If energy utilities want to forge a place in Australia’s evolving energy ecosystem they need to create a strategy for providing PEV solutions, writes Charlie Richardson.

Alongside the many insights into the National Electricity Market (NEM), the Finkel Review found that the uptake of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) combined with a decarbonised grid could help to achieve significant emissions reductions in Australia’s transport sector. It also found that consumers are increasingly open and interested in using PEVs.

In Accenture Consulting’s New Energy Consumer Report respondents ranked electric vehicles in the top-five of products and services they most wanted to see from energy providers.

But the vehicles are just one part of the equation. A crucial part of widespread PEV adoption becoming a reality is the charging infrastructure. The Queensland Government has already announced it will construct the Queensland Electric Super Highway, which is a great start. This will be the longest stretch of road in the world filled with a series of stations to charge electric vehicles. The energy supplied by these charging stations will be green energy that can be purchased through green energy credits or offsets.

Charlie Richardson is energy consumer services lead for the Asia-Pacific region at Accenture.

Projects and opportunities like this are where utilities should step in. If energy utilities want to forge a place in Australia’s evolving energy ecosystem they need to create a strategy for providing PEV solutions.

PEVs offer a significant opportunity for utilities to strengthen their position in the evolving energy ecosystem and create incremental shareholder value. For example, a single PEV can increase electricity use of a typical household by 20 to 30%. Two passenger PEVs in a neighbourhood can offset roughly one residential customer with distributed solar. And 300,000 PEVs can offset a million MWh in load loss to distributed solar.

Utilities should transcend their current role beyond just providing electricity to becoming providers that are partnering with customers – both individual consumers or businesses – to provide the energy customers need at a time and cost that is optimal for them. A “smart” charging solution would know, for example, that consumers who return from work and plug in their vehicles actually do not need their cars to be fully charged until morning, allowing charging at off-peak hours during the night and giving consumers the best deal possible.

The solution would also incorporate mobile management – for example, mobile apps that direct drivers to the nearest public charging station or that send customers a mobile push notification when their PEV is fully charged.

Utilities have not historically moved quickly in response to new technologies and in some cases have missed the market, for example by not providing rooftop solar in response to surging consumer demand.

If they want to be a part of the growing PEV movement Australian utilities need to invest in smart PEV charging infrastructure that provides innovative rate structures and charging options. Shaping PEV charging requires a customer interface that provides rules-based charging (for example, by default having a customer’s car fully charged by 7am) and override (charge as fast as possible right now), as well as demand response capabilities to slow or temporarily stop charging during peak events. Additionally, in a world of electric vehicles charging stations would be most suited where cars are expected to be parked for a while – in the parking lots of grocery stores, for instance.

Utilities should also pursue partnerships with original equipment manufacturers and charging providers while retaining ownership of the key part of the value chain; and think beyond PEV charging infrastructure, including vehicle-to-grid technology and turnkey charging infrastructure offerings. Utilities should also think about providing other value-added services on top of charging infrastructure solutions. For example, many small businesses will need help evaluating and installing charging stations, and utilities are well-positioned to seize that part of the market.

Australian utilities should seize the PEV opportunity now. They need to prepare for a future of not just distributed generation but one of distributed and mobile storage. The changes to the distribution of energy are enormous and smart charging infrastructure is but the first step in the journey. Beyond this infrastructure change, making investments and/or partnerships for ultra-rapid charging on par with internal combustion engine vehicle refuelling time, inductive charging and utilisation of vehicle autonomy will be crucial to remaining a viable part of the customer ecosystem.

Charlie Richardson is energy consumer services lead for the Asia-Pacific region at Accenture.