Consumer tech writer Hadyn Green recently went for a spin in the all-electric BMW i3. There was lots to like, but what really pressed his buttons was taking his feet from the pedals and letting it park itself. It was the mechanical version of ‘Look mum, no hands’. Or at least that’s what it felt like. The silence too was deafening.

At home, he plugged the car into any wall socket. Five hours later it was charged. Hadyn sees these cars as the future. The electricity industry has its fingers crossed he’s right.

Staring at lower domestic electricity use partially due to energy efficient appliances, and the march of solar energy and photovoltaics, the success of electric cars has come at just the right time.

Consumers have rightly become deeply suspicious of electricity generators and retailers. Unrelenting price increases over the past decade and more, a ministerial inquiry and independent reports showing the gouging of domestic users, have not endeared the industry to its customers.

More recently innovative start-ups like Consumer Trusted businesses Flick Electric, which sells to customers willing to take the risk on the wholesale market, and Powershop, around a bit longer and which allows you to buy the electricity you want, have forced the industry to make changes. But the big five retailers are still the big five. New entrants are barely nipping at their heels.

What’s got the industry worried is the increasing interest in solar and photovoltaics where people opt to entirely or partially go off the grid. What it argues is that New Zealand-produced electricity is already largely renewable — mostly from hydro schemes. They say going off-grid does more harm than good, as there will be fewer people paying for that infrastructure. New Zealand is also in a different situation to say Australia which has a more evenly distributed use of power — air conditioning in summer, heating in winter and it’s generated mostly from high-carbon coal. In New Zealand our peak use is in winter when there is little sun. If there are fewer people on the grid, but peaking stations have to be built to meet that winter demand, who pays?

That’s where electric cars come in. People can plug them in overnight using our low-carbon generated electricity, and if your power company offers cheaper overnight rates, everyone wins. That’s the theory anyway.

As we head into winter, you’ll be wanting to make sure you are on the cheapest plan. The simple way to do that is to go to our free switching comparison site, powerswitch.org.nz. If you’re not on the cheapest plan we also make it easy for you to switch.

Make sure you’re in the driving seat when it comes to paying for electricity (though not necessarily with your feet on the pedals)!

About the author:

Sue Chetwin has been our Chief Executive since April 2007 after more than 25 years in print journalism. She was formerly the Editor of Sunday News, Sunday Star Times and the Herald on Sunday.

Sue oversees all of Consumer’s operations and is also the public face of the organisation. Sue is a director of the Banking Ombudsman Scheme and a member of the Electricity Authority Retail Advisory group.