For the transition to EVs to be a success, steady investment in renewable generation and charging infrastructure is required, writes Amar Rathore. The energy industry needs to prepare as the revolution is underway.

Public concern about climate change and its impact on the environment is at an all-time high. The Paris Agreement sets in place a framework for all countries to take climate action and reduce their emissions. In Australia, electricity generation continues to be the dominant source of greenhouse gas emissions.

As the costs of solar and wind technologies continue to fall, Australia should be ready to go 100% renewable by 2050 and reduce its emissions. However, emissions from the transport sector are growing and have made it the third-largest contributor to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Strong government policies are needed to transition Australia’s car fleet from dirty petrol and diesel cars to clean electric cars. Faster uptake of electric vehicles in Australia would deliver significant economic and environmental benefits. Electric vehicles don’t produce tail pipe emissions and when charged with renewable electricity are responsible for zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Electric vehicles, or EVs, are currently more expensive than petrol and diesel vehicles, but this will change as battery costs continue to decline. In Australia, the uptake of EVs is being held back by the lack of incentives. In New Zealand, which has a much smaller population than Australia’s, sales of EVs are higher than they are here. In Norway, about 40% of all new cars sold are electric.

Although uptake of EVs in Australia is lower than other developed countries, the number of EVs is expected to grow as cheaper models arrive and more charging infrastructure is rolled out. By 2030 it is expected that EVs could account for more than half of new car sales in Australia.

Silent achiever

The transport sector is expected to become highly electrified in coming decades, bringing new challenges and opportunities. Electric vehicles have several benefits, such as reduced vehicle operation and maintenance costs and an improved driving experience. They also have a longer useful life, which means fewer cars will be manufactured, saving resources.

As the number of EVs on Australian roads increases, off-peak charging will be necessary to reduce unnecessary network upgrade costs and to maintain energy security and reliability.

Smart charging systems allow electric vehicles and charging stations to share information so that charging rate and time can be matched with available supply. Electricity demand from EVs is flexible and can help to integrate more variable renewable energy from solar and wind power into the grid.

A single EV can store about two days’ equivalent of a typical household’s electricity usage. With smart charging, EVs can be charged during low demand periods or when renewable generation from solar and wind is high. Electric vehicles can feed the stored energy back to the grid during periods of high demand.

The future of EVs

You may not already be in the driver’s seat of an EV but the day will come. Our children and grandchildren will look back at petrol and diesel engine cars the way we associate horse carriages as something seen in the movies. Researchers at the International Monetary Fund and Georgetown University believe that based on how quickly horses and buggies disappeared in the early 1900s, more than 90% of all passenger vehicles in the US, Canada, Europe and some other countries could be electric by 2040.

The transport sector around the world is changing, with many customers in Europe, parts of Asia and North America shifting to EVs. Electric vehicle manufacturers are ramping up production to meet customer demand. Improvement in the availability of EVs, reduction in upfront cost and increased driving range provide greater choice to customers.

Many countries are already looking to phase out petrol and diesel cars and replace them with EVs. As more countries adopt such policies the availability of diesel and petrol vehicles will decline.

Australia, with no local car manufacturing industry, will be impacted as supplies decline. However, there are significant opportunities for industry development and bringing EV manufacturing to Australia.

Electric vehicles are more suited for widespread implementation of autonomous driving features. Electric vehicles with electronic controls are easier for computers to drive and provide a more flexible platform for integration of autonomous driving technologies. Autonomous electric vehicles could provide many benefits, such as reduction in number of road accidents, improved travel time and less congestion on roads.

Charging habits and infrastructure

As EV numbers increase in the coming decade, we need to ensure our electricity infrastructure can cope with the additional demand. An increasing number of EVs combined with flat rate energy pricing in Australia could increase peak demand and contribute to electricity price rises.

If large numbers of households start charging their EVs and turn on their air-conditioners the combined demand could overload electricity networks. Workplace charging will help in providing stability to the grid by using a high amount of intermittent renewable generation during daytime hours. Overnight charging by the amount required to replenish daily commutes can be easily managed, the same way as off-peak hot water heaters are currently controlled.

Most challenges arising from an increase in EV uptake can be managed with appropriate policy and regulatory regime. We need smart charging for EVs where they use an internet connection so that charging stations can monitor, manage and restrict the use of charging to optimise charging energy and time of use.

Smart charging with artificial intelligence-enabled algorithms can look at a large number of parameters – such as user patterns, grid conditions and weather forecasts – to determine charging patterns.

An EV-to-grid system allows sending energy stored in batteries to the grid and to control the charging of vehicle batteries in response to changing grid conditions. As the number of EVs grows, utilities can take advantage of the massive distributed battery banks in EVs to balance loads and support a more secure and reliable electricity grid.

Demand for electricity

At the end of 2018 number of registered motor vehicles in Australia was 19.2 million and about 1.15 million new motor vehicles were sold in 2018. Currently only about 0.2% of vehicles are electric.

The storage capacity of various current models of EVs is in the range of 50kWh to 100kWh. Assuming each EV can provide 20kWh energy to the grid, the total energy available from 1 million EVs – or 5% of total vehicles – will be 20GWh, which is equivalent to whole of Australia’s electricity demand for about one hour. This energy is roughly equivalent to energy stored in 155 Hornsdale Tesla battery systems, which stores 129MWh of energy.

With 1 million electric vehicles on Australian roads by 2030 the annual increase in electricity demand from electric vehicles will be about 2.6TWh.

This is based on each vehicle travelling 15,000km a year and an efficiency of 0.173kWh/km. This means 1 million EVs will increase the grid electricity consumption by about 1%, based on total annual amount of electricity generation as 260TWh.

If the number of EVs increases to 10 million the annual demand for electricity will increase by 26TWh, or about 10%.

For the replacement of petrol vehicles with EVs to be a success, steady investment in renewable generation and charging infrastructure is required. The energy industry needs to prepare now. The revolution is underway.

Amar Rathore is a senior associate at the Market Advisory Group and a member of the EcoGeneration editorial board.