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Unlocking the Potential of EVs in Australia’s Grid

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The countdown is to the Power + Utilities Australia 2024 Leadership Summit. In anticipation, we’re giving you exclusive insight into what you can expect our line-up of industry professionals and experts to be discussing.

This year, the summit includes a dedicated stream to the rapidly growing EV sector. While EV adoption has been steadily increasing, the infrastructure to support widespread use remains a challenge. Utilities are grappling with the need to accommodate the growing demand for EV charging infrastructure. Whilst balancing grid stability and managing peak demand.

We spoke to 2024 Leadership Summit speakers Carly Irving-Dolan of NRMA Energy, Oliver Hill from RACE for 2030 and Lisa Maro of ICN Victoria, as they give us their thoughts before their highly anticipated sessions in May.

EV Speakers

1. Given the FCAI’s recent statements and position on the government’s proposal to further promote EVs through the NVES, do you agree that it is ‘too much, too soon’? Would you think that their suggestion to raise CO2 targets and push back on the enforcement date of the standard mitigates any risk?

Carly Irving Dolan:

At the NRMA, we believe in a balanced approach towards transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs). The NRMA works with all levels of government, policy makers and industry leaders. We advocate to alleviate imposts for EV uptake to ensure Australia is not left behind. The NRMA understand the concerns raised by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) regarding the pace of this transition. We also recognise the urgency of addressing climate change and reducing emissions. It’s crucial to set ambitious yet achievable CO2 targets and timelines that reflect our collective capability to adapt and evolve. Adjusting the enforcement date could provide industries more time to adapt, but it’s imperative not to lose momentum. We advocate for a collaborative effort between the government, industry, and stakeholders. To ensure a smooth transition that benefits everyone involved.

Oliver Hill:

Over 10% of Australia’s total emissions come from passenger and light vehicle use. In order for Australia to achieve its targets of reducing emissions by 43% by 2030 and reaching Net Zero by 2050, we must address the emissions from this sector.

Vehicle efficiency standards give a clear signal to global vehicle producers that there is demand in Australia for efficient vehicles. This will result in a wider range of electric vehicle models entering the market. Nearly all major economies globally have these measures in place to achieve their decarbonisation goals and standards. Working side by side with wider transport policies to drive uptake of more efficient vehicles at a pace capable of achieving the deep emissions reductions needed in the sector.

The constraints in reaching these targets more often than not come down to supporting infrastructure and services. Research can support with this, and RACE is exploring areas such as the optimisation of EV infrastructure deployment. As well as the development of innovative service models in response to this need.

Lisa Maro:

The decision, set to take effect from 1 January 2025, will see a broader range of electric vehicles (EVs) arrive on the market. Ensuring Australia is not left behind in a transition that is already well underway overseas. Because Australia has no legislated vehicle efficiency standards, carmakers can still sell new vehicles that use less efficient engines. This means Australia’s average vehicle emissions are 20 per cent more than in the USA and 40 per cent more than in Europe. Yes, we will see objections from industry to changes. However, Australia is behind in EVs compared to most first-world countries. We need to keep pressure on the change to meet our Carbon emission commitments.

2. How does Australia’s energy grid and renewable capacity affect its preparedness for an EV revolution? What investments may be needed to support widespread adoption?

Carly Irving Dolan:

Australia’s energy grid and renewable capacity are foundational to the success of the EV revolution. Our grid must evolve to support the increasing demand that widespread EV adoption will bring. This includes substantial investments in renewable energy sources and storage solutions to ensure reliability and sustainability. The NRMA applauds the co-funding initiatives by State and Federal governments in public charging infrastructure as a significant step forward. However, more is needed, especially in enhancing the grid’s capacity and stability, integrating renewable energy sources like solar and wind more effectively, and expanding the public charging network. Learning from the integration of solar power into the National Grid, we see the necessity for a concerted effort to bolster our grid infrastructure. Ensuring it’s robust, flexible, and capable of meeting future demands.

One of the primary concerns is the challenge associated with power supply. Compounded by the difficulties that Distribution Network Service Providers (DNSPs) face in providing timely connections and upgrades. This situation creates a bottleneck that can delay project timelines. Affecting not only the deployment schedule but also the financial and operational planning of EV charging stations.

Furthermore, the adoption of new technologies such as behind-the-meter (BTM) batteries presents its own set of challenges. DNSPs, currently unprepared for these innovations, often require extensive time for modelling and analysis before granting design approval. This process, while necessary for ensuring grid stability and compatibility, further extends project timelines and can complicate the integration of such technologies into the existing infrastructure.

Oliver Hill:

Australia’s distribution network was originally designed for power to flow in only one direction. So as increasing numbers of households look to export electricity back to the grid either through excess solar PV or vehicle-to-grid (V2G) there is a potential risk for voltage imbalances. Investments that can do more with less will be key to unlocking greater EV adoption in a short period of time. Maximising the utility of our current assets through cost-effective local network augmentations is one way this could be approached. While reducing the need for costly transmission upgrades. Voltage management technologies have a potentially significant role to play in this. And RACE is supporting research into how these technologies can support increased uptake of EVs.

