How your electric vehicle can support the grid

Electric vehicles provide a sustainable driving experience, but what happens when thousands plug into charge at the same time? Here’s how they can lend a hand to the grid.

Energy Progress
7 min read
Electric vehicles are becoming more and more popular with Australian drivers.

They can make for a better driving experience – they’re almost noiseless, and are much smoother on the road, due to the lack of vibrations from the engine – and they’ve proven to be more environmentally friendly than petrol or diesel cars, keeping the air cleaner and quieter.

Electric vehicles (or EVs) provide a sustainable driving experience. But what happens when thousands of vehicles are being driven into garages at the end of each day, and plugged into chargers at the same time? It puts pressure on the electricity grid, potentially undoing all that good, clean driving work your car has done throughout the day.

Except that’s not quite true. Here’s how your electric vehicle can actually lend a hand to a struggling power grid, and may even save you money.

Let’s start with smart charging

Smart chargers (also called bi-directional chargers) offer a quicker way to power up your electric vehicle. Every time you plug your car into a smart charger, it can connect to your utility company (that’s us!), which is then able to optimise the car’s charge, based on what else is happening on your electricity grid. It means that your car can charge at the smartest time, saving you money and putting less pressure on the grid.

Smart charging also has the capability to take any leftover charge in your car and redirect it back into your home during peak hours.

What happens when you charge during peak hours?

If you’re plugging in at a peak electricity time – say, when you arrive home from work in the evening – your car’s charge will put pressure onto the grid, that might already be struggling under the weight of lights, washing machines, dishwashers and microwaves being switched on all over your neighbourhood. Your smart charger recognises this as not such a great time to charge up your EV’s battery.

But when does my electric vehicle actually charge?

With the help of AGL, you have the flexibility to set your smart charger to start when demand on the grid is lower, such as during the night (a non-peak time). This means you won’t overload the grid, and you’ll be able to take advantage of an off-peak rate.

But what if I need my car charged right away?

That’s fine – it’s your car and you want to drive it when you need it. You can easily over-ride the charge and give your battery a boost at any time. Using smart chargers, most electric cars can be fully charged in as little as four hours (standard electrical points generally take between eight and 12 hours).

Will smart charging damage my car’s battery?

While it is possible to damage your car’s battery by overcharging it, that’s not usually the case with a smart charger. The technology knows exactly when your car is fully charged, and will stop the charging process.

How does smart charging work with my existing home energy plan?

This is where smart charging gets really interesting. If the grid is struggling – and may even be on the verge of blackout – your charger can actually redirect any leftover energy remaining in your car’s battery back into the grid, giving it a little extra boost. This means there’s a more flexible supply of energy across the network, with less peaks and troughs.

That’s good news for you, because we pay you for that surplus energy – you’ll see it as a credit on your energy account. And if you’re using solar panels and are part of AGL’s Virtual Power Plant, you can rest even easier, knowing you’re using renewable energy and your usage is being carbon offset, you’re getting credits and you’re receiving your AGL solar feed-in tariff any time you supply energy back into the grid. Nice.