Three ways electric vehicles will impact the electricity grid

Electric vehicle charging (EVs fleet)

By Kevin Nesdale, General Manager Power Distribution Systems and Services, Eaton ANZ

2019 saw plenty of hype about the potential of electric vehicles as Australia’s future fleet, which promises to reduce motorists’ fuel costs and carbon emissions.   

Electric Vehicles (EVs) currently only make up a fraction of new car sales but this is forecast to grow as cheaper models arrive and more charging infrastructure is rolled out.

A 2018 Australian Electric Vehicle Market Study, prepared for ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, found sales of electric and hybrid electric vehicles in Australia are forecast to reach 615,000 per year by 2030 and almost two million by 2040.

With this new demand on electricity to power EVs, comes considerations, challenges and opportunities for Australia’s electricity grid. These are Eaton’s three predictions.

Prediction 1: Electric vehicles will replace petrol and diesel vehicles much quicker than forecast

Availability of electric vehicles will be driven by car manufactures reducing investment in combustion engines and instead investing in EVs.  Once EVs reach price parity with internal combustion engine vehicles, sales of EVs are expected to rapidly increase. In order to facilitate this, publicly accessible charging infrastructure will continue to be deployed at service stations, supermarkets, at company parking lots and at street parking facilities. 

This rising need for charging electric vehicles (EVs) will put a strain on the grid and create new power demand challenges for owners of buildings.

For example, an electric car with a typical daily commute of 40km requires roughly 6–8 kilowatt hours of energy to recharge, which is equivalent to the daily needs of a small household. For those who will charge their vehicle at home during peak demand hours between 6-7pm, this will put pressure on the grid and increase the likelihood of network failures and blackouts.

To avoid this, the grid needs sufficient charging infrastructure in place to support the influx of EVs.

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Prediction 2: Renewables will create opportunities as well as challenges for the rollout of electric vehicles

Australia continues to switch from an energy sector powered by fossil fuels, to one powered by renewable sources of energy thanks to an abundant source of wind and solar power.

In August, ARENA announced $15 million in funding towards the roll out of 42 charging sites which will be wholly powered by renewables.

The increasing use of renewable energy as a source of power brings many environmental benefits, yet it is creating complexity in electrical power management for both utilities and building owners.

Related article: Electric vehicle uptake rapidly picking up pace

Prediction 3: The large number of EVs expected will transform electricity systems

As a result of the first two predictions, we are seeing the need for a major redesign of the electrical grid and energy markets around the world. Australian Renewable Energy Agency has warned that preparations must be made now to avoid grid instability in the future.

This spike in uptake of EVs will require upgrades to Australia’s power grid in order to avoid energy shortages.   

Electric vehicles provide flexible loads in the grid. However, the roadmap for its upgrades is not clear as there are a number of options for the electricity systems transformation.  For example, truck or bus fleets will require utility scale charging infrastructure along major transport corridors and it is not clear if the market will roll out bulk charging for these services.

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