Research from 2013 found Australia could support up to 60% electric vehicles using simple and cheap technology

Johannes Eisele/ AFP/ Getty Images.
  • Labor plans to introduce targets for 50% of vehicles being electric in government fleets if it wins government.
  • Research shows that with simple changes Australasia can support up to 60% of vehicles nationwide being electric.
  • Expert says the grid will not be overwhelmed if demand management tech is used.

A leading expert in electric vehicles has struck out at claims Australia’s electric grid could not handle Labor’s 50 per cent electric vehicle target.

This week, the opposition Labor party released a plan for half of new car sales to be electric vehicles by 2030 and 50 per cent of the government’s fleet to be electric by 2025. As part of the plan, businesses would also be allowed to deduct a 20 per cent depreciation for private fleet electric vehicles worth at least $20,000.

Following the news, multiple media organisations claimed that EVs would destabilise the grid.

Marcus Brazil, associate professor of electrical and electronic engineering from the University of Melbourne, told Business Insider Australia this is a simplistic claim that doesn’t consider demand management.

“We found that with some sort of mechanism you could have up to 50 per cent penetration of electric vehicles without needing to do any major upgrades to the infrastructure of the grid,” Brazil said.

Brazil said by using simple technologies at low cost Australia could handle many more electric vehicles. “The technology isn’t difficult and most houses in Victoria have smart metres which you can use to help with the demand management,” he said.

Brazil said there is research as far back as 2013 that found demand management could support electric vehicle uptake up to as much as 60 per cent, in excess of Labor’s targets. He said on the other hand, without demand management, it could all go wrong if as little as 10 per cent of vehicles were electric.

“Our modelling and simulations suggest that if there were more than about a 10% penetration of EVs then you are going to get problems with the grid not being able to cope with times of peak demand,” he said.

The period between 5pm to 7pm is when the risks occur, as many people arrive home and use a lot of electric services. Brazil explained that by using smart metres, which limit the flow of charging during peak periods, a crash in the system can be prevented. It would also be much cheaper to charge outside the peak demand period.

“If this wasn’t done in an intelligent way, with no demand management, demands on the grid would be increased a lot,” he said. “It’s a very simplistic claim that the grid wouldn’t be able to cope with more than 10 per cent of vehicles.”

The research paper, Demonstrating Demand Management: How Intelligent EV Charging Can Benefit Everyone, used modelling as part of the Victorian Government’s electric vehicle trial to figure out the best way to integrate electric cars into the power grid.

It found that without demand management, and uncontrollable charging by whoever, whenever, the network would likely struggle when electric vehicle penetration reached only 10 per cent. It also found that with charge management, it was highly unlikely a car wouldn’t be charged by the morning.

“Only in very rare cases [would] a vehicle not receive a 100% charge by 7am, and this was usually due to the vehicle having arrived at home shortly before 7am,” the research said.

And even if the vehicle doesn’t have full charge, you can still travel, Brazil noted. “Most vehicles have enough charge to give a range of 100km to 120km so you don’t need to have 100% charge every morning to be able to confidently travel,” he said.

This lines up with the warnings in the media after a report from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and Australian startup Evenergi found preparations must be made to avoid grid instability.

Australians are not buying electric vehicles – yet

There’s also another reason to not worry just yet. Australians simply aren’t buying electric cars at a huge rate and some experts think Labor’s plan won’t get past the ‘value for money’ test.

Clean Energy Finance Corporation CEO Ian Learmonth said at a Senate Estimates committee there are about 7,000 electric vehicles on Australia’s roads and sales of electric cars amount to about 0.1 per cent of new cars.

“It’s certainly no secret we’re well behind in terms of the uptake of EVs,” he said. “We are significantly behind the uptake of EVs in this country relative to what we might see as comparative markets.”

Analysis of VFACTS data reported in The Driven found there to be 1352 electric vehicle sales in 2018, excluding Teslas, in Australia’s total car sales of 1,153,111 – about .3 per cent of total sales.

Marion Terrill, the Grattan Institute’s transport and cities program director, told Business Insider Australia that if people wanted electric cars they’d be buying them – which they aren’t.

“People are voting with their feet and they’re not choosing electric vehicles,” she said. “I think if consumers wanted these vehicles they can have them, if they don’t want to have them then we shouldn’t make them.”

This lines up with what Scott Morrison had been saying in his attacks on Labor.

“What Australians have always expressed a preference for is the vehicles that have a bit of grunt and a bit of power, because they like to enjoy the great recreational opportunities that are out there,” Scott Morrison said at a press conference in Queensland on Monday.

But Climateworks project manager, Sarah Fumei, told Business Insider Australia that a key barrier in Australia had instead been accessing electric cars at or under the $60,000 price mark.

“Last year there were 23 electric and hybrid models available and only a few of those were priced below $60,000,” she said. “There’s a chicken and egg problem in Australia, we’re getting the expensive cars out here at the moment but we’re seeing that start to shift.”

She said Labor’s plans were “really positive” and that governments purchasing electric vehicles for their fleet would kickstart the market. “Things that do promote having lower cost models available can promote the uptake of electric vehicles,” she said.

If we do start to see cheaper EVs in Australia and an uptick in sales, Brazil believes the grid will handle it just fine – as long as demand management is in place.

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