I certainly was all charged up in August, on the ninth to be precise, when the electricity sector tried to meet demand on what was one of the coldest days of the year. Unfortunately, the sector experienced a well publicised failure; many households were without power for a considerable time.
Demand for electricity has never been higher and it’s only going to increase over the coming years while we also rely increasingly on renewable energy, rather than fossil fuels, to power our economy.
Some suggested that electric vehicles were the cause of the August outage. This was not the case. EECA estimated that the charging demands of EVs was less than one per cent of the total electricity load on that day. Heating for people’s homes on a frigid evening caused the surge in demand. But let’s agree on one thing – we don’t want power outages in New Zealand to be a regular occurrence (not that they have been in recent years).
While Drive Electric is highly supportive of the move to vehicle electrification, as am I, we are equally passionate about ensuring energy resilience and independence. To us, these ambitions go hand in glove. EECA is confident that there is sufficient planned capacity growth in generation to meet the demands of an increasing EV fleet. But, as we are seeing real signs of an accelerated take up, we need a plan for EV charging infrastructure.
Over the past five years, EECA has contributed massively to the rollout of public charging initiatives, spending almost $13 million through the Low Emission Vehicle Contestable Fund and this has been matched by a similar amount from the private sector. This has supported many companies, including ChargeNet, a local start-up that continues to lead the way with rapid 300kW charging infrastructure. There is now at least one public EV charger every 75km on almost all New Zealand highways. But is it enough? Probably not.
It’s clear to everyone involved in EVs that we are going to need more public chargers in more places. I wonder if New Zealand petrol stations will enter this game in a meaningful way, as they are doing in the UK?
Most charging actually occurs at home; estimates suggest between 80 and 90 per cent of an EV owner’s charging is done this way. And so we need to make sure that we are ready for this too.
Smart chargers should become commonplace. There are different opinions in the electricity sector about who should be installing and managing electricity demand through these chargers. However, what’s clear is that smart chargers can help manage demand on the electricity system and help consumers access low off-peak pricing.
New technologies are coming, such as V2H (Vehicle to Home) and V2G (Vehicle to Grid), allowing your car to power your house, or feed power back into the grid. I believe that lines companies need to be involved in enabling this technology. However, some of this innovation is curtailed by current Commerce Commission and Electricity Authority settings.
Safety is paramount. If you have a spa pool or heat pump, you will be drawing your maximum feed some of the time. Adding an EV charger without expert guidance is potentially dangerous. Chargers should only be installed by registered electricians and there are official standards in place for residential chargers. Importers and installers should be aware of these. And while EVs are disrupting ICE cars and petrol stations, the electricity sector may also be ripe for disruption.
Take, for instance, Solar Zero – formerly Solar City. With Government backing, as well as prominent local investors, this company is partnering with Panasonic to install solar panels on the roofs of homes, schools, and offices. These panels have battery storage capacity with an inverter and an EV charger if you want one. This – more or less – makes your home a generator and storer of electricity created from sunshine, in an “Energy as a Service” model.
Solar Zero will manage and control your electricity demand patterns and, when you have a surplus, they will sell it into the grid; and if you need more, buy it back from the grid. It looks extremely appealing. Although, as with everything, consumers should do their due diligence and read the fine print.
So, with all this change, we need a plan that enables the adoption of new technologies for tomorrow’s consumers of electricity.
This article first appeared in the October 2021 issue of NZ Autocar Magazine.