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Will Australian EV drivers charge off peak to save money, the environment and the grid?

Electric cars create a big new electrical load in any home that takes one on.  The electrical energy used in an EV driven 20,000km per year is roughly equal to the electrical energy used each year in a typical Australian home.

We’re going to need to put up lots more wind turbines and solar panels over the next 20 or 30 years to generate the additional energy needed, and that work is well underway.

What’s critical for the distribution networks that deliver all this extra energy to our homes, though, isn’t ‘how much’ – it’s ‘when’.  The energy networks are built to support peak demand, which happens on summer afternoons in most of the country – Tassie’s a bit different, peaking in winter due to electric heating.

If most of this extra energy for EVs gets delivered at times when the network isn’t running at peak, we can avoid a lot of expensive build-out of our networks which eventually turns up on our power bills.

The best time of day to charge an EV is the middle of the day.  The sun’s out and hitting the solar panels, so the energy available at that time is cheap and on average much cleaner.

We’re rapidly approaching the point that we have too much solar energy regularly being produced in the middle of the day, with nowhere to put it.  From the point of view of the energy system, cars that are available to soak it up are very, very welcome to it.

For drivers that can’t conveniently charge in the middle of the day, the middle of the night is the next best time, because the networks have plenty of spare capacity at that time.  The energy is not as clean (on the mainland at least), but it’s far cleaner than petrol or diesel, it’s still cheap, and it doesn’t strain the grid at that time.

The EVC has produced a handy guide for consumers on this topic, available here.

Arranging for the car to charge at a preferred time can be done all sorts of ways.  One of the easiest is to just set the preferred charging time in the car, in much the same way as setting a preferred radio station.  There’s a wide variety of smart charging products that consumers can have installed and app-driven ways to do it too, available from many suppliers.

The key here isn’t solving the technical problem of ‘how to do it’ – there’s lots of solutions available already, and more coming.  The key is to provide a strong incentive to the drivers for the EV charging behaviour the energy system is looking for, without penalizing them with super high prices at peak time for using other appliances.

Enter AGL’s Night EV Saver Plan, launched in August 2023.

The design of the offer is very simple:

  • Take the usual residential electricity pricing structure (flat rate or time-of-use)
  • Make the price 8c/kWh between midnight and 6am.  This represents a saving of 64-81% compared to the current Victorian Default Offer.
  • Make the solar feed-in tariff 5c/kWh.

This makes energy marginally cheaper in the middle of the day than the middle of the night for consumers with their own solar.

It doesn’t introduce a serious penalty for consumers using the rest of the stuff in the house (aircon, cooking, etc) when they want to – and drivers can still charge their cars at any time they choose to – but it creates hundreds of dollars per year in savings for typical EV drivers in exchange for those drivers generally doing the right thing by the energy system.

The EVC understands that since this offer was launched in August, several thousand EV owning consumers around the country have switched to it, including the author of this piece.

This type of response from consumers, with a minimum of marketing of the offer, underscores the willingness of Australian EV drivers to take control of when they charge their electric cars for everyone’s benefit.

AGL aren’t alone in offering well thought-through retail products, designed with the EV driving consumer in mind.  Simply Energy, Powershop and Ovo are among the retailers with very similar offers available around most of the country.

The EVC hopes to see lots of other retailers create similar products and bring them to market, to encourage EV owners to do their part for the energy system, and their own hip pockets!

Ross De Rango is head of Energy and Infrastructure at the Electric Vehicle Council.

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