Melbourne-based energy researcher Dr Kathryn Lucas-Healey will be one of the keynote speakers at the Energy Next event taking place at the ICC in Sydney on 19-20 July, 2022. In an EcoGeneration exclusive, she outlines the vehicle-to-grid concept and the Australian National University’s Realising Electric Vehicle-to-Grid Services (REVS) project.

What is the concept of vehicle-to-grid?

Vehicle-to-grid is the idea of tapping into the electric vehicle batteries in people’s garages around Australia to use as a backup energy source. We potentially have a big distributed energy resource we could draw on when we need it. In return for allowing their EV batteries to be accessed, vehicle owners would receive earnings or savings.

Why do we need vehicle-to-grid capability?

Our energy grid needs more flexibility because we’re changing from centralised coal generators to energy being provided by other sources such as solar and wind. The grid needs ways to adapt and manage change due to the flux in demand and flux in the energy being produced by these renewable energy sources.

Batteries in vehicles would be useful for managing some demands from the grid. Most of the time, cars are parked, not doing anything, particularly overnight when they are charging so by using a special charger when the grid needs extra power – or less power – we can call on those cars to do that for a short time.

How would the energy be taken and given back to car owners?

An intermediary third-party would use a centralised digital communication platform to connect with the chargers that would then pull the energy from, or add energy to, those car batteries. Virtual Power Plants (VPP) are already using this centralised digital communication technology with home battery systems to control energy output.

There would only be a little bit taken from each car battery, but the cumulative energy collected from them would offer good additional supply. The car owner would then receive a credit on their energy bill for the power taken.

As we move to a grid powered by renewable energy, demand response is a low-cost way of helping manage the grid.

What is the potential scale of the energy we could draw on?

The opportunities for this are tremendous. The battery capacity of 19 million vehicles would likely exceed 1800 gigawatt hours. That’s equivalent to more than 10,000 Tesla “big batteries”, such as the one used to help power South Australia, or five of the new Snowy 2.0 hydroelectric projects.

To understand the importance of this work, we need to imagine electrifying all of Australia’s 19 million [current] vehicles. If all Australia’s vehicles were electric, they would use more than 60 terawatt hours of electricity a year. That’s around 35 per cent of Australia’s annual electricity consumption.

Still more imposing is the amount of power these vehicles could draw if they all charged at once. For example, if there were one million, 7.7-kilowatt home chargers in Australia – roughly one in 10 properties – if all these cars charged at once, they would add 25 per cent to the national load. Public fast-chargers and ultra-fast-chargers would increase this further.

What are the barriers to this happening?

There are a lot of things that need to coalesce in order for it to be done. The REVS trial has brought up lots of challenges. Part of it is the standards that vehicle-to-grid chargers need to comply with – the same standards home solar or battery inverters use – don’t fully accommodate the way these chargers operate.

Additionally, the grid needs to be equipped with the right technology so network operators know where vehicle-to-grid response is needed. Another ANU project, Evolve, which we are using as part of the REVS program, is a software-based approach that’s helping solve this problem. Evolve allows network operators to know what’s going on at finer level on the grid so we can see where vehicle-to-grid can work.

Where is the REVS project taking place?

We have 51 Nissan LEAF vehicles on 11 sites in the ACT, chosen by the ACT Government which is participating in the trial. The cars are used by ACT Government staff, including community nurses, IT support staff and other public servants. Having the ACT Government initiating the idea along with energy retailer ActewAGL, network evoenergy and ANU brought together the right consortium of interested parties. Nissan, charging provider JET Charge and fleet provider SG Fleet later joined the REVS consortium.

What is the next step to realising wider vehicle-to-grid solutions?

We need to make vehicle-to-grid very consumer focused, informing consumers about why they need to get involved. We need to listen to how they want this to work for them. Do they want to put the energy back into the grid and get paid, or would they rather use the technology for backup power?

More broadly, people are interested in localised networks where they could just share energy with their family or neighbours, but this isn’t possible at the moment.

The energy industry needs to stop focusing on how it can sell its ideas to consumers and give people more space to decide what they want from this kind of technology. Much of the work we are doing at ANU is figuring out how this can be done, working with energy industry stakeholders that are interested in finding out.