Drive / David McCowen / February 9th, 2018
Nissan Leaf owners are set to save on power bills and potentially profit from “vehicle to grid” technology allowing electric cars to send power to homes, businesses and the wider energy network.
Vehicle charging and energy companies are working to accommodate the brand’s second-generation electric hatch, which arrives in Australia next summer.
The Leaf is the first electric car to be offered in Australia enabling owners to transfer power both from and to the car. Existing models such as the BMW i3 and Tesla Model S only draw electricity from the power grid, storing it in onboard batteries used to drive electric motors. The Leaf’s technology allows owners to access the battery to store electricity for home use similar to a Tesla Powerwall battery. Owners can charge the car in cheaper off-peak times before using it to power households during more expensive periods such as evening power peaks.
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.
Leaf owners may not be able to cash in from day one, as smart charging infrastructure and power exchange products have not been finalised for the vehicle.
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.”
Nissan has not released Australian prices for the Leaf, which is tipped to cost around $50,000 – roughly double the price of similar-sized small hatchbacks such as the Mazda3.
Electric cars have failed to take hold in Australia, where 0.1 per cent of new car customers choose to buy electric vehicles. Federal Government modelling suggests that number will rise to 5 per cent of new cars by 2025 under existing policy structures that do not offer significant subsidies for electric cars.
Right now, the government is banking on electric cars increasing in numbers through cheaper access to battery technology, a proliferation of new models from the likes of Volkswagen, Hyundai and Mercedes and increasingly attractive ownership propositions such as vehicle-to-grid systems.
Nissan owners are unlikely to make a net profit by owning the car, particularly when high purchase prices and questionable resale values are factored in.
But the vehicle-to-grid system could make electric cars more attractive to potential customers.
Speaking with Drive 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 neccessary 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 opportinities 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-sskill, 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 theyre having on the environemt – all of that needs to sit inside of the framework of what is it that Australia wants out of this.”