WSP has recently completed an international review on electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure best practice and lessons. In 2021, EVs made up 1.9% of the market share of all Australian new vehicle sales, compared to the global average of 9%. There are lessons which Australia can learn from overseas, and so in addition to an extensive literature review, we tapped into our international expertise from the UK, New Zealand, Canada and the US, to understand the challenges they are already facing and how these are being addressed.
“We identified three key overarching features of a well-designed EV charging network” Eleanor Short, WSP’s Senior Principal - Transport Advisory says.
“These are network coverage and supply of chargers, standards and interoperability and a positive user experience. By focusing on these three areas - supported by a clear strategy, implementation plan, extensive multi-sector collaboration and open data sharing - we can build a well-designed EV charging network for Australia, and support the decarbonisation of transport.”
1. Network coverage and supply
“Network coverage and supply covers a number of related aspects of the ‘what, where, who and how many’ of EV charging infrastructure, and how this is supported by capacity in the grid” Eleanor explains. “Essentially, it’s about having enough of the right charging facilities to support EV charging needs now, and planning ahead for as demand grows rapidly in the future.”
Whilst the majority of charging occurs at home, a well designed EV charging network needs to have a range of locations, charger types (i.e. AC or DC) and associated speeds, to support a wide range of different use cases. For example, rapid en-route charging (over 22kW, DC) is important to support long distance trips, whereas for off-street charging at homes and workplaces - where people spend longer periods parked - Level 1 and 2 AC charging is a more cost-effective solution. While businesses may invest in charging at their depots or facilities, for those travelling longer distances, supporting en-route and destination charging facilities will also be needed.
Eleanor explains “In the Australian context, there are particular challenges with access to charging in rural and regional locations. Not only can these span large distances, where there may also be less grid capacity and supporting infrastructure already available, triggering the need to invest in upgrades. From an equity perspective, this needs to be addressed, along with access for people with mobility challenges”.
As well as distance between chargers, the density and number of chargers at each location is also important to consider, to help address the recently emerging ‘queue anxiety’ problems, particularly during busy holiday periods.
The visibility and availability of public chargers has been shown to be an important psychological factor in encouraging drivers of conventional fuel vehicles to make the switch to an EV. Eleanor adds, “In the UK, research found that people with off-street residential parking are significantly more likely to buy an electric vehicle. The need to support charging for people who do not have access to off-street parking, whilst also maintaining a pleasant and safe urban environment, is leading to some interesting solutions. This includes trickle charging overnight from existing lamp columns, which is cost effective, and reduces street clutter and trip hazards from trailing cables.”
WSP UK has developed the EV:Ready tool which can be used to support planning for EV charging. Daniel Quan, WSP UK’s Associate Director – Future Mobility explained that EV:Ready was originally developed to estimate the uptake of electric cars in the UK, and the associated charge point across different locations and time periods.
“Our EV:Ready tool helps us understand when and where people are likely to switch to electric vehicles. We use this to estimate EV uptake between now and 2050. We then use the results (which are at a neighbourhood level) to understand the demand for EV charging, and to advise on the location, number and type of charge points that will be needed both now and into the future. We can also assess where these are likely to be provide by the private sector, and where public investment is more likely to be needed. The UK has done a lot of research in this area as part of our Future ReadyTM framework and exploring the issues from an Australian perspective has been really interesting.”
2. Standards, interoperability and information
With many different companies offering EV charging facilities, promoting consistency and interoperability through the use of standards is really important, and directly impacts on the user experience.
Eleanor says “It’s not only the type of plugs used for charging which needs to be considered, but also aspects like consistent payment methods and transparent pricing. We heard from overseas about users needing many different apps to access all different types of chargers, with varying payment methods and pricing structures as well. As a minimum, the option for contactless digital payments will support a positive user experience and easy transactions.”
EV technology is rapidly developing, and standards and rules will be essential in supporting smart charging, and ‘vehicle to grid’ (V2G) applications. Smart charging can help balance charging loads, by timing home EV charging to off-peak periods overnight, and reducing charging at peak periods. Dynamic charging solutions can also support grid balancing, and reduce individuals’ charging times at individual charging sites by dynamically prioritising charging. V2G goes further and allows energy stored in EV batteries to be discharged back to the grid, which helps to balance the load, particularly at peak times. The business models need to be worked through, but this is likely to also offer financial benefits for EV owners, which can be further enhanced when combined with high levels of rooftop solar uptake in Australia and battery storage.
Eleanor explains that data and information also play a fundamental dual role. “This is both in terms of planning, operating and maintaining the network, as well as allowing users to successfully plan their trips and make informed decisions using reliable, real-time information from a single source.”
“Tools like EVRoam in New Zealand are a great example of how information sharing has been done really well and improves the user experience. It is a live database of EV charging infrastructure across the country, bringing together accurate, live information from dozens of operators in a single source. It makes it very easy for new drivers to understand what charging is available and is also being used to support a national approach to network planning.”
3. User experience
That brings us on to user experience. “Ultimately, the features of a well-designed charging network are fundamentally all about supporting user confidence in the system and providing people with a positive experience. As well as comprehensive network coverage, consistency and information, the physical experience of where people can charge and what facilities they can access while doing that is really important. Providing safe, secure and comfortable facilities to wait during charging can help businesses to differentiate and attract more customers,” Eleanor says.
Daniel agrees that access to amenities will be a critical part of a well-designed future EV charging networks.
“At the moment there is a fairly high level of reliance on home charging. As batteries get bigger, chargers get faster, and EV uptake increases for more people without access to off-street parking, we could see a shift towards more of a fuel station model where people go for ten minutes, charge and grab a coffee,” he says.
“We might also see a further shift in how people access vehicles in cities, moving away from the traditional ownership model to more car sharing and private hire, especially if there is a quick and convenient way to access and charge the vehicle. There are huge opportunities for fleet options for last mile deliveries such as smaller electric vehicles or e-cargo bikes.”
“All of this is before you also consider Smart Mobility, where transport may significantly change as automation levels increase,” Daniel says.
4. Delivering EV charging for Australia
“A good EV charging network is created with transport agencies, energy providers, infrastructure providers and property owners all working together with clear objectives, roles and responsibilities” Eleanor says. “It brings together both the public and private sectors, with a range of different delivery models. It is really a multidisciplinary challenge, bringing together new partnerships across government and industry.”
“The shift to electrifying our vehicles is just one part of the decarbonising transport puzzle. It needs to go hand in hand with greening the grid to power those vehicles from renewable sources. We also need an increasingly strong focus on reducing trips as well as modal shift to public and active transport,” Eleanor concludes.
For more information on planning for and making the transition to electric vehicles, please contact Eleanor Short.
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