The inevitable rise of electric cars is coming – and fast.
About 550 million electric cars are expected to be on roads around the globe by 2040.
Australian consumers have been concerned about costs, charging and the driving range of electric cars.
But local sales have tripled in two years – and those numbers are only expected to increase.
Not only will they change the way people travel, they will also change the way people use electricity.
The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) has warned it could substantially increase demand for electricity from the grid.
It said one electric vehicle charging station built in Adelaide last year had the same effect on the grid as 100 new homes being connected.
“We don’t want to see a situation where electric vehicle charging puts extra pressure on the system,” the commission’s acting chief executive Suzanne Falvi said.
“More electric vehicles can potentially increase electricity consumption and put new demands on our grid … We want to be ahead of that curve.”
Electric cars could lead to lower bills
The AEMC has released an issues paper that outlines some ideas of how electric cars might contribute to lower energy costs, rather than increasing them.
It suggested with the right systems in place, households could use their electric car batteries to “soak up” excess rooftop solar generation when energy was cheap and have the option to sell power back into the grid when it was more expensive.
“Along with solar PV (photovoltaic) and smart appliances, electric vehicles can be part of a consumer’s future toolkit to reduce their energy output when prices are high,” Ms Falvi said.
The AEMC also said with the right market signals, charged electric cars could be used as a giant “virtual battery”, feeding energy back into the grid at times of high demand, in return for an incentive for their owners.
Such a system is already in place in California, where a company called Enel X is aggregating more than 6000 car batteries to provide the equivalent of a grid-scale battery.
Electric Vehicle Council chief executive Behyad Jafari said it was a no-brainer.
“Electric vehicles are just big batteries on wheels,” he said.
“They can improve grid reliability, improve our ability to bring renewable energy onto the grid because there is a battery fundamentally sitting there able to soak up energy and put it back into the system.”
No national plan yet for electric cars
Electric car advocates like Mr Jafari say Australia has been too slow to embrace the potential advantages of electric cars.
“This is a change that is coming, there are myriad benefits to be had for Australian consumers through lower transport costs … but unfortunately we don’t have a national plan in Australia,” Mr Jafari said.
“The federal government has been asleep at the wheel.”
The issue of electric cars proved controversial in last year’s election, with the Coalition claiming Labor’s policy to target 50 per cent of new car sales to be electric by 2030 would effectively kill off the tradie’s ute.
In a statement, Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the government was working on a national electric vehicle strategy to be ready by mid-year.
He said it would “focus on practical actions to address barriers to EV uptake, so that Australians who choose to adopt new technologies are supported in doing so”.
Mr Jafari said while the federal government might not want to “tell people what cars to drive”, time was running out.
“The global automotive industry has told us we are no longer investing in internal combustion engines,” he said.
“The future of this sector is in electric, and so this change is coming.
“The question for us is: ‘Is Australia going to be slower than everyone else in making that change?'”