure the grid could handle this new load.
“EV adoption is expected to increase at a rapid pace both in Australia and globally,” it said in its executive summary.
“EVs can provide numerous operational and monetary benefits to customers as well as enabling the decarbonisation of the transportation and energy sectors.
“However, as EV adoption increases, EV chargingwill need to be managed to optimise for energy supplyand demand, and grid capacity. EV smart charging can not only aid in managing grid load but can also enable customers to optimise charging based on the lowest cost.”
The next phase of the study will introduce the use of smart chargers.
James Fernyhough is a reporter at RenewEconomy and The Driven. He has worked at The Australian Financial Review and the Financial Times, and is interested in all things related to climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy.