Opinion article

Smart EV charging infrastructure key to affordable and just transition

Government and industry need a flexible approach to electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure to ensure EV adoption does not increase costs unnecessarily. Corporations and governments have a responsibility to get the balance right to ensure EV adoption is a part of a just transition, considering access and affordability.

Government and industry need a flexible approach to electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure to ensure EV adoption does not increase costs unnecessarily.

Corporations and governments have a responsibility to get the balance right to ensure EV adoption is a part of a just transition, considering access, affordability and electricity prices.

In Australia, EVs have passed what Bloomberg has described as a key tipping point of five per cent of new car sales. This will now accelerate as fleets transition to EVs with lower running costs.

This means increased electricity requirements for existing commercial property at the same time as EV infrastructure requirements are being considered and put in place for all new buildings.

Experts agree that the energy grid needs to triple in size for our electric future. How business implements EV infrastructure and governments regulate building requirements will have an impact on electricity network build requirements and prices.

Industry needs to be prepared through smarter buildings, integration with technology, understanding the behaviours of the EV users and influencing responsible power use, especially with the next phase of capital investment in EV infrastructure.

This should also be aligned with improved design of and requirements for new buildings, which may require moderation of rules and new building expectations, for improved longer-term outcomes.

In the early 2000s, the “gold plating” of energy networks amid rising use of air conditioning and grid performance concerns pushed up network prices. We don’t want EV adoption to cause the next wave of cost pressures when we can manage the requirements with buildings that adopt EV charging infrastructure.

Vehicles parked overnight in a workplace will typically park late in the evening and plug in to charge. To accommodate the vehicle charging, the electrical capacity of the building needs to be increased and this can lead to increased peak hour electricity use, grid pressures and increased costs.

A smart charging system can avoid these increases, charging vehicles after peak times, scheduling a roster for charging and charging the vehicles in shifts overnight, minimising or having no additional maximum load impact on the infrastructure.

A smart system can also override settings for critical vehicles, such as for emergency services, as needed. This type of smart charging technology provides flexibility to ensure business and community needs are being met.

The Australian National Construction Code’s energy efficiency requirements could be expanded to include smart technology requirements for load management for EV infrastructure. Generation load profiles for solar and wind energy are very different to coal and gas systems, so time of energy use is becoming just as important as how much energy we use. Keeping network cost pressures low is all about when we use energy.

Blanket policies on providing EV charging infrastructure can have a negative impact. User requirements should be the major consideration, as not all public buildings may require EV charging stations.

In a city public hospital, for example, users will likely have alternate charging options and may not use charging spots during short visits. But this may not be the case for a rural hospital. Given limited charging is available in rural areas and users sometimes travel long distances, charging should be readily available to accommodate the needs of such communities. One policy does not fit all buildings.

Government policy should require a use-case analysis for new buildings and adapt EV infrastructure accordingly. We need flexibility and to balance community needs as the expansion of the energy grid will affect everyone through availability and costs to expand the electrical network.

We must also consider accessibility requirements. Providing charging spaces that cater to people with a disability has been overlooked to date. We will need to catch up quickly on this front, especially in tourist and rural areas.

We also need to consider vehicles that tow trailers, campers and caravaners. Single-vehicle car spaces are predominantly used for EV charging spots and don’t allow ease of access for these vehicles. This will have an amplified impact on tourism in regional areas where longer distances are travelled, and charging is required more frequently for vehicle towing. Government funding for EV charging stations must take tourism and the next generation of environmentally conscious grey nomads into account.

There are many complex layers to a just transition to EVs and we must consider accessibility as well as the electrical connection when planning and building infrastructure.

Governments need to act now on accessibility requirements and ensure assessments required for new buildings are a correct fit, rather than blanket policies, considering the EV charging behaviour and needs of a facility’s users.

About the authors

Roger Walker

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Roger Walker has 20+ years experience in commercial real estate in the areas of valuation, asset and facilities management. He represents the Australian Property Institute on government panels on sustainability in the built environment. Roger is the Client Solutions Director at HFM and EV lead, a division of the global IFM company BGIS.

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