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Electric car

FEATURE: Why can’t my solar panels power your electric car?


Taxing EVs ignores future of electrified transport 

Australia’s already low EV adoption seems likely to be set back even further by government levies on early adopters.

But by the time EVs become a common feature on our roads, they will also be part of our energy system, connected in more ways than one and supporting entirely new business models for those that see the change coming.

One million EVs replacing fuel-taxed cars may seem like a quantifiable risk for governments seeing road maintenance revenue decline. But just one million home chargers would add 25% to the load on Australia’s national electricity market, a far bigger challenge. 

By this time, energy utilities faced with enormous disruption will have evolved or lost their dominance to more agile companies able to deliver value in a smart grid where the commodity of electricity is bid to a price of zero. 

In this world, EVs will be understood as batteries on wheels, used to not only help power our homes, but stabilise the grid when required.

Imagine a world where you plug your EV in at night and it connects with your calendar, works out where you’ll need to travel, and seeks out energy at the best possible price, or most convenient location.

For the end user this will be a set and forget option, you’ll be oblivious to where your energy is coming from, aware of what it costs, but assured you’re getting it at the most competitive price, or profiting from sharing it with others.

The energy surplus bought on by full integration of renewables and storage will have delivered new businesses. They’ll be working with the new grid, one that is decentralised and eventually operates as a “neural network”  solving supply and demand problems.

Every power device, from an appliance within your house, to a large-scale solar plant, will have the ability to trade electric power. This new autonomous grid will only be limited by the decisions we make as humans on who we share with and what is deemed fair or equitable.

Supported by large data flows and machine to machine technology, your EV may decide to let another car overtake it, for a small payment, or sit on a fixed slower speed to retain energy it knows it can trade for far greater value at a later stage. 

Governments in this world will have a whole new economy of exchanges to grapple with. A world where top-down governance of systems is superseded by the need to incentivise individual entities to behave in a way that delivers the best overall efficiency.

And that’s just the beginning of the disruption. 

Tired of perpetual charging, consumers will embrace vehicles with solar skin technology that are perpetually powered by the sun. 

Smart cities will connect people better - so long trips across town will be less common, making solar-cell powered vehicles or small electrified transport options like scooters a viable option for things like nurse visits along with the food deliveries already prevalent.

Hydrogen will compliment battery storage, stepping in to deliver quick charging for trucks and buses or fleets of cars that will replace public transport as we know it.


The real game changer

We don’t yet know when our transport will become fully autonomous, but when it does researchers expect millions of vehicles will be abandoned. Public and private transport will merge towards a transport-as-a-service model.

Operating as independent autonomous agents, the vehicles you might call on to help move you around will help manage traffic flow, energy use and public safety.

The wealthy may still want to “own” a car as a status symbol, but the enormous additional cost of owning in a world with on-demand availability of transport will prove too much of a deterrent for most.

Our $24 billion car import trade gone? Cars may use energy, but there’s also a large energy cost in building and transporting them. The idea of a tax on luxury cars could be turned on its head as governments have far fewer vehicles to tax. 

Instead governments will need to regulate for societies we all want.

Some will pay for an autonomous vehicle they expect to be optimised for their safety. Others may want one that is fair, or lowest cost. The degree of selfishness behind the algorithms built into the network has the potential to impact broader energy ecosystems.

As futurist Ross Dawson says, currently you have government that taxes us and spends that money inefficiently for service delivery “We will be moving to platforms where government enables citizens to create the social value we all want in ways that are more efficient.”


Next month: Grid of the future could see us all trading energy