By Sarah Wilson
21 December 2020
A bold initiative of the ACT Government, to electrify its fleet of vehicles, has grown into a world-leading research and demonstration project that is setting the scene for large-scale adoption of vehicle-to-grid technology in Australia.
There is a buzzword in Europe’s energy business sector, and in particular in Germany’s Energiewende (energy transition). It’s called ‘sector coupling’. Instead of the traditional separation of the energy sectors – electricity, heating and cooling, transport and industrial processes, ‘sector coupling’ refers to the integration of two or more sectors to create synergies.
To reach net zero emissions, it will be key to electrify as much as possible as quickly as possible. This may seem like a herculean task, but we don’t need to double the size of our electricity network in order to achieve this. One approach is to focus on demand-side flexibility and create an ecosystem that allows for alternative ways to manage the electricity grid, more cheaply and efficiently. Enter vehicle-to-grid (V2G).
V2G technology couples the transport sector with the electricity sector by enabling electricity stored in electric vehicles’ (EV) car batteries to be injected into the grid. Car batteries are big, they typically store about as much energy as an average household uses over two-to-four days. With the rise in EV sales, car batteries represent huge opportunities to support the grid, alongside challenges to the electricity supply.
A team of researchers at ANU is bringing V2G technology to life in Australia with a practical EV demonstration alongside a comprehensive knowledge sharing workstream providing holistic insights into the economic, technical and social implications of V2G services. Realising Electric Vehicles-to-Grid Services, or the aptly, if somewhat amusing title ‘REVS’ for short, is a demonstration and research project that will see fifty ACT Government Nissan LEAF electric vehicles and one ActewAGL Nissan Leaf electric vehicle take part in this ground-breaking study. The project, the largest demonstration of V2G services in Australia, will see the plugged in EVs injecting power into the grid, almost instantaneously, if, or when needed. EV owners will be paid for providing this service to the grid.
But what is the story behind this ground breaking study?
Bjorn Sturmberg, Research Leader with the Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program (BSGIP) at ANU is responsible for building the ACT Government’s initial idea into what is now a multi-partnered consortium that spans the entire electricity and transport supply chains. Having spent years working in both industry and academia, BSGIP offers the best of both worlds according to Bjorn, and as for REVS, “What initially attracted me to this project was the scale and opportunity of V2G. If just one in five Australian vehicles were electric, they would store more energy than the planned Snowy 2.0.”
And the opportunity to bring the electricity industry and the transport industry along on the journey is absolutely key. “Sector coupling is fascinating. Essentially it is about learning how to have new conversations and new relationships. We know that the technical side of things will work out, what is really interesting is to see how companies will adapt or evolve to get the most out of sector coupling,” said Bjorn.
“Another really interesting part of V2G is the fact that this nascent industry is not burdened with social, political or industry/stakeholder baggage. Take for example solar on roof tops. It is a tale of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. Who can afford to install solar on their homes versus who can’t and there is baggage attached to this. V2G on the other hand is unmoulded putty, it hasn’t been pigeon-holed or shoe horned. Both the electricity sector and the transport sector are still figuring out how they are going to deal with it,” said Bjorn.
Laura Jones, a colleague of Bjorn’s chimes in: “We have car salesmen trying to sell electricity and we have electricity retailers trying to sell cars. It’s useful to think like you are someone else and see what innovation comes out of it.”
While there have been similar V2G trials in other parts of the world, what makes this trial truly groundbreaking is the attention paid to the social research side of business.
Laura Jones, a senior analyst working on the REVS project with the Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program, is examining the various ways we can use V2G.
“There is a whole bunch of ways we can use this technology but I guess I am interested in creating a product that people want to use, or the business part of why you might do something.”
Laura is taking a unique approach to finding out what people value. “I’ve been using LinkedIn to connect informally with stakeholders nationally and internationally. It’s been fun speaking to people about EVs. I say the word “EV” and see what people say and how they say it. You can approach a topic in many different ways. Some people value social equity, making the world a better place, other people take a more commercial or technical approach. How people approach a topic is really interesting. Informal chats reveal a lot about how people are thinking rather than the ‘company line’,” said Laura.
What’s the best part of the REVS project? Both Bjorn and Laura agree that the most outstanding feature of the REVS project is its diversity and inclusion both inside the ANU team and in the wider consortium. “Diversity and inclusion makes everything better,” said Laura. “It’s not about egos, we can all come together and reach a common conclusion.”
Supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), as part of ARENA’s Advancing Renewables Program, the REVS consortium consists of the ACT Government, ActewAGL, Evoenergy, Nissan, Sgfleet, JET Charge and The Australian National University.
The Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program, hosted at ANU, is jointly funded by the ACT Government under the Renewable Energy Innovation Fund initiative and the ANU. Established in April 2018 the Program consists of a diverse team designing and implementing the building blocks of a resilient energy system, for the benefit of all energy users.
An edited version of this story appeared in ANU Reporter “Batteries on wheels’.