Electricity distributors take charge in new EV trial

Smart charging technology offers a way to minimise the load on the electricity grid as more EVs hit the road.

ARENA has announced funding for Jemena and four electricity distributors to trial smart electric vehicle charging in people’s homes.

The project will allow electric network operators to remotely control charging to minimise loads on the grid as more EVs hit Australian roads, managing demand when energy supplies are tight and helping to take advantage of cheap power when demand is low.

Jemena is partnering with AusNet Energy, Evoenergy, TasNetworks and United Energy to deliver the EV trial, recruiting 176 participants across Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT.

Chargers and software for the program will be supplied by Melbourne-based Jet Charge, who also partnered on recent trials with AGL and ActewAGL.

Distributors leading orchestration

ARENA is providing $1.6 million in funding for the $3.4 million trial, which will help to purchase charging hardware and network monitoring equipment.

ARENA CEO Darren Miller says that giving networks control of EV charging for the first time will deliver significant benefits.

“As the penetration of EVs increases, it will be important to manage and orchestrate the charging of vehicles to avoid negative impacts on networks and costs and ensure the optimal outcome for all parties,” Mr Miller said.

“Networks will be key to this as they hold the ultimate responsibility for integrating EVs into their grids while maintaining security of supply and minimising costs,” he said.

The project builds on recent ARENA-supported smart charging trials led by AGL, Origin and ActewAGL, but differs as the chargers will respond to signals from electricity distributors instead of energy retailers.

Jemena Executive General Manager Shaun Reardon said the company “is playing its part to support this adoption while ensuring the electricity grid can manage the extra consumption, particularly in neighbourhoods that already have a high uptake of electric vehicles.”

The announcement coincides with the Australian Government’s release of the Future Fuel Strategy: Discussion Paper that provides “direction and practical actions that will enable the private sector to commercially deploy low emissions road transport technologies at scale.”

Ramping up

EV sales are accelerating in Australia, after a slow start. The Electric Vehicle Council’s 2020 annual report shows sales tripled in 2019, but still made up just 0.6 per cent of all new vehicle sales. While Australia trails EV leaders like Norway and California, the rate of uptake is giving electricity retailers and network operators time to prepare for the new load on the grid.

Jet Charge co-founder and CEO Tim Washington emerged as an early leader in Australia’s EV sector, launching the company in 2012 to focus on the supply and installation of charging hardware.

Transmission lines
Work is underway to prepare the grid for added demand from EVs

He is optimistic that Australia’s energy sector is taking the right steps to prepare for EVs becoming a mainstream choice, but should remain wary of a surge in uptake.

“Retailers in particular are now starting to include EVs as part of their core growth strategies. Distributors are also coming to the party and through trials like this, should be well prepared for a boost in EV numbers in the short to medium term,” Tim Washington said.

“I will say, however, that even among those most optimistic about their EV preparedness, I believe they are still under-estimating – under the right policy conditions – just how fast the EV market can grow.”

Washington says the biggest barriers to EV uptake remain the availability of models and price.

“More models available in Australia means more competition, forcing down prices… when we have an environment in which vehicle OEMs feel confident in bringing vehicles out, they will bring them out in greater numbers, driving individual unit costs down.”

Smart and secure

Jemena’s new trial will provide a blueprint for electricity distributors to communicate with equipment installed in people’s homes to enable charging when electricity demand and prices are low.

The system has strict protections built into the charging hardware and software to protect homes and vehicles, with only the rate of charge able to be externally controlled.

Jemena has Australia’s first EV cherry picker. Image: Jemena

Distributors partnering on the project will also install monitoring equipment to better understand conditions across their networks, using the information to send signals to an aggregation platform that will communicate with the hardware installed in people’s homes to control the rate of charge.

The trial will provide an evidence base for networks to assess the costs and benefits of externally managed EV charging, improving the utilisation of existing infrastructure to minimise costs for all energy users, while also informing future investment decisions.