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Transcript: Energy Insiders podcast interview with ANU battery expert Laura Jones

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This is a lightly edited transcript from the latest Energy Insiders podcast.

Giles Parkinson  00:00

I’m delighted to welcome Laura Jones from the Battery Storage Integration Unit at ANU and a self-described reformed utility engineer. Laura, is that correct?

Laura Jones  00:13

Yes, thank you very much. Yes, I’ve recently made the jump from utility to research. And it’s been massive fun so far. And it’s nice to sort of break the shackles of working in the network.

Giles Parkinson  00:24

Indeed, and look, not just fun, but also very productive. Because you’ve also  been involved, along with some of your teammates at ANU and I think elsewhere, 169 page report called the A to Z of V2G. And it’s obviously about electric vehicle batteries and the role they can play in the grid, but I’m just fearing here another onslaught of acronyms.

Laura Jones  00:52

Yes, unfortunately, we seem to be really great at making acronyms in the industry. Yes, it is a rather weighty tome that, essentially, it’s about vehicle to grid. So it’s really this concept that you’ve got a battery in your electric vehicle, and it’s on wheels, but you can sort of use it like a battery as well as like a vehicle, so you can discharge this vehicle for a whole bunch of different reasons. And the really, this report talks about some of those reasons and what you might need to do if you wanted it to happen. As part of this vehicle to grid trial that we’re doing in the ACT in Australia at the moment.

Giles Parkinson  01:39

Yeah, well, let’s get on to that. But just looking at some of these acronyms, there’s, there’s VOG. which is charging managed by the customer manually. There’s V1G which is charging managed by a  system on the customer half. Then there is V2H – vehicle to home. That’s where the battery sort of is feeding into the home.

V2B, which is vehicle to buildings. V2G, which is vehicle to grid. And I think you’ve tried to solve a problem by making V2X which  just basically means vehicle to anything, including off the grid and to campsites and things like that. But I’d imagine that sort of captures everything else, doesn’t it?

Laura Jones  02:17

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So there weren’t enough acronyms so we had to add a few more. Yeah, it is really, I mean, if you think of this vehicle to x idea, it’s like the Swiss Army knife that you can do a whole bunch of things with. And we just come up with a whole bunch of different acronyms. We’ll talk about some of the specific tools that might be in this Swiss Army knife. So if you’re using it the same way you might use your Tesla powerwall, you’d usually call it V2H.

So storing your excess solar or managing tariff, that sort of thing. Vehicle to building might be like, if you’re in a larger building, and you’re using it to manage the building as a whole, much the same way, maybe a house V2G is you’re using it for grid services, so I guess, if you’re going back to that power wall analogy, it’s like you’re part of a VPP. And that is sort of harnessed together with a whole bunch of other sort of similar resources in providing wider grid services, like you know, managing high market prices, increasing the amount of wind energy that can be in the grid, and that sort of thing. The V2X or vehicle to anything is like this, the the imagery that keeps coming to my head actually is, I don’t know if you’ve seen the ads for that new Hyundai Ioniq 5….

Giles Parkinson  03:36

I’ve seen some of them. And I was gonna mention them. Can you tell our listeners about it.

Laura Jones  03:42

So one of the things they talk about in these ads is they’ve got this picture of this power point in there, and then all of these images of you know, people camping and stuff like that. So it’s really this concept that you’ve got a battery and you can do all sorts of things with that energy from the battery. Like if you’re going camping, you can go put an air conditioner in your tents and it’s nice and comfortable. Or, if you’re a builder or tradie, you can use it to do power tools, use your power tools. Actually one of the really interesting things, I don’t know if you, I mean, I know there’s been a lot of noise about what happened in Texas recently with their cold snap. And it might have actually been  on Renew Economy or The Driven, there was an article of these people who had bought a hybrid version of one of those large sort of Utes that you can buy in the US, and it’s got a power point on it, and they sort of ran a cord from that into their house and used it to supply some heating and that sort of thing.

Giles Parkinson  04:38

That’s exactly what I would think you would do with the Ioniq because we’re lucky enough to have a Tesla Model three, but it can’t do anything with the house. And we lost electricity last week for a few hours, and I looked at the electric vehicle and I just thought, well, you’re not much help right now, are you?  I was just thinking, well, look, if you do find a electric vehicle that can do the vehicle to grid, it sounds like there’s so many hurdles and regulatory hurdles, network and standard hurdles? Wouldn’t it just be easy to get an Ioniq 5, you’ve just basically got a plug on the car, I can run out a extension cord and keep the fridge and lights going that way.

