Beyond Transportation: Electric Vehicles as Batteries on Wheels

Kirsten Corsen

In the face of extreme weather events, EVs are more than just a mode of transport and can play a crucial role in stabilising our energy grid and helping local economies retain capital.

Beyond Transportation: Electric Vehicles as Batteries on Wheels

EVs as tools for energy resilience and economic stability

I was lucky enough to grow up in beautiful Gisborne. I can remember the three civil defence emergencies that happened when I was at primary school. They were exciting, as there was no school and we could cook potatoes in the fire.

By the time I got to high school, civil defence emergencies were becoming a whole lot more serious, with Cyclone Bola scarring our East Coast hills.

Roll forward to 2023, and  Poverty Bay, Tairawhiti saw more than five civil defence emergencies in one year.

Looking ahead to the life our grandchildren will lead, extreme weather events – both the wet kind and the dry kind – are predicted to be an ever-present challenge. It’s likely that homes and businesses will become all too familiar with grid challenges and losing power.

Projected changes in the annual number of hot days (maximum temperature 25°C or above) and cold nights (minimum temperature 0°C or below) by the end of the 21st century, for the ensemble-mean of 6 climate models under the highest CO2 concentration scenario RCP8.5 from the IPCC 5th Assessment. Source: NIWA -Taihoro Nukurangi.

Amid these increasing grid challenges, we need to reconsider what an electric vehicle (EV) actually is. EVs are more than just a mode of transportation; they can play a crucial role in stabilising our energy grid and enhancing energy resilience. With 87% of New Zealand's electricity coming from renewable sources, electrification makes perfect sense, but there is an opportunity for greater discussion at a governance and executive level about energy resilience and energy sovereignty.

When EVs come up in conversation, the debate often centres on EVs versus internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, focusing on economics: EVs cost $2 per 100km off-peak to charge, compared to ICE vehicles which cost $20+ per 100km for fuel, though EVs present a higher capital cost. But there’s more to this discussion.

Energy resilience and energy sovereignty rarely enter the conversation.  However this is a fantastic financial and social opportunity for businesses and the community, and a focus in this area could change the fabric of New Zealand. We need to move our thinking away from ICE vs. EV and reframe EVs as "batteries on wheels" that are part of a broader ecosystem.

We are on the cusp of a green technology ecosystem that includes Vehicle to Load (V2L) cars, bidirectional Vehicle to Grid (V2G) cars, smart chargers, solid-state batteries, battery storage, solar/wind/marine, plus a smart software platform that coordinates the lot. Currently, there are EVs with V2G capability in New Zealand, but legislation needs to be amended to allow V2G networks. The government, while not keen to fund any EV incentives currently, is open to creating policies to accelerate decarbonisation and the economy.

We saw a glimpse of this future during Cyclone Gabrielle, where those with V2L EVs could power their water pumps or freezers. Those with battery storage and solar panels fared even better, offering hot showers  to neighbours with greater resilience to Gabrielle’s ravages. Even now, with a creaking grid and lower-than-expected generation, we struggle during cold snaps. Those with battery storage units now have a warm, smug smile.

The integration of EVs, battery storage, solar/wind energy, and smart chargers presents a unique economic opportunity. Right now, we send over $8 billion offshore each year to pay for fossil fuels. This is money that could be retained within our domestic economy.

Consider a region like Tairawhiti, which currently spends well over $150 million on petrol and diesel each year – money that leaves the local economy. For regions facing numerous challenges, keeping capital in the local economy would allow our provinces to thrive. By transitioning to EVs (batteries on wheels), we can retain this expenditure locally, boosting regional economies and providing funds to better handle civil defence emergencies.

Moreover, by moving away from ICE cars and adopting EVs, we not only reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels but also decrease our CO2 emissions, which contribute to the very climate change exacerbating these civil defence emergencies. Our business community, which purchases over 60% of new cars, has a significant role to play. The cars they buy today will be on our roads for the next two decades, influencing safety ratings and emissions in our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th hand market through to 2040 and beyond. Remember, the average age of a New Zealand car is 15 years. We like to sweat the old stuff.

Batteries on wheels present an opportunity not only because they are emissions-free but also because of their potential to interface with smart chargers, battery storage, and local energy sources like solar, wind, and marine energy. When we can crack that nut, the $8+ billion we spent on fuel stays in the local economy, benefiting regions that need it the most.

So, next time you consider the potential of an EV in your garage, reframe it as a battery on wheels that can power your house and your business. This perspective reveals a whole new set of benefits beyond that of a car.

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