An electric vehicle trial Vector plans in Piha this year will help test the ability of homeowners to use a car battery to provide peak-period power or back-up supplies during an emergency.
The firm has spent the past two years trialling vehicle-to-grid charging in commercial buildings but is now keen to test the technology in a residential setting.
It will lend two EVs, each with a smart, one-directional vehicle-to-home power system, to a range of households and organisations in Piha during the one-year trial. While they could be used to trim peak period demand on the lines supplying the remote beach community, Vector won't be centrally controlling their use.
"It's all about how consumers respond to the technology" and how easy they find it to use, Andre Botha, Vector's chief networks offer, told BusinessDesk.
While the system is relatively expensive now, he said that cost will come down and the company believes it has a role in facilitating technology that has potential to give consumers options and control over how they use electricity.
Electrification of transport is considered a key plank in New Zealand's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Network companies, many of which are already facing declining volumes, also want to encourage the uptake of EVs to sustain loads on their lines, if it can be done without increasing peak-period demand. EV batteries could also form part of a local micro-grid for isolated communities where replacing aged lines is already proving uneconomic.
The trial is expected to cost about $234,000, half of which is being met by a grant from the Government's low-emission vehicle fund administered by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority.
Vector is the country's biggest power distributor and already hosts close to half the country's 11,800 EVs.
Piha, on the region's wild west coast, is supplied by a single 11-kilovolt line from Henderson and was without power for days after storms last April cut supplies to thousands across the region.
Vector is considering installing a battery and micro-grid there within five years to improve the resilience of supplies as building a second line through the dense bush of the Waitakere Ranges would be prohibitively expensive.
Botha said vehicle-to-home power supply could be an option to help limit peak demand in remote communities like Piha, where the network was never designed for the loads it is now carrying. It could also give households an option to power some essential services if network supplies are cut.
Botha said lessons from the April storms show the value of maintaining power at community centres – be it the local café or the local school – which are likely to become the base for local coordination efforts during civil emergencies or big outages.
He said people also want tools so they can do something themselves to provide heating or power, without having to wait for contractors.
Vector is still finalising the form of the trial to ensure it covers the right range of users and can monitor the many potential ways they may use the hardware.
Botha said that's important as the trial could ultimately create a business opportunity for someone - be it Vector, a community group, or some other third party.