Global technology trends and what they mean for EVs in Australia

This article was first published in The Driven.

Australia finds itself in a unique position when it comes to EV policy, infrastructure and uptake. As other countries are ahead in this journey, we have the opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of others. And while policy may be one of the most critical elements to ensuring the success of the transition to EVs, innovation and technology are equally important.

If we take a step back and look for cues in other markets, there are four global technology trends that will play a role in Australia’s EV future.

Smart charging

Smart charging is an intelligent form of EV charging which optimises energy consumption. By enabling communication between a vehicle and the grid, charging can be automated to capitalise on cheaper electricity tariffs. It can also be used to restrict charging to minimise stress on the grid.

In Europe, high energy prices have seen smart charging technology grow rapidly. Ohme is a UK company, which has taken smart charging one step further, offering the option to charge when renewable energy generation on the grid is at its highest — helping to lower CO2 impact.

In Australia, companies including AGL and Origin are progressing at pace. In March AGL installed 200 EV smart chargers in homes as part of a trial. And more recently, Origin agreed to supply 100 per cent renewable power for an ARENA-funded project triallling on-street chargers for homes without parking facilities.

As more EVs connect to the grid, the domestic need for this technology is expected to grow. And over time it will become the standard charging technology for homes and businesses.

Artificial intelligence

Beyond self-driving vehicles, EV companies and manufacturers are still looking for ways to use AI effectively, but early research points to applications which may prove useful here.

Research by US company Volta is using machine learning to identify the optimal locations to place charging stations. The technology analyses data including EV adoption rates in areas, demand and expected utilisation. It also analyses demographics to predict infrastructure needs.

Researchers from Idaho National Laboratory are using machine learning to reduce electric vehicle charging times. The scientists have discovered how to create new charging protocols which allow lithium-ion batteries to be charged to 90 per cent within ten minutes.

These intelligent technologies will become increasingly important as the Australian Government rolls out its first National Electric Vehicle Strategy.

Home and business integration

As more EVs come online in Australia, both homes and businesses — especially those that provide public charging stations — will see an increase in demand for electricity. This will require the integration of renewable energy to minimise energy costs and CO2 emissions, as well as increase energy supply.

Integrating solar panels into charge point power supply is one option. Another approach is to integrate battery storage. We are likely to see both rolled out in Australia. In the US, EVgo is an early adopter of using batteries and smart energy management to provide a stable EV charging service. Power is fed into the batteries from the grid off peak, or from onsite renewables, and then released to charge EVs during peak times.

Companies in Australia are making moves in this space. For example. Chargefox’s ultra-rapid sites are backed by 100 per cent green power, which is also catering to an increasing demand from EV owners to reduce their emissions footprint. In many instances, they also add solar and batteries on site to enable charging via solar energy.

Integration makes clear business sense for Australian homes and companies and expectations among consumers to charge their vehicles using clean energy are expected to rise.

Battery and vehicle design

Lithium-ion batteries are not ultra-efficient and research is underway to find better ways to power EVs. Cell-to-pack batteries are an innovation we can expect to hear more about. Cell-to-pack refers to the direct integration of cells into a battery pack. Instead of flat packs of battery modules laying across the base of a car’s chassis, they can instead be integrated into it. This design decreases the weight of the vehicle and can increase cabin space. The upside is quicker and less frequent charging and an increased driving range.

Chinese battery company CATL claims its latest iteration of this tech can deliver 13 per cent more power than Tesla’s latest cells. Leapmotor has developed a cell-to-chassis (CTC) battery technology. The CTC tech uses the car’s underbody as a battery box and then integrates the cells into the vehicle’s frame.

Solid state batteries are another innovation close to being market ready. With the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of EV battiers up to 39 per cent, they are expected to be in production from 2025 with OEM testing imminent.

An eye on the future

Australia is only on the cusp of starting its EV journey. Policy and EV supply are two barriers which need to be addressed first, but by keeping an eye on innovation around the globe, we can work towards a smart transition.

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