A common question that crops up in any EV discussion is this: “How are we going to power them all?” It’s a fair point.
EV uptake is accelerating in New Zealand. We’re closing in on 60,000 EVs and PHEVs, and 40 per cent of those were registered in the last year. Research tells us that more New Zealanders are thinking about EVs. EECA’s latest survey, from the April-June 2022 quarter, found that 48 per cent of people reported they’d consider an EV as their next vehicle purchase, up from 40 per cent in the same quarter of 2019.
With petrol prices high and incentives in place for low emissions vehicles, it’s no surprise interest in petrol vehicles has also dropped sharply, down from 79 to 59 per cent over three years. The trends are clear here, as they are globally. As more people buy EVs, we return to my original question – how will we power them all?
EECA (the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority) estimates that if every car in the country were electric, we’d need a 20 per cent increase in electricity supply. Estimates from the Climate Change Commission suggest as we electrify almost everything in the economy, this increase in demand could be as high as an extra 50 per cent by 2050.
So demand will increase in the coming decades and we have some time to find solutions. However, it’s a conundrum we need to resolve sooner rather than later as building new electricity generation at scale takes time and resources.
That said, there’s a solution that’s available now to help manage demand and ease the strain on the existing network. One of the benefits of EV ownership, for those with garages, is being able to ‘refuel’ at home. Most EV drivers use the three-pin cable that came with their vehicle. This does the job but there’s better option and that’s smart charging.
Some EV drivers may come home at the end of the day and plug in immediately. And then they start cooking dinner, turn all the lights on, and also the heat pump while doing a load of laundry. As more households do this, at the same time, it will put pressure on the grid to deliver. This is called ‘peak demand’.
A smart charger enables consumers or their lines company to monitor and manage their EV charging to avoid peak demand periods. It also enables them to take advantage of lower, off-peak pricing while still ensuring their EV is charged and ready to drive when required. A smart charger and its installation are additional costs. But they deliver a benefit to both the user (through accessing better pricing) and also communities, by managing the demand for electricity at peak times. If we can collectively smooth out these peaks in demand for electricity, we can use our network more efficiently.
Recently, EECA has been consulting on the role the government could play to encourage the uptake of smart charging. Internationally, governments have regulated the use of smart chargers and supported their uptake through subsidies and education. The rationale is that while users benefit from installing ‘smart chargers’ (through pricing), the larger benefit is accrued across the entire electricity system.
Drive Electric supports the need to regulate smart chargers but carefully. We don’t want to lock in requirements for smart chargers that soon become redundant as technology evolves. We also consider that a targeted and potentially time-bound subsidy to support the uptake of smart chargers is worthy of consideration. It’s not clear to us that the market will deliver this outcome on its own.
We will be interested to see the findings from EECA’s consultation. But in the meantime if you’re buying an EV consider the benefits of ‘smart charging’ to not only your household but also our collective efforts to electrify transport.