Australia Climate action and sustainable development , Technology , Transport and infrastructure

How local governments can support the transition to Electric Vehicles

Summary

This briefing explores the role of Councillors and Council staff in dealing with adoption of electric vehicles in Council fleets, and also covers the provision of fleet charging infrastructure, and planning policies related to charging infrastructure.

Briefing in full

Background

Transport accounts for about 19% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Australia. Road transport, primarily driven by internal combustion engines (ICEs), was estimated to have health costs of between $1.6 and $3.8 billion in 2000, through tailpipe emissions of NOx, carbon monoxide and particulates. Full Battery Electric vehicles (BEVs) have zero tailpipe emissions and reduced GHG emissions over their lifetime compared to ICE vehicles, even with the typical electricity grid mix of energy sources: coal, gas, wind and hydro. As the grid shifts to more renewable energy, GHG emissions from EV road transport will decline further.

BEVs are quieter, have lower running costs, the potential for longer fleet lifetimes as a result of their lower maintenance needs as they age and comparable or better performance than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles in most respects already. Switching the existing passenger and LCV fleet to 100% electric would in Australia only add 15% to Australia’s annual electricity demand, which, if integrated properly, could help to balance supply and demand in the grid and through vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology contribute substantially to grid stability.

The EV transition therefore will have a major impact on fleet vehicle selection and operation, and the development of private and public charging infrastructure. With the implications of the EV transition for electricity grid stability, the use of renewable energy and community greenhouse gas emissions, it also provides other potential areas for engagement by local government.

It is worth noting at this point that the term EV (for Electric Vehicle) is often used somewhat confusingly to cover one or more different EV forms – here the term EV will only be used in that general sense and the separate names of Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV), Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV), Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) and FCEV (Fuel-Cell Electric Vehicle/’hydrogen car’) will be referred to, where needed, as per Figure 1.

How local governments can support the transition to Electric Vehicles

Fig. 1: Illustration of EV definitions and technologies

This article focusses primarily on the applications and adoption of Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEVs), and in particular BEVs. The broader range of EVs and their possible use cases will be addressed in a later article as these technologies have more limited applications and/or futures as compared to BEVs.

Scope

This paper focusses on road transport as it is most relevant to local government. The scope of this paper is to acknowledge the inevitability of the EV transition, applications and charging-support needs of those PEVs (and in particular BEVs) available in Australia, with some reference to the current and/or foreseeable availability of electrified utility vehicles, light and heavy trucks, buses and some plant and equipment, plus consideration of e-bikes and some non-conventional electric vehicles (scooters, tricycle rickshaws, and others).

Drivers of EV adoption and the effect of a failure to act

In addition to their environmental benefits and health dividends, BEVs will soon become cost-competitive with ICE vehicles, and ultimately will be much cheaper to both own and run. Cost reductions for EV batteries are driven by a sustained 18% per year decrease in the $/kWh battery storage combined with increasing scale of EV production driven by regulations, penalties and incentives in many countries – including set dates for ending the sale of ICE vehicles in major markets.

BEVs are currently more expensive to buy, but cheaper to fuel and maintain, than ICE vehicles – although they are not yet cost competitive with ICE vehicles on a total cost of ownership (TCO) basis, unless they travel an unusually long distance or are kept for longer than the currently adopted lease periods. The difference in TCO is already modest for heavily used vehicles and is predicted to become competitive for an increasing range of applications from about 2022.

Australia is also well behind many other developed countries in EV adoption. Whilst lamented by many, this circumspect approach allows legislators at all levels to view the effects of policies in other jurisdictions and ‘cherry-pick’ the best/most appropriate examples for the Australian context. In the long run, however, failure to act in support of the inevitable EV transport transition could condemn Australia to a disjointed and piecemeal transition with high vehicle purchase costs, reduced model choice and bottlenecks in providing sufficient and appropriate public charging solutions to meet an exponentially expanding EV fleet.

Council fleets and adoption rates

Councils should prepare now for an inevitable transition in their own fleets for, as discussed above, BEVs are likely to be the preferred option for most vehicles by about 2026.

