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New technology to help bring down the cost of electric vehicle ownership is being rolled out to 300 households in a trial of systems for automated off-peak charging and supplying the electricity grid with power from car batteries.
Darren Miller, the chief executive of the federal government's Australian Renewable Energy Agency, said the expected rise in electric vehicle ownership risked "potentially costly impacts on peak demand", but technology could be used to benefit both the grid and car owners.
AGL and ARENA are trialling a new system to help customers get maximum bang for their buck when they hook up their electric cars to the grid.
Selected electric car owners in NSW, Queensland and Victoria are taking part in a three-year, $8 million trial run by energy company AGL and ARENA.
"[Electric vehicles] provide economic opportunities for consumers through the potential of reduced electricity costs through higher network utilisation and the potential to generate revenues that would reduce the cost of car ownership," Mr Miller said.
The batteries in electric vehicles can be hooked up to the grid through charging points. With smart technology, their stored power can be tapped to smooth peaks and troughs in electricity supply across the day and night.
The trial will be rolled out through customers in AGL's Virtual Power Plan program, which is where households with rooftop solar and batteries are linked to the grid via a smart connection that sends excess power into the grid to ease demand, and draws power from the grid when it's plentiful and stores it for later use.
The trial will investigate how electric vehicles can play a part in a smart network. For example, the network operator could pay a vehicle owner to use their battery as a power supply when it was hooked up to the grid in peak times, while ensuring the battery was charged with cheap power overnight.
Novel charging technology will also be investigated – where the car-charging hardware, which is typically attached to a house or charging station, is removed and replaced with software managed by the network operator.
AGL manager of decentralised energy Dominique Van Den Berg said the trial would provide insights on customer demand, such as when they connected cars to the grid or when batteries could be tapped to help supply peak demand.
"Although the trial is limited to 300 customers, it will help us to shape future energy offers to EV owners," Ms Van Den Berg said.
Electric vehicle advocates warn car manufacturers will stop making petrol engines in coming decades and are calling on state and federal governments to encourage consumers to buy more electric cars to drive down their sale price and build a market for charging infrastructure.
The federal government is working on an electric cars policy that will focus on supporting electric cars through research and development into new technology.
"By trialling new charging technologies within the home, we will better understand the impact EVs could have on our networks and how to save consumers money as they charge," Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said.
"The government is backing a range of technologies, not picking one winner. This follows our 'technology not taxes' approach to reducing emissions."
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