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Why EVs are essential to NZ's energy future

3 April 2019

When the Tesla Roadster first appeared on the market, I was skeptical... very skeptical.

Up until that time, EVs were a novelty and far from a practical day-to-day drive.

Low range, poor performance, limited size/passenger capabilities and a host of other drawbacks meant that they were still a long, long way from being the sort of cars that Joe Average commuter would find practical. I even did a video suggesting all these things and anticipating that commercially viable EVs were still quite a way down the road.

Even with the arrival of the Tesla, I figured that a car which effectively ran on a tonne or more of laptop batteries wasn't really going to be a winner.

I was wrong (again) -- but then, I'm never one to deny my mistakes and I have to say that I'm chuffed to bits at the pace with which the technology is moving forwards.

In Norway, almost 60% of new car sales last month were EVs (Reuters report) and I think it's about time NZers also jumped on this bandwagon, for the reasons contained in today's column.

First of all, increasing the number of EVs in our vehicle fleet will reduce our dependence on transport fuels (such as petrol) which must be sourced from overseas and paid for with valuable export earnings.

While oil remains plentiful, prices remain low and our dollar has a degree of strength, the importation of such fuels is not too much of a burden -- however it must be remembered that it would only take a conflict in key areas of the Middle-East to dramatically change this situation for the worse. Does anyone remember the "carless days" of the late 1970s?

Would we want to return to that scenario?

More importantly than just the cost of fuel and dependence on factors outside our control is the entire shape of this country's energy infrastructure, both now and in the years to come.

Renewable energy *is* the future and NZ is sitting in a pretty good place right now. We're not burning coal at planet-roasting rates in order to keep our lights burning like some countries are. We're not building up stockpiles of toxic spent nuclear fuel like some countries are. Fortunately for us, previous generations invested heavily on hydro and geothermal schemes that have enabled Kiwis to get most of their electricity without carbon emissions.

However, now we're facing another environmental problem if we try to increase that hydro generation capacity. Nobody wants to harm the landscape, flood valleys or upset the mythical red-crested pied feather wobble-fluffy bird that *might* just have a nest on yonder river-bank. Oh no, we want more omelets but environmental groups refuse to allow us to break any eggs.

More renewable energy will therefore almost certainly come from wind and solar, with possibly a bit of tidal generation thrown in for good measure (but won't someone think of the fishes???).

All of these other renewables suffer from one significant weakness -- continuity of generation.

Solar only works during the day and only works really well on sunny days. Wind only works when the air around us is moving at a reasonable lick and that's far from every day, even in the country's windiest places. Tidal may be dependable but has two zero-points each and every day, during which energy generation falls to zero.

Then there's the problem that peak energy demand seldom coincides with peak demand with these non-hydro renewable sources.

Just when we need maximum energy generation on a winter's evening as mum fires up the stove, all the lights go on and the heaters are turned to maximum -- that's when solar cuts out and the winds of the day usually abate for the night.

In mid-summer when solar is generating at its maximum, everyone's outdoors or the days are so long and warm that we don't need much lighting and no heating. Even cooking is replaced by salads and sandwiches -- so what do we do with all those KW/H being gifted us by the sun?

Well an EV fleet integrated into the nation's energy infrastructure would be a fantastic way to make those cyclic or less dependable renewable energy sources more practical -- and that could dramatically improve the nation's energy future.

In effect, your EV becomes a mobile energy storage unit which can not only move people and their groceries around the town but also provide the temporal movement of energy by collecting it during times of peak generation and releasing it during times of peak demand.

I think I've mentioned this before in this column but the solution is so obvious that it's worth restating...

When you get home from work, you plug your EV into the house and it helps supplement the energy demands of your lighting, heating, cooking, etc by delivering some KW/H from its battery. This significantly reduces the load on the grid and electricity generation infrastructure at peak-use times and that means the existing infrastructure lasts much longer before it needs replacement or strengthening ($$$ saved).

Once you've turned off the TV, extinguished the lights and gone to bed, power from the grid is then used to put power back into your EV -- although perhaps not *full* recharging it, for reasons you'll see shortly. Smart software will calculate how much energy to put back into your vehicle in order to provide a full day (or two's) operation and a few extra KW/H to help out with the next energy-use peak at breakfast the next day -- but no more, since this will becoming primarily from hydro systems at night.

In the morning your EV will help offset the energy demands placed on the grid while you get up, get showered and fed and prepare to head to work.

Off you go, down the motorway or suburban streets in your EV -- not fully charged but carrying more than enough power to meet the needs of your day.

When you get to work, you park and plug into the building's own power system. While you're working, your car will be fully recharged using primarily solar, wind and tidal generation sources which are most active during that period. In most cases this energy will come via a connection to the grid but some buildings will have their own solar arrays which can generate excess power and make it available for recharging.

At the end of the working day you jump in your EV and head home. When you get home -- well the whole energy cycle starts again.

This is how we can most efficiently harness our existing grid infrastructure and make the most of sometimes unreliable renewables in a way that significantly improves the efficiency and robustness of our power system. And the cornerstone of this is the humble EV.

So, in this context, incentivising the nation to switch to EVs brings many benefits far beyond simply reducing vehicle emissions. It future-proofs our existing investment in transmission lines and energy production, whilst hugely reducing our dependence on imported fuels.

Why on earth wouldn't a sensible government see this and realise that providing tax incentives or other inducements to buy EVs is a solid, sound, intelligent investment in the nation's future?

What are readers' thoughts on this?

Should we follow Norway's lead and become the EV capital of the Southern Hemisphere?

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