Electric vehicles - driving new energy in New Zealand?

At a recent conference in New Zealand, where the second chapter of ‘The New Energy Future’ was launched, industry and government leaders came together to discuss the impacts electric vehicles (EVs) may have on the New Zealand economy.

jaime silk

by Jaime Silk

Specialist Advisor, New Plymouth

19 December 2016
electric car being charged

At a recent conference in New Zealand, where the second chapter of ‘The New Energy Future’ was launched, industry and government leaders came together to discuss the impacts electric vehicles (EVs) may have on the New Zealand economy. With representatives comprising established electricity and liquid fuels businesses, innovators in digital and new user solutions, and policy makers, the dialogue was energised by diverse perspectives.

Natural opportunities for New Zealand

A global energy transition is underway, with the pace of technological and commercial change accelerating. Conversations have moved on from those around technical viability to the business models and policies that can accelerate the change. We are approaching a tipping point where new technologies, of which EVs are just one example, are becoming powerful economic and social forces.

Low emission vehicles and emerging digital technologies could see New Zealand become a world leader in the adoption of EVs. New Zealand’s capacity to generate both renewable and low carbon electricity means that they could benefit more than other countries by transitioning to EVs. To realise this future, the digital adoption of new energy, and dynamic consequences of new energy and transport investments, must become more transparent to allow greater understanding of the impacts on business, consumers and government policy.

Unlocking benefits through partnerships

While change is already happening, there are materially greater opportunities for New Zealand. Although individuals are at the heart of change, they need to be brought on the journey with business. This can lead to early adopters of new technologies unlocking value across the energy, mobility and related value chains. Sharing their learnings will accelerate the beneficial adoption of technology and reduce the risk of wasted or stranded investments.

New Zealand has a great track record of collaboration, creating opportunities across organisations with some excellent forums targeted on key areas of change (e.g. Drive Electric, the Smart Grid Forum and the Green Grid research group). These changes will reach across policy and business sectors that have in the past been quite separate (i.e. electric power, liquid fuels or transport infrastructure). Understanding the value that can be created in each sector, and shaping a response that unlocks that value across sectors, will create transformational opportunities.

With digital and social changes already impacting the market, there is a convergence of electricity, transport and energy systems with insurance, health, finance and consumer digital technologies and services. This convergence can accelerate the uptake of EVs and Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) if there is a wider community push to share the benefits across sectors.

With digital and social changes already impacting the market, there is a convergence of electricity, transport and energy systems with insurance, health, finance and consumer digital technologies and services.

More bang for your buck?

While EVs and AVs are certainly set to change the landscape, an equal, if not more dramatic impact, will be felt with the widespread adoption of Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs). CAVs are not dependant on EVs as the changes will happen in parallel. What CAVs do represent is a major shift in choice for society (a key feature of a ‘disruptive’ technology). CAVs will be accompanied by a host of new digitally-enabled services that will change the way many of us travel, how we have things transported, and even what we own. Digitising, connecting and automating energy, transport and lifestyles will drive convergence across different business, policy and consumer segments and provide the opportunity to create new and unknown opportunities.

Helping the world catch up

New Zealand is poised to take advantage of this disruptive change, however, it will require global suppliers to accelerate their activities, or refocus on New Zealand, to realise this advantage. With renewable energy generation in New Zealand currently at around 80% of total, a transition to EVs will provide a real opportunity to reach national 2030 GHG emission reduction targets.

As New Zealand can be an early adopter of this technology, quickly defining the probable roadmap(s) to how it can most benefit from EVs and CAVs is important. This helps ensure that investment is in the right infrastructure and consumer assets as these will influence what New Zealanders can do for many years.

For example, there are substantial benefits from vehicle to home, vehicle to grid and dynamic charging, capabilities that global manufacturers are only currently piloting. Waiting to follow global take up of these technologies risks businesses and consumers locking in to the wrong type of chargers to use these capabilities. Facilitating the supply and take up of these options in New Zealand can realise substantial benefits and accelerate the take up of EVs.

A delicate balancing act

Participants at the conference agreed that the tipping point, where emerging energy technologies become dominant, must be very near, however, it is difficult to pinpoint a time for the transition. Given this, government and businesses face a difficult balancing act. Regulators and standards authorities must ensure safety protocols and appropriate planning are in place, without stifling innovation. At the same time, businesses must adopt new models and embrace disruption while retaining the value and utility of their existing investments.

It seems that with the imminent energy disruption, as always, adequate knowledge and preparation will be the keys to success. 

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