Australia is leading globally with our high levels of local distributed PV. EVs will have a natural synergy with this. As EV uptake grows it will be critical to maximise the output of solar PV for customers by making the most of high solar penetration during the middle of the day. Charging solutions and optimised services that facilitate this will play a large role in the future. But they require investment to scale and grow the market for these products and services locally. RACE is supporting this growth through research into vehicle-to-grid opportunities and the FCAS market. Which could give EVs the potential to provide frequency control services and maintain grid system inertia, whilst potentially making revenue for business owners and fleet managers.

Lisa Maro:

The issues are broad, ranging from a shortage of skilled workers to agreeing on technology for chargers from AC charging stations. Which will not necessarily require a substation upgrade. To DC fast charging, which will require significant investment in carparks and service stations to accommodate.

Victoria will see a mix of charging alternatives regarding AC and DC. Generally, this issue is a bottleneck to fast-tracking, and the industry suggests the next 2 – 5 years to keep up with the vehicle rollout proposals for supporting large city infrastructure. Australia needs a clear pathway for agreement on the technology mix now as networks and charging companies are working with local councils on the rollout.

3. Recent reports suggest that some utilities are exploring innovative pricing models and incentive programs to encourage EV adoption among consumers. What are your thoughts on these initiatives? How do you believe they will influence consumer behaviour and the broader EV market in Australia?

Carly Irving Dolan:

Innovative pricing models and incentive programs are vital for accelerating EV adoption in Australia. These initiatives can significantly influence consumer behaviour by making EV ownership more attractive and financially viable. We encourage further development of such programs, particularly those that simplify access to charging infrastructure and integrate renewable energy solutions. By reducing the total cost of ownership and enhancing the convenience of using EVs, we can stimulate consumer interest and uptake.

A stronger focus on incentives at the Distribution Network Service Provider (DNSP) level is essential to expand the public charging infrastructure and integrate renewables more effectively. This will address the growing demand for EVs. And also ensure a resilient and sustainable grid, fostering a healthier EV market in Australia.

Tariffs present another significant hurdle. The uncertainty surrounding either large upfront capital expenditure costs or hefty tariffs adds a layer of complexity to project planning. This unpredictability in the financial planning phase can lead to delays in project kick-off. As stakeholders seek clarity and strive to secure the most favourable terms.

Oliver Hill:

As EV uptake in Australia begins to move beyond the early adopters, all those in the provision of EV services will need to look at how they can innovate to engage new consumer segments that may have different underlying attitudes towards EVs. There is an opportunity for businesses in Australia to be fast followers and learn from the integration of EVs in other major economies.

Key for businesses looking to innovate in how they engage new EV consumers will be to balance an understanding of using vehicles as a source of transportation and as a source of power. Understanding how consumer behaviour and driving patterns are influenced by these new programs will be crucial. RACE is supporting research into understanding these behaviours. The potential to utilise EVs as a resource for demand response will depend significantly on how consumer patterns of behaviour develop alongside a growth in uptake of EVs. Also critical, as we see increased levels of EV adoptions, will be the development of robust cybersecurity frameworks and consumer protections for consumers, to ensure all can safely benefit from the EV revolution.

Lisa Maro:

In a report by EY stated that EV adoption beats predictions, and the trajectory is steep. From 13% today, EVs could make up 55% of total global vehicle sales by 2030.Mainstream EV adoption hinges on six essentials. Failure to act now will mean missed climate targets, wasted investment and a delayed transition timetable. More EVs put greater demand on utilities to make timely connections, balance load, and integrate renewables. The Utilities offering benefits also is a larger solution for grid stability while plugged in and the incentives make sense.

4. Compared to leading countries in EV adoption, where does Australia stand in readiness for an EV revolution? What factors influence its current position?

Carly Irving Dolan:

Australia has made significant strides in adopting renewable energy, particularly solar power, which positions us well for the EV revolution. However, there’s still a journey ahead to match the readiness and infrastructure seen in leading EV markets. Since installing our first charger in regional NSW in 2017, NRMA has been committed to expanding a national charging network. This includes recent launches in remote areas like Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory, and Nuriootpa and Berri. As well as the Nullarbor in South Australia, emphasising our focus on inclusivity and accessibility. Our commitment to building infrastructure in regions and connecting communities underscores the importance of a unified approach. To truly excel in EV adoption, Australia must continue investing in infrastructure, encourage innovation in renewable energy use for EV charging, and foster policies that support sustainable transportation solutions.

Oliver Hill:

Although Australia has a relatively lower level of EV uptake than other major economies, there are many factors that support Australia being a fast follower on EVs. The high degree of renewable resources in Australia has enabled the growth of extensive solar PV deployment, strong local capability in DER management, and leading research on dynamic operating envelopes. While other economies globally look to us on solar PV, we can look to other leading economies on EVs to analyse where and how deployment of EVs and their integration with the grid has been successful. RACE is supporting research on where these opportunities might best be applied in the Australian context. And how we can accelerate the integration of EVs into practical demonstrations across the country.

Lisa Maro:

Australia’s vast land mass and small number population means that the charging stations and EV range is limited right now. However, we will see this change in the next five years with major investment from both Government and Private investment.

Don’t miss hearing from our speakers live this May! Book your ticket here.

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