| 09.07,20. 05:56 AM |
Electric cars to be plugged into power grid in hope of protecting Australia against blackouts
Nissan Leafs will be used in the trial because their two-way batteries can provide power to the network if needed.(Supplied: Nissan)
A fleet of electric cars will be plugged into Australia's biggest power grid to help protect it against blackouts and voltage fluctuations.
The 51 vehicles in Canberra will be part of a trial — the first of its kind in the country — to gauge how well car batteries can stabilise the electricity network.
The ACT Government is providing 50 Nissan Leaf vehicles while Canberra-based utility ActewAGL will provide the other.
Unlike some other electric vehicles, the Nissans have two-way batteries, meaning they can be charged from the grid but also provide power if needed.
The problem of grid instability has plagued Australia in recent years.
The sudden collapse of power lines during events like this summer's bushfires can cause surges that destroy transmission equipment.
Widespread blackouts in South Australia in 2016, when a storm damaged ageing electricity towers, led that state to build the world's biggest battery to support the grid during crises.
The ACT project's research leader, Bjorn Sturmberg from the Australian National University, said the trial would assess how well a car fleet could balance supply and demand across the network.
"When electric cars are plugged in, they could be called on in a heartbeat to avoid a mass power outage," Dr Sturmberg said.
"They'll only have to do this a couple of dozen times a year — when there's a storm or some other emergency in the grid — which means the grid needs power really quickly.
"The batteries in the electric vehicles can then inject power in a fraction of a second."
The Federal Government has funded the research, along with businesses such as Nissan and JET Charge, which makes chargers that allow cars to support the grid.
ActewAGL executive Todd Eagles said the project was a crucial first step in rolling out the technology across the national energy market.
"Electric vehicles are a big part of the future energy solution in Australia," he said.
Dr Sturmberg also said car owners who used their vehicles to help protect the grid could expect to earn about $1,000 a year by doing so.
In most cases, the plugged-in car would only be needed for up to 15 minutes at a time, draining the battery by no more than 5 per cent.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics says the number of electric vehicles registered across the country almost doubled over the past year.
The cars' costs remain relatively high — the Nissan Leaf, for example, sells for about $50,000 — but electric vehicles tend to be significantly cheaper to run and maintain than cars with petrol engines.