Why electric car owners may be paid to plug into solar

A university study will investigate what incentives could persuade electric car owners to power their vehicles during peak solar times to supercharge their environmental benefits.

The University of Queensland (UQ) on Wednesday unveiled plans for the study, building on its existing research into charging behaviour and the impact of battery-powered vehicles on the electricity grid.

Australia has more than 130,000 electric cars on local roads, according to the Electric Vehicle Council, but that number is expected to reach more than 180,000 by the end of the year.

Despite their growing popularity, UQ environmental economist Andrea La Nauze said limited research had been conducted into drivers' car-charging behaviour to guide policymakers, energy retailers and other parts of the industry.

Dr La Nauze told AAP 15 per cent of Australia's pollution cuts were expected to come from the transition from petrol and diesel vehicles to electric models, but charging them with renewable energy would make a bigger impact.

"There's no reason why electric vehicles should be charged when people get home at 5pm or 6pm," she said.

"If we have the systems and incentives in place to get those vehicles charged during the middle of the day, we can make the most of extremely cheap and available solar resources."

Dr La Nauze said the study would test whether "monetary incentives" would motivate electric car owners to change their behaviour and power vehicles when solar energy was at its most abundant.

She said earlier research found electric car drivers with solar panels at home were more likely to charge vehicles during the day, indicating drivers could be flexible.

Dr La Nauze said the new study would also investigate whether these drivers would benefit from systems that automatically recharged their cars when excess solar was available in the grid.

"It's exactly the right time (for this research) because we're grappling with how should we set up our institutions to manage the electric vehicle transition, and how do we do it in a smart way so it will be more beneficial," she said.

A report from the Electric Vehicle Council recently found sales of the cars had more than doubled over the past year, with more than 46,000 EVs sold in the first six months of 2023.

In August, electric vehicles accounted for 6.4 per cent of all new vehicle sales, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries showed, up from 4.4 per cent in August 2022. 

Tesla vehicle owners interested in participating in the upcoming UQ study can register online for updates with the university's Australian Institute for Business and Economics. 

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