When the new Nissan Leaf arrives in Australia its owners may have the potential to slash their energy bills by selling stored power back to the grid in a feature that’s, so far, unique to Nissan’s second generation EV.
Unlike other EVs including the first generation Leaf, BMW i3 and Tesla Model S which are only capable of drawing energy from the power grid, the new Leaf also comes with the ability to use the vehicle's battery as a home energy storage system - much like Tesla’s Powerwall home storage.
That functionality gives owners the ability to charge the car in cheaper off-peak times before using it to power households during more expensive periods such as evening power peaks, or as a backup power supply during power outages.
The car can be used to transport energy between locations - motorists able to take advantage of free or subsidised electricity at work could use it to power their home, or even sell it back to the grid through energy suppliers.
Though power costs vary from state, minimum feed-in tariffs under consideration for solar panels in Victoria pay users between 7.2 and 29 cents per kilowatt hour of energy fed into the grid.
Under the latter peak-hour rate, a Leaf owner would hypothetically be paid $11.60 for half the energy stored in the car’s 40kWh battery. If the same owner signs up to affordable off-peak charging programs – such as AGL’s $1 per day electric vehicle charging offer – there is potential to come out ahead.
While the capability has been built into the new leaf, Australia is yet to establish a flexible smart charging infrastructure and a package that would enable power exchange on the level the Leaf offers.
Even so, Tim Washington, founder of Australian electric vehicle infrastructure specialists Jet Charge, says “the possibilities are endless”.
“The great thing about vehicle to grid is that it opens up a number of opportunities that are not available today,” he says.
“The common thing about all these opportunities is that they reduce the cost of the vehicle for the owner that has bought the vehicle, and it helps to stabilise the grid so that electric vehicles become an asset to the grid.”
Pricing for the new Leaf when it arrives in Australia is still to be announced, although the new generation is expected to move up slightly from the $46,990mark of the last generation model towards the $50,000 mark, making it roughly twice the price of similarly sized petrol-engined small cars like the Toyota Corolla.
Australia has been slow to warm to electric cars, with just 0.1 percent of new car purchasers opting for an EV. Federal Government modelling suggests that number will rise to 5 per cent of new cars by 2025 without resorting to subsidies for electric vehicles.
In place of any kinds of buyer incentives at a federal level, the government hopes that more accessible pricing though advancements in battery technology, and a proliferation of new models from the likes of Volkswagen, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz will help build numbers, in concert with ownership propositions such as vehicle-to-grid systems.
While the potential exists to draw an income from energy stored by the vehicle, high purchase prices and questionable resale values mean owners aren’t likely to come out ahead on their purchase.
Speaking with TMR at an autonomous and electric vehicles forum hosted by Nissan in Singapore, Nanyang Technological University researcher Dr Sanjay Kuttan says Leaf owners who take advantage of its potential “will definitely save money”.
“You’re not buying petrol anymore and you don’t have the maintenance costs of moving parts” he says.
“If the office lets you charge for free, you’re way ahead.”
“It takes me 30 kilometres to reach home, so I’m going to have a lot of excess battery.”
The new Leaf has an official lab-tested range of 400 kilometres, which translates to around 270 kilometres of average driving.
Nissan supports the Leaf's battery pack with an eight-year, 160,000 kilometre warranty.
Hiroki Isobe, chief vehicle engineer for the Leaf, says the manufacturer will replace batteries for free if their capabilities are compromised by vehicle-to-grid use during the warranty period.
“It may impact the battery deterioration, but it’s not so significant,” he says.
“Leaf-to-grid or Leaf-to-home is not so significant [compared with] driving.
“We can change to a new battery if something is wrong. That means we have confidence.”
Nissan's UK arm is at the core of a trial using 1000 vehicle-to-grid charging points to examine how people use the technology to stabilise the power work, and what financial incentives are necessary to encourage owners to participate in "V2G" charging on a regular basis.
Francisco Carranza, Managing Director of Nissan Energy at Nissan Europe, said in January that cars are "so much more than products which simply move people from A to B".
"They are an intrinsic part of the way we consume, share, and generate energy," he said. "This will have a fundamental impact on the shift from fossil fuels to renewables."
Washington says Leaf owners with access to cheap power could “stabilise the grid and earn a little bit of money on the side as well”.
“It accelerates the point at which the total cost of ownership for an electric vehicle falls below that of diesel or petrol,” he says.
“The possibilities are endless, really. What we do need to do is develop the software and the processes to make charging smart.”
“We are developing software solutions to start doing that. This is the great opportunity for Australia in the future of automotive... we think of ourselves as the new generation automotive industry in Australia.”
Behyad Jafari, chief executive of the Electric Vehicle Council of Australia, says there are clear employment opportunities for Australia within the future of electric cars.
“There are a lot of jobs coming,” he says.
"They’re telling us that 'this is coming, start carving out a piece of the pie for yourselves, or otherwise we are going to feed you pie'.”
“We have to be a smarter market, we have to be a smarter country.”
“When things are higher technology, when things are higher-skill, that’s where we can really start to play a role.”
Jafari says Australian authorities need to work with manufacturers and industry groups to develop a clear strategy for vehicle electrification.
“What Australia really needs is to have is a plan in place," he says.
“It needs to be a nationally coordinated plan – everything from incentivising and encouraging people to buy the vehicles, providing regulation on the other end to heavily polluting vehicles somewhat recognised for the impact they’re having on the environment – all of that needs to sit inside of the framework of what is it that Australia wants out of this.”
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