Just months before Australians began paying record petrol prices, Marc Tan was lucky enough to buy his first electric vehicle.

He is impressed by how cheap it is to run.

“Just from a day-to-day running cost, I have spent probably $10 [to] $15 in electricity and I’ve driven 3,000 kilometres,” he said.

“The second thing is they’re just so much fun to drive.”

But one of the downsides of his new purchase is how long it takes to fully charge at home.

To charge his car from “zero to 100 per cent” at home, by plugging it into a regular power point, takes about two days.

Instead, the 47-year-old IT professional often uses EV chargers at the local shopping centre to save time.

But his new smart charger — installed as part of a trial he saw advertised on social media — will make the process much faster.

“I would probably be able to charge it in about seven hours overnight,” he said.

Faster charging is one aspect of the new smart charger, installed as part of a project being run by energy retailer AGL and the federal government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

As the trial evolves throughout 2022, AGL will send information to the smart charger, which is in turn linked into the car’s software, telling it the optimum time to charge.

That could mean that while Mr Tan could arrive home from work at 5pm and plug his car in, the actual charging won’t happen until there’s less load in the grid and the price of electricity is cheaper.

“A lot of people charge their vehicles overnight, [and] 5pm to 8pm is a really peak time in the energy system,” AGL’s Jo Egan told the ABC.

“If we can shift that charging to early hours of the morning, there’s an opportunity to have no impact on the customer, but also really help stability across the grid.”

The smart chargers can charge EVs at homes when there is low demand on the grid.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Customers in the trial have the ability to override any signals the retailer is sending to the car about when to charge, through an app on their phone.

“We’re really keen to see real data in Australia and see how customers behave, how often they need to override to meet their needs and what times of the day suits charging best for them,” Ms Egan said.

EVs a ‘high-powered item’

The energy industry is using trials to try and work out how the grid will cope as a growing number of consumers buy EVs and plug them in.

While electric vehicles are a lot cheaper to run, finding ways to control charging cycles correctly will make sure consumers also get the benefits of cheaper electricity, according to ARENA chief executive Darren Miller.

“Electric vehicles are a very high-powered item and it will take a lot of energy if we turn them on all at the same time,” he said.

“We can avoid costly grid infrastructure upgrades, and that’ll be reflected in lower-cost bills for all of us.”

ARENA is co-funding four projects for smart chargers.

Energy innovation researcher Renate Egan, a professor at the University of NSW, said similar trials overseas had shown the scope for innovation which would ultimately benefit consumers.

“There’s a player in the UK who pays consumers to charge at certain times of day, those sorts of offerings will come as retailers start to compete,” Professor Egan said.

“Energy consumers should be cautious about entering long-term agreements because I think the market dynamic will keep changing.”

While Australia is behind overseas counterparts due to the slower uptake of EVs, Professor Egan said eventually consumers could make big savings.

“The upside is we know that at times of the day, the cost of energy to the end consumer could effectively be zero,” she said.

“The marketplace is going to change quite a lot in the next three, four and five years.”

Networks trial chargers

Electricity network company Jemena is also starting a home-based EV charging trial this year, involving about 170 electric vehicle owners from Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT.

The trial aims to find the cheapest way of running the network in the future, executive general manager Shaun Reardon said.

“Electricity networks are really trying to get ourselves ready to be able to manage the additional load that’s coming with electric vehicles and ensure that we can do that in a way that doesn’t lead to large amounts of electrical investment in new infrastructure, which ultimately would lead to additional costs to customers,” he said.

According to Mr Reardon, about 1 per cent of current electric vehicle owners own smart chargers.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Participants are given a smart wall charger worth $2,000 which they can use to charge their EV vehicles at home.

The charger allows customers to charge their vehicles three times faster than a traditional charger, Mr Reardon said.

“They’re not very common, only about 1 per cent of current electric vehicle owners have these chargers,” he said.

Like the AGL trial, it also aims to encourage EV owners to shift the time they charge their electric cars to take pressure off the grid.

“What we’d like to see happen is customers being able to charge their vehicles later in the evening,” Mr Reardon said.

“That’s where the smart wall charger can help by working in the background to defer when the charging occurs — [it] may be midnight to 6am, or even during the middle of the day when there’s an excess of solar energy.”

Jemena has partnered with electricity network businesses in Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT, and EV charging infrastructure company JETCharge for the trial, which is funded by ARENA and will run through to next year.

Extracted in full from: As more Australians buy electric vehicles, energy companies are finding ways to help the grid cope – ABC News