Laura Jones  05:10

Yeah, and I think definitely at the moment when you know, charges are, the vehicle to grid charges are quite expensive. They’re fairly new, and just having a power point to the car, there’s something so nice about, you know, I can just plug it into the car and it works when the power’s out. There’s actually, I don’t know if you’ve heard about Melbourne Design Week?  No?

It was something actually that one of my colleagues just posted on sort of our internal message board. But one of the things that they have there is they’ve got this event where there’s like, a concert or something going on, and it’s powered by Nissan Leafs using the vehicle to grid sort of connection on the car to sort of power like a concert. And the advantage of that is you know, you could theoretically do that with your petrol car, but it’s noisy and it makes smoke. But if you’re trying to run a concert, your electric vehicle is silent. It’s great.

Giles Parkinson  05:22

No,   It’s a terrific idea. Yeah, I look forward to that. Now tell me about, we’ll go back into the sort of the vehicle to grid concept and  the broader things where we’re heading, but just tell us just a bit more detail about this trial that you’re involved with in the ACT and I understand that’s with 51 Nissan Leafs in the ACT. So has that started yet and exactly what is it going to be doing or what has it done already?

Laura Jones  06:30

So essentially, what we’ve got is we’ve got 51 V2G capable Nissan Leafs in the fleet of the ACT government. So essentially, these are the vehicles that people like community nurses used to go out and visit people and help them with their sort of daily life chores and stuff like that. And the idea is that when these vehicles aren’t being used for that purpose, they’re sort of sitting in the parking garage and providing sort of services into the grid. It’s mostly contingency frequency control.

So essentially, what happens is if say, a generator, somewhere trips, these vehicles sort of spring in and start discharging to try to make up some of the generation that you lost when the big generator tripped off. So it’s like trying to rescue the system once coal generators trip. So the idea is that it makes these vehicles useful at times when they’re not being used for driving. So instead of them being parked there and not doing anything useful, they might as well help the grid when bad things happen in the grid. When they’re not being used to get from A to B. Yeah.

Giles Parkinson  07:36

Hey, this is kind of interesting. Because you note in your report that this concept is kind of easier for the energy industry, because they use to distributed energy resources like solar and batteries, and things like that, but completely new for the transport industry, which is basically about taking sort of people or things from one place to another.

But I wonder whether the energy industry is actually used to us to having its assets sort of disappear down to the shops to get some milk or go off to the footy or something like that. So I’m just wondering, what does it feel about having these things mobile and not necessarily all there when they might be either wanted or needed?

Laura Jones  08:14

And I guess as far from an industry point of view, I guess, it’s, I don’t know, we haven’t got enough data really to work out how much that matters. One of the advantages of these commercial sort of fleet vehicles is, most of the time when, a lot of the time when prices are quite high, it’s sort of about when, in the afternoon, when everyone sort of gets home from work and cooks tea and turns the air conditioner on because it’s hot. And when the solar generation sort of tailing off at the end of the day, which also is when the fleet vehicles tend to come back from their, what they’re doing for the day. So looking at the early data, there’s actually pretty good coincidence between when these vehicles come back, and when you sort of start needing them from from an energy system perspective.

Giles Parkinson  09:02

So rather than coming back and charging and depleting the power resources, they’ll actually come back and reinforce them because they’ll still have something left in their batteries.

Laura Jones  09:11

Yeah, yeah, it’s, and you can sort of, if you build your systems right in the morning, they can sort of prepare for them still having some energy in the battery when they come back in the afternoon.

Giles Parkinson  09:23

Hmm, seems interesting. So I’ve heard sort of reports saying that, you know, if there were 5 million or 10 million electric vehicles on the road, then there’s enough storage out there on wheels, which would sort of be equivalent to the storage capacity of Snowy 2.0 or something like that. I’m just wondering what sort of uncertainty that might bring to the market because kind of everyone, when people decide to build something and deploy something they kind of, you know, they’ve got in their mind what somebody else may or may not do or what capability capacity they have. It’s a bit of a random, it will be a big random it seems to me, asset, with all these vehicles?

Laura Jones  10:02

Yeah, it will be. I guess the idea or the hope is that once you have lots and lots of vehicles, everyone using them randomly sort of means that, I guess it’s the more randomness you have, the more you can be certain that at least some of them are going to be there.

