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What challenges do EVs pose for electricity infrastructure?

What challenges do EVs pose for electricity infrastructure?

How the growing number of electric vehicles will affect New Zealand’s electricity infrastructure is an issue Drive Electric has been investigating.

The not-for-profit group’s latest white paper Peak Pressure: what challenges do electric vehicles pose to New Zealand’s electricity grid? suggests co-operation between electricity wholesalers, retailers and the vehicle industry is key.

Drive Electric board member Eric Pellicer, from Powerco, who contributed to the paper, says the groups need to work together.

That’s because, unlike homes, it is difficult to track where on the grid EVs will be charging at any one time.

“There will be hotspots and we have no idea where they will be. Then all of a sudden you’ve doubled the peak,” he says.

“EVs are less than 1% of the fleet, which is still ahead of our target for this year.

“But in some parts you have 10% EVs and in some parts you have none.”

One of the key ways the groups could work together would be to set up a form of EV or EV charger registration.

“If there was a way people could register their EVs at the dealership, that’s where the collaboration comes in.

“Or alternatively, new EV owners could be encouraged to register chargers with their power provider. That way we will have more information about where the EVs are located around the country”

But Pellicer reiterates it will only work if all the different groups co-operate.

“We need to plan for the challenges ahead.

“Networks are not designed with excessive headroom because that would be uneconomical for consumers.

“They have mainly been built to deliver what we think will be needed in 10, 15, 20 years’ time. But electric vehicles could completely change the mix in potentially a much shorter timeframe.”

Meridian general manager retail Neal Barclay says the times at which people charge their EVs could also be an issue.

The Drive Electric board member points out that some retailers are already trialling EV tariffs in an attempt to spread the charging load throughout the day.

Meridian, for example, provides significantly cheaper rates between 9pm and 7am in the main metro areas of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

“How effective such ‘carrots’ are in practice depends on the attractiveness of the price difference between peak and off-peak.

“Much of that depends on the signals to the retailers provided by lines companies,” Barclay says.

He also believes the uptake of EVs will be quicker than most people think.

“EVs could be like mobile phones. Currently they’re more expensive than internal combustion engine-powered vehicles, but the price differential is closing fast and I believe they are going to take off a lot more quickly than most people are predicting.”

“If retailers and lines companies can effectively collaborate, we can come up with pricing that is sustainable and equitable between those who have EVs and those who don’t.”

The white paper, which was sponsored by Powerco and Meridian, includes research put together from round table discussions held by Drive Electric’s board and extended to include member input.
The organisation will release more white papers in the coming months.
Go to driveelectric.org.nz for more information.

Editor’s notes: Drive Electric is a not-for-profit group that includes many electricity and transport industry leaders on its board. It has several functions, including undertaking research about issues affecting electric vehicles, lobbying the government to continue setting ambitious targets for electric vehicle uptake and helping educate the public and companies about the benefits of EVs.

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