Electric cars can significantly increase the demand for the mains, tests are underway to change behavior

Electric cars can increase the demand for the power supply in the evening peak by at least 30 percent, unless households adopt smart charging, a new test shows.

Origin Energy has partnered with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to understand ways to change the behavior of electric car owners ahead of their mass adoption in Australia.

With the threat of blackouts a reality amid higher prices and demand, Origin’s general manager of e-mobility Chau Le said the network would struggle if EVs became more popular.

“Right now, our electricity grid is not coming at all,” she said.

“If we were to add another 30 percent of peak load to the grid during those periods of high prices and network constraints, this would require significant investment to increase capacity.”

To manage the looming threat, Origin and ARENA tried “smart charging”, with results published yesterday.

Smart chargers, costing between $ 2,000 and $ 3,000, were installed in homes of 150 EV users and baseline data was captured.

With the chargers, people can set their charging times, for example when more cheap renewable energy is produced or to not support it in times of peak demand.

It found that without intervention 30 percent of the charging was done in the evening peak, between 3pm and 9pm.

A woman plugs into an electric car.
Chau Le, general manager of Origin Energy for e-mobility, said EV users should charge off-peak to reduce the charge on the power grid.,Supplied,

However, Ms Le said the participants were very involved and early adopters of technology and many regular motorists may not pay as much attention to optimal charging times.

How they changed EV charging behavior

Trial one saw that participants received a credit of 10 cents-per-kilowatt-hour on their electricity bills for off-peak charging.

That reward reduced charging in the evening peak to 10 percent, as well as a 67 percent reduction from baseline.

Trial two saw Origin take the reins of charging times to limit it to most off-peak via a “plug-in and forget” method.

They were even able to react quickly to “critical peak events”, as seen early last week, to disable all charging.

This method reduced the evening peak usage to only 6 per cent, or an 80 per cent reduction from the baseline.

Despite the stimuli leading to significant behavior change, EV drivers still account for between 6 and 10 percent of the time during the night peak.

“If that 6 percent all lies in one network patch, then that will have a greater impact on that local substation than the local connection,” Ms. Le said.

Origin Smart Charging Trial
How Origin’s smart charging test changed consumer behavior to charge EVs outside peak times.,Supplied with: Origin Energy,

Ms Le said the third part of the trial, which continues, would show Origin working with power distributors (Citipower, Powercor and United Energy) to understand if it would not need to be upgraded to meet baseline use seen in the trials, once Mass adoption of EVs takes place.

ARENA board member Darren Miller said it funded $ 840,000 of the trial’s $ 2.9 million, adding that three others with retailers and distributors also ran the country.

Headshot of Australian Renewable Energy Agency CEO Darren Miller.
Mr Miller said the power supply would not work if everyone charged their EVs in the evening peak.,Supplied,

Mr Miller said ARENA, an independent federal government agency, was investing in the investigation because they were “very concerned” about what would happen if EVs became more popular.

“Extra investment will have to be made and that will ultimately cost us all on our electricity bills.

“I think if we do this really well, we can expect that there will not be much extra cost to the distribution companies.

“We can ensure that we do not have to invest an extraordinary amount in the distribution system, the poles and wires outside our homes and businesses, to accommodate that extra charge.”

The Gladstone Power Station.
The trial will investigate whether there should be upgrades to the power grid, with the Gladstone power plant shown here.,ABC News: Christoper Gillette ,

EVs are expected to become more popular from 2025 onwards, as the price of batteries is expected to fall to a point where cars will reach a price parity with traditional cars.

Ms Le pointed to research that showed that if EVs accounted for 80 per cent of new car sales by 2030, and all of them had plummeted in the evening peak, the direct charge would double the peak of electricity demand.

‘I’m pretty sure we’ll get a cost advantage’

The last paper of the trials is available in December, but Ms Le said early results have shown that financial rewards worked to get drivers to recharge off-peak.

She said they have yet to determine whether they are needed in the long run or just for the short term, until habits were formed.

“We see it as sharing the value back to the customers,” Ms. Le said.

“The value we see is two bins; arbitrage for wholesale price – if we can push consumption beyond that very high price period, it saves the retailer money and then we can share that back.

“The other value bucket is if the network can save money, that they have to spend differently to improve the network, the network can also share that with the customer.”

Mr Miller said despite the problems of the current energy system and the rise of EVs, there was no need for “panic”.

“Electricity is already a lot cheaper than petrol and diesel, so I’m very sure we’ll get a cost advantage anyway, because we’re switching to electric cars,” he said.

“The question is just how much of a cost advantage, I think we can do it even better if we have a technological solution like smart charging and that’s what we’re working on.”


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