Transitioning our vehicles away from fossil fuels will benefit the environment and drive down running costs – but to optimise our use of electric vehicles, we’ll need the right infrastructure and a smarter energy grid.
Australia’s transport sector is responsible for about 18 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions, so reducing these emissions will be a major contributor to the goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
The key to this is the transition towards zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs). Traditionally, cars have been propelled by an internal combustion engine (ICE) powered by liquid fossil fuels, but vehicles propelled by electric motors are becoming increasingly common.
Battery electric vehicles (BEVs), which are solely powered by electricity stored in an on-board battery, and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), which use hydrogen fuel cells instead of batteries, are classified as ZEVs.
They are only fully ZEVs, however, when the batteries and fuel cells are powered by renewable energy, as opposed to energy generated by fossil fuels.
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), which can be charged with electricity but also contain an ICE that uses liquid fuel, are not classified as ZEVs.
Not only will replacing ICE vehicles with ZEVs reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to better air quality and health, but it will ultimately provide more affordable transport.
The CSIRO projects that electric vehicles will reach purchase price parity with ICE vehicles between 2025 and 2035, and the running costs are already cheaper. Powering an electric vehicle is about 70 per cent cheaper per kilometre than a comparable ICE vehicle, and because they have fewer moving parts, they require less maintenance.
In Queensland, there was a 132 per cent increase in BEV registrations in the 12 months to 28 February 2022 – but that still only accounted for 0.18 per cent of all registered Queensland passenger vehicles.
To drive uptake, the Queensland Government released its Zero Emission Vehicle Strategy 2022-2032 in March 2022, which set the following targets for zero emissions transport.
- 50 per cent of all new light vehicle sales will be zero emissions by 2030, moving to 100 per cent by 2036.
- 100 per cent of QFleet light passenger vehicles will be zero emissions by 2028.
- Every new TransLink-funded bus will be zero emissions from 2025 in South-East Queensland, and from 2025 to 2030 across regional Queensland.
The strategy has also reduced the upfront costs of ZEVs for Queenslanders, with buyers of all new ZEVs under the value of $58,000 now receiving a $3,000 grant.
How will ZEVs be integrated into Queensland’s energy grid as it evolves?
Queensland’s electricity system has traditionally consisted largely of dispatchable generation – generation that can be increased or decreased on command, to ensure supply always meets demand through a centrally coordinated dispatch process. Coal-fired generators and gas turbines are examples of dispatchable generation.
But the system is evolving, and becoming more decentralised. With one in three homes now using solar panels, Queensland has the highest rate of household rooftop solar installations in Australia. Collectively, the energy produced by these rooftops is now the largest renewable generator in the state.
The output of these solar panels can’t be increased or decreased on command – instead, it’s dependent on the weather. During the day, when the sun is shining, these rooftop solar systems can produce an oversupply of energy, which creates challenges for system stability. On the other hand, there’s little solar generation during the times of peak demand for energy from the grid in the morning and the evening.
ZEVs can play their role in the evolution of the grid by soaking up excess energy during the day, and forming part of a more integrated, inclusive and interconnected grid.
Building better charging infrastructure for electric vehicles
It’s ideal for BEV motorists to charge their vehicles during the day, when solar energy is plentiful and cheap. This way, they can soak up excess energy and prevent it from going to waste, and avoid charging at peak times in the evening.
But for this to work, chargers will need to be located in places where people park their cars during the day – places like homes, workplaces, government buildings, shopping centres, hospitals, recreational areas and community facilities.
To that end, the Queensland Government’s Zero Emission Vehicle Strategy – which builds on the existing network of 31 fast charging stations included in the Queensland Electric Super Highway charging infrastructure – includes a $10 million commitment to support more public charging options.
This has since been supplemented with an additional $12 million for charging infrastructure and trials to support the efficient integration of electric vehicles into the energy grid in the Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan.
The Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan also includes a $30 million commitment to make government buildings ZEV-ready.
The state government will also investigate amendments to the National Construction Code to ensure all suitable new buildings are ready for EV charging infrastructure; leverage work on government housing projects to inform planning rules for public spaces and new developments; work with local government to ensure EV charging infrastructure is considered in development assessments; and provide planning and development guidance on electric vehicle charging infrastructure and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.
Building a smarter grid
Ensuring homes and buildings are ZEV-ready will also help the bi-directional capabilities of electric vehicles to be fully utilised.
With the right charging infrastructure in place, the batteries in electric vehicles can double as batteries for the household. This means owners of EVs with vehicle-to-grid capabilities could charge their batteries with solar power during the day, and then use that energy to supplement electricity consumption in their homes at night, or feed it back into the electricity grid at times when the sun isn’t shining.
This is why electric vehicles, along with rooftop solar systems and home batteries, are collectively referred to as Customer Energy Resources (CER) in the Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan. (You might also have heard them referred to as Distributed Energy Resources, or DER.)
The electricity system has traditionally been defined by the one-way flow of electricity from generators to energy customers. But the effective integration of CER into the energy grid will enable households and businesses to get the most out of their investments, and help keep electricity affordable for everyone.
The Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan calls for the development of a two-way energy market, and a smarter distribution grid consisting of millions of interconnected devices – one that will require innovation, new technologies, regulatory reform, new data requirements and new markets to build.
To accelerate the effective integration of CER for all customers, the Queensland Government has committed to a target of 100 per cent penetration of smart meters by 2030, which will provide the data required to manage the two-way flow of energy in real-time.
The government has also committed to increasing the rollout of dynamic connection arrangements for customers. Traditionally, the inverters that connect CER to the grid have been ‘passive’ systems with fixed export levels to avoid overloading the network.
But dynamic connections allow for variable export and import limits, which would allow households and businesses to participate – via a retailer or aggregator – in emerging market opportunities such as energy trading, or become part of a Virtual Power Power Plant, in which CER across a number of different sites work together as a single power plant.
The government will also review the regulatory framework for retailers, to remove the barriers to delivering innovative products and services that would optimise the use of CER.
In other words, it won’t be long until your EV battery doesn’t just power your commute to the office – it’ll also help to power the evolution of the energy grid.