The rollout of electric vehicles is an important step towards decarbonisation, says Stephanie Bashir of Evie Networks, so why are we so slow to adopt this technology?

As Australia’s third-largest contributor of emissions, our transport industry is well placed to make a crucial reduction in emissions by adopting electric vehicle (EV) technology. According to a recent report by PwC, Recharging the Economy, the adoption of EVs would reduce emissions by 18 million tonnes by 2030, equivalent of taking 8 million petrol vehicles off the road. EV uptake also has the potential to add almost $3 billion to Australia’s real GDP and create more than 13,000 jobs, the report said.

Public health is another major benefit to Australians from electrification of transport and uptake of EVs. A study by the EV Council and Asthma Australia suggests air pollution from internal combustion engine motor vehicles kills over 1,700 Australians a year.

Australia is in the top 20 nations for new car purchases. But of the almost 1.2 million cars we purchased in 2017 only about 2,200 were EVs. In the PwC report, 65% of survey respondents said their main concerns about adopting EV technology included access to charging infrastructure. Another 61% said vehicle purchase cost was a barrier and 59% said they felt anxious over the distance an EV can travel. Similarly, a survey by Climate Works found 89% of motorists identified the cost of electric vehicles and the provision of public charging infrastructure as the main barriers to purchase.

This fear is well founded. Australia has fewer than 800 charging stations, and only about 70 of them capable of fast charging. While many consumers will charge at home, they will also need plenty of fast chargers in towns, suburbs and cities. Australians access about 6,500 petrol stations. This is just the beginning of the infrastructure build out.

Charging technology

There are three types of EV charging infrastructure technologies, each with different applications, deployment modes and implications for the electricity industry: slower AC chargers, DC fast chargers and ultrafast chargers.

Slower AC chargers are relatively cheap to install and are suitable for non-time critical or short-range travel. They will typically be installed in homes and are predicted to grow organically with the uptake of EVs.

DC fast chargers are more expensive and complicated to maintain, but a 50kW charge can be managed in 30-60 minutes. The installed cost of a DC fast charger is in the tens of thousands, well within the budget of a business or for charging in multi-family residences.

Ultrafast chargers enable charging in tens of minutes, fast enough for highway charging or commercial fleets. They can cost millions of dollars to install, depending on the number of charging heads and the cost of accessing the electricity network. These chargers are most likely to be deployed by highway rest stops or commercial fleet operators. Ultrafast chargers have much higher power draw and must be carefully planned to integrate into existing electricity systems.

Evie Networks chief executive Chris Mills says placing new charging sites about 150km apart would address the “range anxiety” that may be holding EVs back. “Australia needs around 350 sites to cover all the highways that make up our land transportation network,” says Mills, with technology aimed to help drivers of more affordable electric cars that have to recharge more frequently than top-end models.

We have the power

In contrast to the EV market Australia leads the way in the uptake of solar and batteries, or what is known as distributed energy resources (DER). This rapid growth in DER brings real challenges for the electricity networks as it creates a massive decline in demand of domestic energy consumption during the day, when solar PV is generating.

In the future power grid, EVs have the potential to positively impact the energy system by creating growth in new electricity consumption, which would allow greater utilization of the existing overbuilt electricity distribution networks. If the right incentives are offered to encourage certain charging behaviors, Evie Networks believes this will ensure customers receive more value out of the infrastructure that already exists and reduce the scale of asset write downs or rebates as recommended by the ACCC.

Electricity networks, however, play a critical role in enabling the deployment of the charging infrastructure network as they are the gatekeepers to all connections to the electricity grid. The overly cautious approach being adopted by the electricity networks to power this expanding infrastructure is creating significant barriers.  

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency has announced it will provide $15 million in funding to Evie Networks to help roll-out a planned $50 million network of ultra-fast electric vehicle chargers along Australia’s highways.

Evie Networks is working on the first phase of its highway rollout, which consists of 42 sites along the east coast stretching from Cairns and connecting the major capital cities through to Adelaide, plus sites in Tasmania and Perth. The first phase will see 23 sites built within the next 12 months. The sites will feature ultrafast chargers made by Brisbane-based Tritium. The company is also planning fast-charging networks in the major capital cities.

But there are barriers that require government and industry support for Evie Networks and other providers of this fast charging technology. An integrated approach is needed that ensures infrastructure companies can install and run charging sites while electricity distributors better manage local grid capacity so that recharging is made more affordable.

Policy certainty would help, so the public is made aware of the economic, environmental and health benefits of EVs. Political support for EVs would open the door to public charging infrastructure grants and see agreement on EV targets and the use of EVs for government fleets.

Key challenges

However, there are several regulatory outcomes needed to remove operational barriers. Firstly, power connectivity is expensive and inefficient. Currently there are minimal obligations for an electricity provider to respond to grid connection applications in a timely manner. The connectivity process can take more than six months to receive a response to an application, which can badly impact costs. A collaborative approach between the electricity networks and infrastructure charging network companies would improve the outcomes and ensure expectations, risks and opportunities are managed.

Secondly, existing electricity tariffs are unsuitable. The default application of commercial and industrial demand tariffs to public EV charging stations is problematic.

Evie Networks believes a tailored (cost-reflective) network pricing approach is fundamental to balance the needs of EV consumers with investor expectations and reflect the costs placed on the network. Tailored network pricing coupled with adoption of demand management services will drive efficient network utilization. This requires a review of state-based regulatory settings to allow for demand management strategies.

A multi-faceted approach is needed, which we have adopted in our network rollout. This includes: deploying smart chargers with remote control capabilities (the Tritium chargers are wirelessly connected to our network operations platform so total site load and load sharing across multiple chargers may be adjusted dynamically); upfront capital expenditure at our sites to augment the network and secure capacity as per DNSP standards; increased uptake of demand response programs and energy efficiency products and services, and; customer awareness and education (unlike refueling, customers will engage with apps to find available charging stations, activate a session, monitor the status of a charging session and pay).

Personalised experiences driven by data can create additional value over time. As an example, targeted customers can be notified of charging stations that may be impacted by network events. 

Given the importance of fast charging to EV adoption and the critical role that electricity networks play in enabling the deployment of fast charging infrastructure networks, ignoring these key challenges would risk the possibility that this emerging market is slower to evolve and made unnecessary more costly to drivers and energy customers overall. We are collaborating and working closely with the electricity networks to establish innovative solutions.

Stephanie Bashir is head of policy and stakeholder management at Evie Networks, an Australian company building a national highway-based ultra-fast EV charging network.