On behalf of the Federal Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is providing $838,000 in funding to Origin Energy to trial 150 smart chargers for electric vehicles (EVs), which will be installed in residential and commercial buildings.

The smart chargers will connect to Origin’s Virtual Power Plant (VPP) platform, which enables multiple devices to be orchestrated remotely using artificial intelligence. 

A rapid and unmanaged uptake of EVs could have negative impacts on the electricity grid if a large number of EVs are charged at home during peak periods.

The trial will explore the role smart chargers can play to assist the integration of EVs into the National Electricity Market (NEM) through the management of chargers via remote access, to maximise EV charging at times when demand for electricity is low.

The $2.9 million trial will look to evaluate the benefits of and barriers to controlled smart charging, including improving our understanding of EV driver behaviour, willingness to accept third-party control and what incentives are needed to encourage future participation in charge management programs.

Origin Executive General Manager Future Energy and Technology, Tony Lucas, said, “Transportation is the second highest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia, accounting for nearly 19 per cent of emissions. 

“EVs provide an opportunity to significantly improve Australia’s environmental performance, particularly if vehicles are charged using renewable energy.

“EV adoption is expected to increase significantly in the coming years with the price of new EV models continuing to fall and performance and range improving all the time. 

“We hope this trial will help us understand how we can maximise the benefits to customers by offering products that reduce their EV charging costs, as well as how we can manage EV charging in a way that helps with grid and network stability.

“Origin has developed a leading VPP platform orchestrated using artificial intelligence, with a wide range of distributed assets, such as storage, residential air-conditioning systems, hot water systems, pool pumps and industrial coolers, already connected and continuing to grow.

“Smart chargers will be able to talk to the platform, which can remotely direct chargers to switch on and off, or higher or lower, in response to wholesale prices, with benefits for customers in terms of lower charging costs and the NEM as we can more efficiently manage demand and supply in the system.

“We want to get people thinking about EVs as more than just a car and saving on petrol, they can provide additional value to their owners through battery storage for the home, connected to virtual power plants or used for grid stabilisation, all of which will significantly reduce payback periods and improve the economics of EV ownership for many Australians.

“The trial is one of a series of initiatives we have in the e-mobility space that will be rolled out in the near future, as we seek to accelerate the uptake of EVs in Australia.”

Federal Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, said the project will help identify ways to overcome the challenges in integrating EVs.

“The government’s role is to support consumer choice for future fuel technologies and back new technologies through trials like this,” Mr Taylor said. 

“These projects will help those Australian motorists who choose to drive an electric vehicle to do so.

“As Australians choose future fuel technologies, it is important that energy market operators, energy companies and governments understand the impact EVs could have on our networks.

“Through this project, we can begin to understand how to minimise impact and maximise the benefit of new technologies on the grid.

“This project is significant as it is the first large-scale demonstration of smart EV charging in Australia and the outcomes will be important to inform future government decisions.”

Around 6,700 EVs were sold in Australia in 2019 and sales continue to increase in 2020. The trial has been designed to ensure that EVs can be successfully integrated into the electricity networks to minimise any impacts for other energy users.

This aligns with the Federal Government’s development of a national strategy to enable choice for consumers across all types of future fuels, including for electric vehicles, hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

ARENA CEO, Darren Miller, said Origin’s trial will help to demonstrate how the Australian electricity grid can successfully integrate higher numbers of EVs while limiting costly network expansion.

“As the uptake of EVs increases, it will be important to efficiently manage the charging of vehicles to avoid potentially costly impacts on peak demand, associated network charges and grid security issues,” Mr Miller said.

“Smart charging enables charging at times when demand is lowest and electricity is cheapest, which reduces the burden on the network and the cost to the customer.”

ARENA is also supporting ActewAGL’s vehicle to grid trial in Canberra with the ACT Government and Australian National University.

“It is well known that electricity costs much less than petrol in terms of powering cars and light-duty commercial vehicles,” Mr Miller said. 

“However, EVs provide additional economic opportunities for consumers through the potential of further reduced electricity costs from higher network utilisation and possible revenue generation via technologies such as vehicle-to-grid technology which ARENA is also supporting.

“ARENA’s portfolio of EV projects is exploring various technology solutions, service providers, end users and geographies, helping to demonstrate and inform the market on how EV charging can be managed at higher levels of uptake, with the lowest cost and greatest benefit to consumers.”

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