Electric vehicle charging infrastructure has been elevated by the Morrison government as a key net zero “enabling technology”, two-and-a-half years after the Prime Minister mocked EVs as incapable of towing trailers, boats or reaching a family’s favourite camping spot.
Stunned by the speed in which global carmakers are racing towards mass EV production, the government now accepts that instead of “ending the weekend” – as Morrison famously claimed during the 2019 election campaign – electric vehicles will reach cost parity with internal combustion engines within a few years.
Ford, GM and a raft of start-ups such as Rivian have already started bringing large ute-style EVs to the market. Some are capable of towing over large distances.
In its second annual “Low Emissions Technology Statement”, released in Glasgow late on Tuesday night, the government also identified the need to develop “digital grids” to manage the surging supply of solar and wind power into the national electricity grid.
The priority list – which is at the heart of Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor’s “technology not taxes” approach to climate change – for the first time identified the use of seaweed to reduce cattle methane emissions and the need for low-polluting concrete.
The new priorities add to last year’s inaugural list, which included developing clean hydrogen, cheaper energy storage, low-emissions steel and aluminium, carbon capture and storage and soil carbon.
Last week, when the government released its 2050 net zero plan, it added so-called “ultra-low-cost solar” to the priority list.
Mr Taylor said such technologies would deliver about half of the reductions Australia needs to reach net zero by 2050.
He said the latest report included a “clearer articulation of how the government will support consumer choice and adoption of technologies that are being driven by global efforts, like electric vehicles, where our focus will be on enabling infrastructure”.
Peak time bottleneck
The statement warns that the market will probably supply too few chargers for electric vehicles in rural and regional areas because of lower population density and slower increase in demand.
“More chargers are needed to fill ‘charging black spots’ across metropolitan, regional and rural Australia,” said the report’s authors, led by former chief scientist Alan Finkel.
“As demand for vehicle charging increases, we will need to consider possible impacts on electricity grid security and reliability.
“The government is continuing to work directly with the states and territories … to enable and incentivise BEV [battery electric vehicles] charging that will effectively and efficiently integrate BEVs into the National Electricity Market.”
While fast-charging public infrastructure will be vital for long-distance travel, the government expects 75 per cent of charging will take place at home.
“Increased numbers of electric vehicles being charged at home at peak times could overload existing electricity networks, and require investment in distribution networks, which would be borne by all network users.”
The government also argues in favour of using smart chargers to soften the impact of EV demand spikes on the grid.
Another key enabling infrastructure identified in the report is the need for a “digital grid” to manage the retirement of coal-fired power plants and emergence of renewable generation.
“The transformation of Australia’s electricity system is making the planning, investment and operation of the grid more complex. Existing software systems and capabilities were not designed to cater for large amounts of variable renewable generation.
“An enhanced digital operating system is imperative for the Australian Electricity Market Operator (AEMO), together with market participants such as generators, networks and policymakers.
“The government will support the ongoing expansion of an enhanced operating system, to ensure the full suite of capabilities needed to manage high levels of variable and distributed electricity generation are available over time.”