Giles Parkinson  10:18

Yeah.

Laura Jones  10:20

It’s like how that you can come up with a pretty good estimate of how much solar generation there is in the energy system at any moment. But you’re probably going to have a really bad estimate of what one particular solar system is doing.

Giles Parkinson  10:34

That is very true. And I should probably should have thought of that before I answered the question. This trial in in the ACT is going to go along for how long and what happens, what happens next? I mean, to what extent is what you learn here are going to dictate what happens elsewhere in the grid?

Laura Jones  10:52

So the trial at the moment, we’re getting charges sort of run through the connection process so that we can connect them. So testing them against AS4777R , so the connection standard, which will hopefully be down quite soon,

Giles Parkinson  11:07

Has that been a problem? Getting the standards done?

Laura Jones  11:12

It has been a bit challenging, I guess, because these things are new to Australia. So the manufacturers haven’t really gone through the Australian standards process. So they’re sort of learning at the same time as we are. So it’s been a little bit harder than we had hoped. But we’ll get there. And we’re sort of on the homestretch now. So, should be reasonably soon, fingers crossed. The vehicles hopefully will be sort of installed and working by around the middle of the year. And then we sort, of we spend a year or so with the vehicles in the market. So we’re collecting data on how they work and how they interact and what impact it actually has on the car and the batteries and everything. And then the idea is that this things that we test in these become things that people might actually be able to participate in, sort of after the trial was sort of proven what’s worked in the trial.

Giles Parkinson  12:05

Right, right. And how many vehicle manufacturers do you think there are out there which are interested in this technology? Because, um, you know, the Nissan Leafs are interesting, because they come from Japan, and Japan actually had quite a great need for this technology just recently, because it lost all its nuclear capacity after Fukushima, and it had a few challenging summers where this vehicle to grid actually sort of proved useful, although probably in relatively low quantities. Do you know of any others? I mean, Tesla hasn’t made much about it. But they’ve probably come selling a competing product in the sense that they’ve got their own power walls, which they want to sell to people in homes.

Laura Jones  12:41

Yeah, it’s like, why would they sell you a car when they can sell you a car and a battery? I mean, one of the challenges at the moment is there isn’t a lot of standards that support V2G. So when it’s DC charging, you’ve got sort of CHAdeMO or CCS. And at the moment, CHAdeMO is the only one that supports V2G and most cars are CCS, which seems to be the newest standard, and the one that’s seeing wider adoption. So the people who define that standard have said that they’re going to support V2G in the future. I think they’ve got on their roadmap for about 2025. So I suspect, once that standard supports that, you’ll see a lot more of the manufacturers picking it up.

Giles Parkinson  13:24

Okay, what are going to be some of the basic challenges, then in actually sort of rolling this out? I mean, I suppose first of all, you actually need enough electric cars in the fleet to actually make it worthwhile and make it interesting, then you probably need your sort of protocols and standards, then you need your business models and how it works with the networks and the market operator sees it. I mean, it seems to be a lot of things for people to get their mind around.

Laura Jones  13:48

There is, you’re right, I mean, it’s this multi dimensional problem. And there are a lot of things that you need to do like, you know, convincing someone that syphoning fuel out of their car once I put it back in, once I put it in the first place is a good idea. I think there’s a bit of a journey to go on, to get people comfortable with that. And, you know, trying to come up with the right sort of value proposition that builds people’s confidence in being able to do that.

I think, actually, we can probably take a fair bit of guidance from some of the places overseas because they’re probably a bit ahead of us in EV uptake. And particularly in the UK, they’ve done quite a few projects, looking at V2G. And they’re bringing them a bit more along that sort of commercialization journey. So there’s a couple of them in particular that have been quite interesting. So there’s one by a company called Octopus Energy.

Giles Parkinson  14:45

Who are known in Australia because they have an agreement with them Origin Energy, in fact.

Laura Jones  14:50

Yeah, yeah. And so they’ve got this vehicle lease, essentially where you lease a vehicle from Octopus Energy, and they include a V2G charger in that and you sort of get a discount on your on your lease if you plug your car in, I think it’s more than 12 times a month, overnight. So you got to make sure you plug the car in every night and then you get, I think it’s about a 30 pound discount on the monthly lease of the of the car. And then you’ve got the other one, there’s another retailer called OVO energy in the UK, I think they’re active in Australia, I’m from Tasmania and none of these are available to me. I mean, we don’t have a l ot of choice down here.

