As the grid transitions to clean distributed energy sources, electric vehicles could become particularly useful in high density areas as mobile batteries.

In NSW, electric vehicles are enjoying a surge of interest triggered by the state government’s new EV policies, including $3000 rebates for the first 25,000 new battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles under $68,750. COP 26 may also have something to do with the influx of interest, as well as electric vehicle startup Rivian enjoying the sixth-largest IPO ever on a US stock exchange when it went public earlier this month.

Brent Clark, chief executive officer and founder of Wattblock, says for people living in apartments, who face more barriers to charging EVs than their counterparts with double garages, interest in EVs is rising. He told Ecogeneration that 83 per cent of people living in an apartment building said that they were interested in installing EV charge stations in a survey done by his company.

For the grid, Clark says the rise of EVs accompanied by vehicle-to-grid charging could help alleviate network congestion issues, particularly in high density postcodes that are already under pressure. With smart bi-directional charging capabilities, which are promised for several EV brands are already installed in Nissan Leafs, EVs become batteries on wheels. There’s a lot of research underway unpacking the prospect of using EVs as mobile batteries, including a project by the Race for 2030 CRC.

This capability will be particularly useful in high density areas dominated by multistorey apartments because space for stationary batteries is in short supply and these projects can be complicated by fire risks and other complexity. For these locations, Clark speculates the rise of green loans or leases for EVs with bi-directional charging so that drivers can be compensated for discharging to the grid during peak demand periods.

“If you think about it, how much easier is it to drive 150 Nissan Leafs in 150 different buildings in under pressure postcodes than it is to install stationary batteries?”

This could be an arrangement better suited to strata organisations that would prefer not to front capital for a stationary battery.

Technological progress driving down the cost of complex EV charging installs

Clark says bunging in EV charging for every or most car spaces in an underground residential car park remains an expensive and complex task. However, new technologies are making these projects more feasible.

One innovation is flat cables for charging, which is basically installed around the perimeter of a carpark to service each car spot. Clark says this vastly reduces the cost of providing chargepoints to every carpark.

Clark says the release of the wifi-connected Tesla Gen 3 also represents a step forward for EV charging in apartments. In the basement carpark settings, this reduces the expensive wiring job to connect each chargepoint for load balancing. Instead of connecting to physical boxes that balance loads between cars and monitor the power supplying the building to make sure the EVs charging simultaneously don’t overload the building’s electrical network, strata organisations can just put in wifi repeaters and to connect to the chargers.

Another benefit of these new chargers is Tesla’s commitment to openness and interoperability so that they can charge all types of vehicles, not just Teslas, and they will be able to “talk” to other wifi-connected chargers and devices to conduct dynamic load balancing. He likens this ability to making a call between two phones with different providers.

The smart chargers will also be able to be easily updated for other potential functionality, such as charging when solar panels are generating during the day or charge point booking.

Clarks says these more nimble, agile technologies are helping to bring the price point of retrofitting charging down towards affordability.

“If you wanted to support 100 car spaces with hardware load balancing and new distribution boards it could end up a $100,000 project.”

Now, prices are much more attractive, especially for shorter term installations to service a couple of carparks rather than the entire building. The Tesla Gen 3 retails at $780 (multiplied by the number of spaces) plus around $1000 worth of electrical labour, Clark estimates, and around $500 for a wifi repeater.

EV adoption in Australia has kicked up a gear

Clark says that in his company’s most recent survey on EVs, 25 per cent of people said they’d be likely to have an EV within the next six months to two years.

With 58 different models set to be available in Australia in 2022, including a few that achieve combustion engine price parity from Chinese EV brand BYD, momentum is only likely to accelerate.

Poppy Johnston is the editor of Ecogeneration.