If you’ve bought an electric vehicle, or you’re thinking about buying an electric vehicle, one thing front of mind is likely the environmental impact. Electric cars don’t produce emissions like petrol-fuelled cars do.
However, it takes serious effort to completely commit to green energy. In Australia, the electrical grid is dominantly powered by fossil fuels, meaning the power you use to recharge your EV mostly comes from mining. This is, of course, not the case if you have solar panels and a home battery.
But what if you don’t have solar panels and a battery? And they’re simply not an option for you? Is owning an electric vehicle with sustainable fuelling then impossible?
Well, no, it’s not, and making it work isn’t all that complex, that is, according to Mathew Gaal, the founder of Australian startup IonBlue.
The IonBlue subscription service
“We don’t want to exist,” Gaal told Gizmodo Australia.
“The day in which we don’t exist is when the renewable energy industry is the more dominant one and renewable energy powers our grid beyond 80 or 90 per cent.”
Not something you hear from every company, but IonBlue isn’t like every company. IonBlue bills itself as a subscription service for offsetting the electricity you charge your electric vehicle with.
Basically, by paying a monthly subscription to IonBlue, the idea is that you’re offsetting the carbon cost of refuelling your EV, as you’re paying for a subscription service that adopts renewable energy somewhere from the grid.
Gaal described it to me as the Keep Cup of renewable energy. He stressed that every little bit counts. Even though IonBlue really just plays the part of a brokerage service, Gaal sees its purpose as necessary.
The reason? The extra that you pay for IonBlue’s subscription service makes up for what it would cost to fuel it at that moment with renewable energy. That’s currently around $10 per month.
How does IonBlue manage EV carbon usage?
You might know of something called a “carbon credit”, a credit that companies can buy to make up for the carbon that they produce, well it’s a similar concept, just in reverse. Gaal reckons IonBlue can “guarantee” sustainable electricity usage by purchasing renewable energy certificates.
“A carbon credit is essentially a positive and a negative neutralising each other, whereas a renewable energy certificate… What you’re doing is you’re guaranteeing the equivalent amount or a specific amount of electricity to be renewable in the grid,” Gaal explained.
“So for example, with our service, if you use 2mWh of electricity per year to charge your car, which would calculate for you, then the renewable energy certificates guarantee that 2mWh in the grid has to come from renewable energy.”
In essence, IonBlue is a brokerage company between you and renewable energy certificates, which it obtains from Terrain Solar. The clean energy regulator outlines the rules around these certificates, including how much they cost.
The certificates themselves are an interesting idea. If your home is fitted with solar panels or you own a field of wind farms, then you can sell renewable energy certificates through the REC registry. If you want to buy a certificate and basically adopt some clean energy, indicating that someone, somewhere in Australia has produced the equivalent of this energy through renewables, then you have the option. It’s a way that the Australian government has incentivised selling renewable energy. With IonBlue obtaining the certificates for you, it’s basically a guilt-free way of recharging your car.
Is this an EV tax?
With 10 plans available (ranging from $5 per month to $35 per month, billed monthly or yearly on a lock-in annual contract), you might think of this as a bit of a self-imposed tax. Considering it’s completely optional and, in theory, neutralises your electric vehicle’s reliance on the grid, it’s really just a way to balance out your impact.
But, this subscription service clearly adds on an additional cost.
“At the end of the day, we are completely optional, and the ultimate solution is not us. It’s getting a solar solution at home and a battery that can run 100 per cent your own renewable energy. That is the solution that we want you to do, if you can’t get that, we are the solution,” Gaal added.
Would you subscribe to IonBlue?
It’s a bit tough to justify subscribing to IonBlue, especially considering the cost of an EV in Australia at the moment. Sure, you might want to make your EV use sustainable in that you’re offsetting the carbon impact of recharging for renewable energy certificates, but in a way, it seems like you’re buying something for the sake of buying it. Besides, in terms of the larger grid, it’s not so much your responsibility to oversee the shift to renewable energy, as much as it is that of governments and private businesses. IonBlue would love to work with governments and businesses to move the dial, but it’s still early days for the startup.
I found it really interesting in speaking to Gaal that the entire pitch around his company goes against a major point of the EV industry. When I’ve previously spoken to interested parties, be they manufacturers, the heads of lobbying groups or mechanics, one of the points constantly pointed out to me is that it’s cheaper to recharge an EV than it is to fuel a petrol car.
The real sales pitch with IonBlue is that it tries to make up for the fossil fuels that eventually go into your EV during the production of electricity. It’s not necessary, but it’s a way that you can try and be a little bit more sustainable and wash away the guilt of indirectly using fossil fuels to power your EV.
It’s a tough sell.
That being said, it’s comforting to know that there won’t always be a purpose for a service like IonBlue. As renewable energy is rolled out more and more, you’ll eventually have greater confidence that the energy you’re using is coming from a renewable source.