By adopting a few BEVs now, for a modest cost Councils can learn about charging options and charge management, driver induction and budgeting and planning for different capital and operating cost regimes that arise with using BEVs. When BEVs become fully cost effective, they can be deployed effectively for maximum benefit utilizing this hands-on knowledge.

Early adoption of BEVs by Councils in substantial volume is currently tempered by the fact that Australia has a small range of BEV models available (in a limited number of vehicle segments) compared to the many more already on offer overseas. Australian BEV options at present are limited to small to medium sedans and SUVs plus some shorter-range light commercial vans (LCVs). It is worth noting that the BEVs available here are all very capable vehicles within their particular segments and should (subject to a proper analysis) be capable of replacing an equivalent fossil-fueled vehicle. In Australia there are no EV utes or longer range electric LCVs, but many have been announced for release in overseas markets starting from late 2020.

Specialised electric vehicles for street sweeping, excavating and garbage collection are also being produced both here and overseas, but in a limited range of specifications to date. An increasing range of BEV electric buses is also being manufactured: mostly from China, although some production buses are beginning to be manufactured here in Australia.

EV charging infrastructure

The model for ‘refueling’ an EV is very different to the ‘service station’ model the public is currently used to, and EV charging rates vary significantly depending on the type of charger used.

How local governments can support the transition to Electric Vehicles

Fig. 2: Approximate AC and DC charging rate comparisons for a Kona electric

 

As a result of this change in the vehicle refueling model and the resultant need for providing EV charging infrastructure in different locations to existing service stations, Councils will have a role to play in the provision or control of sites for public EV charging, both for on-demand ‘fast charging’ and overnight charging for dwellings without private off-street parking. They will also be looked upon to provide guidance and planning controls in relation to the installation of private EV charging in existing and new owned and rental homes, strata developments and apartments.

Public EV charging – general

There is no reason why this service should not be delivered on a full cost recovery basis. It is worth noting here that studies show that less than 10% of EV charging occurs outside of home or the workplace, therefore the demand for public charging (and the cost of provision of outlets) will not be as great as would have been expected using a ‘service station’ model of refueling.

Some leading Councils have provided public charging for EVs. This has included a mix of AC ‘destination’ chargers and DC fast chargers, most often at or around Council offices or centrally located car parks. The Queensland Government’s Practice Note for EV Charging Infrastructure is a good resource to ensure local governments avoid some of the potential pitfalls regarding the installation of EV charging as well as provide some form of uniformity in signage and placement in the absence of a national framework.

Some Councils offer free charging as an incentive or encouragement for EV uptake in their communities.

  • Offering slow charging (11kW or less) in 1-2 hour parking areas provides a modest attraction to users as a convenience. This is not sufficient to either replace home charging or to enable a quick ongoing journey. Lower power (7.2 or 3.6kW) charging may also be considered appropriate as a free amenity to visiting customers, as provided by an increasing number of commercial premises.
  • Offering fast charging, (50 kW+) for free makes it hard for commercial providers to offer services in the area and may ultimately result in the resource being underserved as demand grows, or require Council to provide additional capacity.

Public fast charging

In the absence of competition from free providers, commercial providers will increasingly provide the required public fast chargers on a fee for service basis to users. Often the best sites both from the EV driver’s point of view and for the benefit of the community are Council-owned, town-centre car parks or key facilities with sufficient parking capacity.

Councils can invite EV charging operators to provide services at these sites. Initial terms may be concessional to attract operators to preferred sites, but move to fully commercial terms as EV numbers rise and the business of EV charging becomes commercially viable.

Operators will want relatively long leases if they pay for the power supply upgrades and civil works required – but a short lease would be acceptable if Council owns this immovable investment (but not the chargers) and leases a ‘powered’ site to the operator. This would enable a sustainable, competitive market to develop.

Clear and appropriate planning and development controls will enable charging infrastructure to be available equitably for all EV drivers/owners with minimal adverse impacts on communities. In general, fast chargers should be excluded from residential areas due to associated activity levels and noise out of hours.

Public slow charging in residential areas

EVs are commonly charged at home (or fleet base) in private off-street parking. A small proportion are also charged at a place of employment.

