In my article titled “What do Electric Vehicles hold for the Resources Sector?” I noted Australia’s reluctance to embrace electric vehicles (EVs).

If you exclude hybrid vehicles, approximately 2,200 EVs were sold in Australia in 2017. This failure to embrace EVs has been attributed to 3 factors, namely:

  1. higher upfront costs;
  2. lack of available charging infrastructure; and
  3. anxiety over driving range.

Click here to read the source report - 'Recharging the economy' (Report).

Having identified these 3 factors as inhibitors to the adoption of EVs, in the Report mentioned above PwC's analysis estimates that it will cost between $70,000 to $180,000 to install each EV fast charger and to create a network of charging stations on Highway 1 (the highway which goes around Australia and which is the world’s longest highway) PwC estimates it will cost:

“…less than $10 million to provide the necessary charging infrastructure.”

The analysis estimates that only $3.2 billion will need to be invested in charging infrastructure between now and 2030 in order to support an estimated 3 million EV’s in Australia by 2030.

With the adoption of EVs and the need to have charging infrastructure available, the question which remains is whether there will be the availability of electricity to support the need to recharge the EVs then in service. The economic attraction of using electricity is obvious with the PwC analysis concluding it costs 3 cents per kilometre to run an EV when compared to 10 cents per kilometre for an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle.

The picture painted by New Zealand’s biggest energy distributor, Vector Limited (Vector) has raised concerns about the capacity of the New Zealand network to accommodate an upsurge in electricity demand for the purposes of recharging EV’s. Vector published a green paper in which it examined the long-term potential impact on the network of EV charging.

It is beyond argument that EVs can bring economic expansion and can contribute positively to environmental sustainability. Vector’s green paper identified a number of uncertainties with EV’s, namely:

  • short range of the EV’s compared to ICE vehicles;
  • EV uptake will cluster in the major cities, leading to an uneven spread of demand for energy and charging infrastructure across the country;
  • market share of EVs with longer ranges and battery sizes is expected to grow, which may be unfeasible unless faster charging technologies are adopted;
  • the capacity of different charger types with different charging speeds will determine the consumer’s charging behaviour; and
  • the short range nature of EVs will also mean that consumers will be frequently charging and will require ‘thicker’ powerlines to provide sufficient capacity to enable recharging loads.

The Vector analysis noted that the current use of a 2.4kW charger for an EV was equivalent to one additional home being connected to the grid. The shift to larger batteries will encourage drivers to opt for faster chargers, to avoid the long charge period. A “slow” 7kW charger would add the equivalent of 2.8 homes to the grid, while a “rapid” 50kW charger would add the equivalent of 20 homes.

In the green paper, Vector expressed its concern that:

“…The local electricity network was not designed for…any specific uptake of EVs and the consequential demand for charging at home”.

The Vector green paper highlights that with the market is projecting EVs will be manufactured with longer ranges and bigger battery sizes, batteries will take longer to charge and consumers will shift towards higher capacity chargers.

Australia’s chief scientist, Professor Alan Finkel in his review stated that charging could be “relatively easily managed” in Australia.

The Australian Government is committed to reducing carbon emissions after 2020 and it was stated the transport sector contributes approximately 18.1% of our total emissions. Therefore, targeting the transport sector by encouraging EV uptake is an effective way of reducing carbon emissions and assisting Australia to meet its commitment under the Paris Agreement.

The current network infrastructure will only allow a short-term increase in EV uptake, assuming that batteries are the short-range type and consumers being satisfied with long charging times (up to 11 hours) with chargers being evenly distributed across the network. An average household has a connection capacity of 2.5kW, and an EV trickle charge that takes 11 hours to charge a battery range of 135km.

While the green paper emphasises the need for fast charging infrastructure and on-demand power, it does not consider the limitations of the network in providing this power and the future implications it may have.

'My Electric Avenue' is a project in the UK that assessed the impact that charging clusters of EVs might have on local electricity networks during peak times. It predicts that approximately 32% of the low-voltage feeders will require reinforcement by 2050 to cope with clustered EV uptake, and this will cost GBP 2.2 billion (AUD 4.03 billion) with 40-70% of customers having an EV charging at 3.5kW. The level of investment would be substantially higher to reinforce the local network if 7kW chargers are adopted.

Therefore, to support the anticipated upswing in the adoption of EVs, Australia’s planning will need to go a lot further than merely the mining and processing of battery metals. In order to take advantage of the EV revolution, both Government and private enterprise needs to embrace the need for upgraded electricity generation capacity and a distribution network which has the technical capacity to distribute the electricity needed to meet the anticipated increase in demand.

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