Giles Parkinson  15:31

OVO Energy actually came into Australia but I’m not too sure how active they’ve been. I know they applied for a retail licence. I know they were bringing an electric vehicle concept to Australia. And I know they had one in the UK. But I dont think they rolled it out here. But tell us more about what they’re doing in the UK.

Laura Jones  15:49

So they’ve got this project, it’s got a really strange name, and I can’t say it. But it’s like a essentially like a feed in tariff. So you bring your own car to it, they give you a charger and they give you a feed in tariff that’s about twice the consumption tariff on the proviso they can control your vehicle and do what they like with it from a market perspective. What was interesting actually is there’s one of the participants in that trial went and sort of filmed their experiences, trial participants and put it on YouTube. And they posted this picture of how much energy was actually going in and out of this car battery.

And I mean, this was in the middle of COVID. So obviously, that’s, that’s going to have a strong impact over there, but 65% of the energy that went into the car came back out of it again, to go into the grid for these grid services. So they were seeing a lot of use of that car battery to do the sort of market stuff that the retailer was trying to do. But it also meant that their power bills were essentially zero, or even sort of getting a bit of credit, because of the amount of sort of energy that was being shifted.

Giles Parkinson  16:54

That’s really interesting, that’s really interesting, I have to have a look at that video. Um, so that’s, that’s an interesting concept. And so they provide their own charging, or their own I guess, sort of the bidirectional charger, because the ones that we’ve seen so far are actually pretty expensive, aren’t they? I mean, they almost make you wonder whether they’re worthwhile.

Laura Jones  17:14

Yeah, I mean, I guess you know, it, it seems like the price is not that much cheaper than a home battery. But I guess On the flip side, you know, a Leaf 40 kilowatt hours and a Tesla powerwall is 13. So it’s a much bigger battery that comes in your car, it’s just, whether the fact of whether it’s only sometimes there is enough. But what’s interesting you know, there was actually another model, that was interesting, really interesting, I heard from Canada, actually.

This was one where the person, the person leased the car off of the provider and in that lease, they got car parking during the day on the proviso they drove the car in and parked their car and plugged it in, and then they used the battery in the car sort of as part of the building during the day.  Yeah, so it was like, you know, it’s these ideas of, you know, the fact that you’ve got a battery driving around with you, you can use it like a credit card or you know, pay for things with the better with the the energy in your battery.

Giles Parkinson  18:00

Oh, that’s pretty interesting.  That’s pretty cool. That’s pretty cool. I can’t wait for that to happen for accommodation and things like that.

Laura Jones  18:20

Yeah, that’d be nice.

Giles Parkinson  18:21

Haha, you’re rent free. Just give us your, just just plug your electric vehicle in at seven o clock each night for an hour or two, and then we’ll be fine. Yeah, terrific. So how do you think then, sort of stare into your looking glass and think, you know, five years down the track, 10 years down the track? 15 years down the track? What do you think it’s going to look like?

Because you know, we hear about these technologies at the beginning it kind of looks really hard, really complicated. We can kind of see what might be possible in the future, having a brief look at it, seeing what’s happening overseas. Do you think it’s going to be kind of like solar PV and battery storage, and it’s just going to kind of accelerate quicker than we’d ever imagined? Or how do you see the future?

Laura Jones  18:45

It’s, I mean, in the immediate future, actually, if I was, if I was putting my sort of  future hat on, you know, looking into the looking glass, I actually see a lot of these sort of resilience, these power points in the cars becoming a much bigger use case in the short term, because it’s about, you know, getting people to begin to think of their car as more than just a car,  of also being able to do other things with it. And once you have sort of broken down that barrier of you know, cars can do other things as well, it becomes an easier sell or you know, where you can also use it for sort of grid services.

So, I think if I was to look at it, I think that V2G is probably going to be a bit like a home battery and fairly niche in the sort of short term. But then once these things, like the these power points in cars become more common, then people start looking at their cars more than just a car. That’s when these things are going to be picked up a little bit more, particularly as charges drop in price as they become more common and more available.

Giles Parkinson  20:15

Yeah. Well, fascinating stuff. Laura, we do thank you very much for joining the podcast and I look forward to the next report and what you find in the ACT with your 51 Nissan Leafs.

Laura Jones  20:31

Thank you very much Giles. It’s been really fun.

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