Australia needs more batteries, EVs and electricians

Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson |

Households could boost the electricity grid with electric car batteries, the Senate has heard.
Households could boost the electricity grid with electric car batteries, the Senate has heard.

Australia is missing a huge opportunity by failing to deploy more household batteries, to connect electric vehicles to the electricity grid, and to encourage more women to join the power industry. 

The warnings came at the Senate inquiry into residential electrification on Wednesday, which also heard calls for greater financial assistance from government to support Australia’s potential as a renewable energy superpower. 

The inquiry, which is due to report its findings in November, is tasked with investigating the economic and environmental benefits of electrifying households, as well as the costs, optimal timeline and risks of doing so.  

Master Electricians Australia national advocacy advisor Chris Lehmann told the Senate committee Australia had already become a leader in solar energy production but that energy would only help stabilise the national electricity grid if it was stored in batteries for use during peak times.

“At the moment, we’re missing an opportunity by not bringing the consumer in on the journey,” he said. 

“Every consumer that puts a battery on the side of their house and adds to the storage on the grid is going to make the problem less every single day.”

Mr Lehmann said federal and state governments should consider offering rebates, grants or low-interest loans to encourage the installation of more solar batteries, and efforts should be made to connect electric vehicles to the grid and be used for energy storage.

“I’m very excited about the possibility of bi-directional enabled electric vehicles,” he said.

“That could be a game-changer and make the economics of buying and using an electric vehicle much more palatable for consumers.”

Electrical Trades Union workers’ rights director Katie Hepworth said electrifying homes would be an enormous challenge but could deliver significant benefits to the environment and to the workforce.

“This is an opportunity to create thousands of jobs for skilled tradespeople and has the potential to grow domestic supply chains, all the while delivering significant reductions in national emissions,” she said. 

But Dr Hepworth said big changes would be needed to ensure a safe and efficient transition to renewable energy, including “minimum appliance efficiency standards” to ensure households could access smarter devices, strict standards for electrical installations, and greater support and ratios to recruit and retain female electricians. 

A report by Jobs and Skills Australia released in October found the country would need 32,000 additional electricians by 2030 to meet its renewable energy target.

“Only two per cent of electricians are women,” she said.

“We are not going to make it to 32,000 unless we courage more women to enter the trades.”

Owners Corporation Network chairman Fred Tuckwell said the debate around electrifying homes also needed to change, from one focused on environmental benefits to one about how much it could save home-owners. 

“We’ve focused on having to do this for sustainability,” he said. 

“It’s actually going to be cheaper in the long run to electrify because gas prices are going to go up, the use of heat pumps is far more efficient.”