Utilities warned to prepare for uptake of EVs now

uptake of EVs, Tritium, fast charging

L.E.K Consulting and Australian electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure company Tritium have warned energy utilities the results of a joint study has revealed they need to prepare now for the uptake of EVs and the extra pressure they are expected to put on the grid.

The study highlights statistics around sales of EVs, which show there is a ‘clustering’ effect, where some suburbs, streets, and locations have a higher proportion of EV ownership. This has the potential to overload local electricity infrastructure, especially the feeder lines (i.e. “poles and wires” down a street).

Principal at L.E.K. Consulting Natasha Santha said there are significant opportunities for network owners, operators and energy retailers as EVs are one of the few growth drivers for developed energy markets, and also provide utilities the opportunities to build closer customer relationships.

“But utilities need to be proactive in planning for a future scenario of significant EV adoption, especially in a world where spending capex on additional infrastructure at the cost of the consumer is no longer a palatable response,” Ms Santha said.

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“The real challenge for utilities is managing the peak demand increase and greater unpredictability that comes with greater EV adoption.

“EV charging has an element of randomness that needs to be managed; this can stress local infrastructure and heighten the need for increased network investment.

“The good news is that we have time to prepare in Australia. Given the expected pace of adoption … grid owners have sufficient time to prepare for the change.

“While EV uptake in Australia is still in its infancy, it is growing, and networks need to prepare for this now.

“As the need for the deployment of public fast chargers is required in Australia, utilities will need to be ready to turn around new connections quickly.”

The study found that owning an EV will increase a household’s electricity consumption by about 50 per cent. If multiple houses on a single street decide to charge simultaneously, there may be insufficient capacity in the feeder lines to deliver the required level of power. For example, assuming utilities make no changes to their infrastructure and EV charging is unmanaged, and EV owners mostly charge at the end of the traditional workday when they return home, overlaying the impact of EV charging on a local network (with 50 per cent EV adoption) would drive peak demand up by 30 per cent.

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The study outlined five measures utilities should consider, both to stabilise future grid behaviour and ensure the rise of EVs maintains its pace.

  1. Design tariffs and demand response programs: Utilities need to begin preparing incentive structures to manage residential chargers, such as time of use EV tariffs that can shift customer charging behaviour alleviating local feeder stress. They could glean lessons from South Australian and Queensland networks, which are trialling new tariffs to encourage households with electric hot water systems to heat them in off-peak periods.
  2. Utilise smart software: Managed charging uses software to schedule home charging throughout the night avoiding the risk of EV owners all plugging in during the evening peak, using lessons learned from such measures as air conditioning incentive programs.
  3. Improve grid information: Provide clear and detailed information publicly to businesses and entrepreneurs looking to invest in and install public charging infrastructure. For example, PG&E, a Californian utility, has created an interactive mapping tool for network capacity highlighting the locations on its network where existing equipment has the capacity and is ready to be utilised for EV charging.
  4. Assess adjacent opportunities from charging infrastructure: Utilities should begin to explore if there are other opportunities that arise from the deployment of charging infrastructure, such as stationary battery storage, to reduce grid augmentation costs and enable charger deployment in areas of the network that would otherwise be prohibitive.
  5. Trial, test, and work with charging manufacturers: Collaboration and joint research will enable utilities to be at the forefront of emerging vehicle, charging, and grid integration technologies.