Councils with neighbourhoods of high density and older forms of housing development can have significant numbers of dwellings without private off-street parking. In these neighbourhoods, EV owners will be tempted to run a long extension cord from their home out to the street: a dangerous and illegal practice to be discouraged. While they could (in principle) charge at fast charge stations once or twice a week, akin to filling with petrol, this is inconvenient and likely to be much more expensive than slower overnight charging, or even daytime slow charging while parked near home. Slower charging can have lower impact on the electricity grid.

Most EV drivers can meet their charging needs with one or two sessions per week. For these neighbourhoods with high rates of on-street parking there needs to be one 7-22 kW charger for every 4-8 EVs parked on the street, provided access is suitably managed.

Public slow charging in these areas can take several forms:

  • Kerbside charge ports in residential permit parking areas
  • Dedicated off-street charging car parks in the neighbourhood
  • Use of council facilities with limited overnight access to parking with chargers (e.g. 9:00 PM – 7:00 AM) in or close to residential areas.

The right solution will depend on the features of each neighbourhood. The key consideration is to assess the location and level of demand for this form of changing in an area and to identify, enable and promote the preferred strategy.

The provision of charging equipment, and operation and maintenance of that equipment, may be carried out by Council or a third party – but should be on a commercial basis. Council will play a major role in providing access to suitable parking/charging sites and the planning and other rules that determine access to those sites. A well-thought-through, simple procedure can make access to charging in these areas available at a reasonable cost to users without a cost to the public purse.

For public AC charging, Councils should consider the installation of ‘bring-your-own’ (BYO) socket outlet versions instead of options that incorporate a permanently attached lead. This reduces the potential for trip hazards and electrical hazards from damaged leads.

Fig.: BYO and tethered lead AC car chargers. Images: JetCharge.com.auHow local governments can support the transition to Electric Vehicles

Private charging

Private EV charging

There are many potential planning and regulatory issues regarding EV charging in single dwellings, rental properties, strata units and apartments. These will need to be examined by Councils and guidance given to homeowners and developers alike. An exploration of these issues will be covered in a later article.

Other EV opportunities

The electrification of transport is not limited to electric cars, light commercial vans and trucks. Low speed ‘last mile’ cars, autonomous buses, e-bicycles, e-scooters, ‘Segways’, seated mobility devices, tricycle rickshaws, etcetera, etcetera add to the list of potential issues for Councils to consider and allow for. In addition, there are electric planes, autonomous drones (both delivery and passenger carrying) and electric watercraft from picnic boats up to large electric ferries to consider.

Some of these vehicles do not fit readily within existing classifications and the rules that apply are unclear. As a result some are deemed illegal for use on public streets, footpaths, waterways etc. However, most have some legitimate value and community benefit, when properly regulated.

Councils are encouraged to take a positive approach to working with state government vehicle regulators to take advantage of the opportunities these vehicles can provide for quiet, clean, flexible transport, particularly in the dense urban centres to which they are particularly well suited.

Comment

As a result of a lack of overarching national EV adoption or an energy efficiency policy, the uptake curve for EVs in Australia is likely to lag behind the rest of the world – but despite this, the transition will still occur.

BEVs will soon be cost-competitive with ICE vehicles, and ultimately be much cheaper to buy, run and maintain than conventional alternatives. Councils should prepare now for this inevitable transition, starting from around 2022, with BEV vehicles likely to become the preferred option on a TCO basis for most vehicles before 2026.

Councils have a key role to play in provision or control of sites for EV charging, both for on-demand ‘fast charging’ and overnight charging for dwellings without private off-street parking on a full cost recovery basis.

Clear and appropriate planning and development controls will enable charging infrastructure to be available equitably for all EV drivers/owners with minimal adverse impacts on communities.

Failure to act with timely and appropriate EV policy settings could result in (amongst other things) unmet public charging needs, expensive electrical retrofits for recently built homes, apartments and business developments along with inappropriate planning decisions around public parking placement, and infrastructure based on antiquated ICE vehicle refueling and parking needs instead of EV ones.

 

For more information on this briefing or if you have a local government case to share with LGiU Australia email mzierke@sgsep.com.au