Electric vehicle revolution puts pressure on energy grid

The influx of electric vehicles into Australia could put an additional load of 20 gigawatts a day – or a doubling of peak electricity demand – on the electricity grid by 2030 if most owners charged up at the same time every night, a new report has found.

The $350 million research collaboration between industry, universities and government has identified a raft of challenges for the arrival of EVs which are expected to make up 80 per cent of new vehicles sales by the end of the decade, making up almost 25 per cent of Australia’s total car fleet.

While there will be huge benefits from taking petrol-guzzling cars off the road, the arrival of EVs – which need to be charged either at home or at public charging stations – creates a range of new headaches, not the least for the electricity grid.

The Reliable Affordable Clean Energy for 2030 Cooperative Research Centre (RACE for 2030) found if the additional load of new EVs was spread evenly across the day it would represent a modest increase in demand of 3 to 4 per cent.

“However, if all EVs were to be plugged in during the evening peak, when most people return home, with each drawing 7kW, the instantaneous load could be over 30 GW, virtually doubling peak electricity demand,” the report found.

“Clearly this would be very expensive to accommodate. For this reason, ways to ensure EVs are charged in ways that not only avoid significant detrimental impacts on the grid but can in fact improve the performance of the grid are vital.”

The RACE for 2030 report, whose research partners include CSIRO, Monash University, UNSW, RMIT and Curtin University, has collated international research on EVs, plus also issued a call to arms for new research to help resolve some barriers to uptake in Australia.

While governments in other countries have offered incentives to car owners to switch to EVs, the Morrison government has adopted a hands-off approach, only ploughing money into public charging infrastructure.

Some states have considered taxing EV owners, partly to make up for the shortfall in fuel excise that will inevitably happen if there are less petrol cars on the road.

The report found that EVs will be a “widely adopted mainstream technology” by the end of the decade.

“However, the timing, speed and the extent of the transition to EVs in Australia are still uncertain,” it found.

“A key reason for this is Australia’s uncertain policy landscape. Unlike in similar markets internationally, the federal government’s position is that subsidising EV purchases does not represent value for money from an emissions reduction perspective.

“In addition there are barriers to commercial and other forms of transportation concerning battery versus capacity, pricing and fast charging requirements.”

Some of the policy frameworks that need to be resolved before the EV tipping point later this decade include time of use and demand or dynamic pricing to encourage users to charge up their cars in the middle of the day when there is a glut of renewable energy as well as consistent standards for EV grid connection.

At the moment, EVs only account for about 6900 cars, or 0.7 per cent of total new sales in Australia, according to the Electric Vehicle Council.

Partly this is due to pricing and a lack of options. Australians have access to 28 electric vehicle models from 1 1 different carmakers, significantly fewer than other right-hand drive markets.

Most EVs in Australia, like the popular Tesla brand, are still perceived as luxury items, selling for between $50,000 and $100,000. (The cheapest EV model in Australia is the MG ZS priced at $43,990 which has been available since late 2020).

The Electric Vehicle Council said the lack of fuel efficiency standards or national electric vehicle policy hasn’t helped.

Regardless, they expect to see six new EV on the road in Australia before the end of 2021, with two of these under $50,000.

There are 357 fast chargers at 157 locations and 2000 standard chargers at 1200 locations. The federal government said its highest priority is the roll-out of EV charging infrastructure where its needed.

A review of international studies – which was also reflected in the Australian experience – found most EV purchasers are “typically middle-aged, well-educated and affluent men” who are won over by the dual goals of new technology and its capacity to solve environmental issues.

RACE for 2030 said there needed to be more sociological studies in Australia to understand who was using EVs and the factors influencing both early and mainstream adopters of the technology.

Extracted from AFR

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