10 minute read

AGL's journey with electric, driverless vehicles

Kristian Handberg
17 October 2016

In what may be a surprise to many, AGL is a member of the Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI).  Events last week provide an opportunity to explain why AGL is involved.

AGL supports the use of new and innovative technologies where they have the potential to improve the efficient use of infrastructure, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce costs, and otherwise deliver value for Australian homes and businesses.  Driverless vehicles could play an important part in Australia’s transport future and deliver on these objectives based on their use of cheap, clean electricity.  AGL is striving to remove the obstacles to Electric Vehicle (EV) ownership and enhance the ownership experience – a commitment that carries over to driverless vehicles.

As part of the Intelligent Transport System (ITS) World Congress held in Melbourne last week, Robert Bosch Australia demonstrated a “Melbourne-built, highly automated driving vehicle with a particular emphasis on the user experience”.  By Bosch’s own description, “the future of mobility will be connected, electrified and automated”.  As AGL’s lead on Electric Vehicles, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to experience the technology first hand.

The experience highlighted both how far we’ve already come and have still yet to go.  The car was able to steer around relatively sharp corners and closely monitor for various ‘threats’.  However, ‘Level 3’ automation requires the driver to be able to take over when required – for example, when some of Albert Park's precious swans were threatened with extinction by an approaching Bosch autonomous EV.  Through clever real-time displays of the various sensor landscapes, it was possible to appreciate the advanced engineering involved.  However in spite of the impressive achievements of the Bosch engineers, the curated and controlled nature of the demo emphasized that ‘robo-taxis’ are still some way off.

Fully-autonomous electric shuttles - low-speed "last-mile" transport that operates within precincts - are emerging alongside the incremental automation of conventional vehicles.  RAC WA are leading the way locally with their Intellibus trial in Perth.  The autonomy of these vehicles includes not only elimination of the driver but also the use of wireless induction charging.  Driverless shuttles represent a viable early application for autonomous vehicle technology that will help gain a social license to operate and smooth the pathway for regulation of on-road vehicle applications.

Coincidentally, a report co-produced by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and McKinsey & Company on the future of urban mobility was also released last week.  It concludes that the private car will continue to be the dominant transport mode in developed cities with suburban sprawl like we have in Australia.  Because of this, the combination of electric and autonomous vehicle technologies will reach a market penetration of 30-35 percent of the total number of vehicles on our roads – far above the global average.  And due to removal of the driver dependency and lower operating costs of electric transportation, these vehicles will add 35 percent to the total distance travelled on our roads.

Automated driving may increase road safety and allow people of all ages to be mobile.  It can reduce the least-enjoyable aspects of driving and improve traffic flows more generally.  And as it converges with the electrification of road vehicles, it has the potential greatly increase transport energy efficiency and reduce environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions.

AGL is aiming to be the leading EV energy solutions provider, including specifically for driverless vehicles:

  • Least-cost energy supply options as a key enabler for driverless vehicle business models
  • Renewable energy project design as a showcase for sustainable driverless vehicle initiatives
  • Bespoke charging solutions tailored to the driverless vehicle specification and operating model

Between 2016 and 2050 Australia may experience profound changes to our population, the way we live and how we work. With this in mind, AGL is already preparing to meet the energy needs of Australia’s future homes and businesses.  AGL invites driverless vehicle proponents to contact us to explore partnership opportunities that leverage our expertise, commitment and vision for Australia’s future.