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Why running out of battery in an electric car gave me hope for the future | Opinion

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Some features which ship on new electric cars sound like gimmicks. But they have much wider reaching important implications...
Some features which ship on new electric cars sound like gimmicks. But they have much wider reaching important implications...

You’ve heard about how electric cars have things like flat floors, so-called ‘frunks’ for additional storage, and how the removal of engines, transmissions and drivelines allow automakers to experiment with more unconventional designs. It’s all good stuff, but the really life-changing features of EVs will come from how we use the battery.

Features like vehicle-to-load - which allows you to power devices externally using an EV’s charging port in reverse, or the more advanced vehicle-to-grid (V2G) which uses the same technology to dispense enough power for your whole home, or even sell energy back to the power grid.

This technology isn’t just a pipe dream. While the promising vehicle-to-grid technology is currently experiencing some bureaucratic hurdles in Australia, there are already a few models which are ready to support the technology when it can be used, like the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, which are V2G capable thanks to their Japanese-standard CHAdeMO charging port.

V2L, on the other hand, can be used today, and as I’ve found in my time testing many electric cars in the last two years, it can be transformative in the way you think about and use an EV.

I ran into this change of mindset by accident recently. I was testing the MG ZS EV - at the time Australia’s most affordable electric car, which as it turns out, ran out of range on an unseasonably hot day, after being asked to drive at 100km/h up a hill for 30 minutes.

Despite the car reporting zero per cent range and zero kilometres remaining for a full 10 of those minutes, I managed to make it off the freeway and consider my options. Late on a Sunday afternoon, the prospect of calling roadside assistance didn’t particularly appeal to me, especially since the car was just 13km from the nearest fast charger.

After pondering my options for a little while, I had an idea. At the garage at home there was a Kia Niro EV which I was running as a long termer. It had V2L which could theoretically trickle charge my ZS EV enough to get to my destination. Could it save me from my conundrum?

A call to my partner and a cold bottle of water later, and I was about to find out. The Niro showed up, and I plugged its V2L adapter into the wall socket trickle charger supplied with the MG ZS.

V2L allows you to power devices externally using an EV’s charging port in reverse.
V2L allows you to power devices externally using an EV’s charging port in reverse.

I flicked all the necessary switches, turned on V2L mode in the Niro’s system, and would you believe it? The ZS EV started charging, and at a respectable rate of 2.4kW, too.

Nearly an hour later, and I had gained just enough range that the ZS could make it back to the charger all on its own. 

Yep, it’s inconvenient to run out of charge, and the ZS EV shouldn’t have given the conditions (read my review for more on that), but the fact that I could rescue it using another EV in an hour and a half skipping a (probably) overnight ordeal involving a tow truck is a very good thing that shows how valuable the V2L function could be for near-future commuters.

The Niro was able to charge the ZS EV.
The Niro was able to charge the ZS EV.

Not only can it be used for genuinely practical leisure or business purposes, powering campsites or market stalls, for example, but it is a genuinely appealing emergency feature for EV drivers to help each other out in a pinch.

Scale that tech to V2G and not only can you do cheeky things like charge up with cheap energy overnight, then tell your car and wallbox to sell it back to the grid when it’s expensive, but this tech can also keep buildings online during times of grid instability or blackout.

In fact, this capability was intended from the beginning with the Japanese-standard CHAdeMO charging standard, which was designed to support wallbox-equipped households in the event of natural disaster like earthquakes, which commonly occur in Japan.

It’s not just EVs either. Mitsubishi points out that its Outlander PHEV is capable of using the petrol engine to recharge its own battery roughly six times on a single full tank of fuel, keeping a house online without grid power for potentially days without the need to source more fuel.

V2L can be used to power devices such as a laptop or fridge.
V2L can be used to power devices such as a laptop or fridge.

In this way you can think of EVs and PHEVs as more than just cars. They are portable power management systems. Can’t sell your solar energy back to the grid? No problem, store it in your car for later and use it to power your home or for essentially free transport. 

They are also part of the solution for renewable energy generally. Once a larger portion of the population is able to capture and store much more energy, not only will grid stability increase, but we’ll need to waste less energy on generation since much more of it is being captured (although, as a side note, Bloomberg predicts a 27 per cent increase in global energy demand if all road transport is electrified by 2050).

If you’re not convinced by my spiel or oddly specific use-case for V2L here, then consider some additional data out of Europe which suggests a few things. 

Firstly, electric vehicles won’t start drawing a significant increase in energy from the grid until the market share reaches 15 per cent. Right now in Australia, we’re at roughly four per cent pending the sales numbers at the end of 2022. Secondly, by 2040, it is estimated EVs will add an additional 30TWh of battery storage to the grid in the EU - enough to keep Finland’s lights on for a third of the year. Imagine what it could be like in Australia with our low population and huge potential for harvesting renewable energy. Rolling your fuel and power bills into one much smaller bill? The future is bright.

Tom White
Senior Journalist
Despite studying ancient history and law at university, it makes sense Tom ended up writing about cars, as he spent the majority of his waking hours finding ways to drive as many as possible. His fascination with automobiles was also accompanied by an affinity for technology growing up, and he is just as comfortable tinkering with gadgets as he is behind the wheel. His time at CarsGuide has given him a nose for industry news and developments at the forefront of car technology.
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