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Power bills will soar unless government prepares for electric vehicles, top adviser warns

By Nicole Hasham / The Sydney Morning Herald / 18 October 2018

Main Image: A top government infrastructure adviser says the electric vehicle shift is inevitable, but governments and industry need to start planning.

A top national infrastructure adviser has warned Australia risks being “caught flat-footed” by the electric vehicle revolution, leaving consumers to pay more for electricity if governments and industry fail to act.

The massive scale of the transport changes have been likened to the shift from steam to diesel trains by Peter Colacino, executive director of policy and research at the federal government agency Infrastructure Australia. His comments add to concerns that the Coalition government has done little to support or plan for electric vehicles, and raise questions over whether it is exploring all options in its vow to lower power bills and improve electricity reliability.

As the power grid shifts to renewables, electric vehicles promise to slash transport emissions, improve air quality and reduce Australia’s reliance on imported fuel.

In a statement expected to be presented to a Senate inquiry into electric vehicles in Canberra on Thursday, Mr Colacino said the transition was “inevitable”. While uptake of electric vehicles in Australia has been slow – they accounted for just 0.2 per cent of sales last year – international trends suggested this would soon accelerate.

“As major car manufacturers and countries transition to electric vehicles and hybrids, Australia will have little choice but to follow suit,” Mr Colacino’s statement says.

“It is critical that governments and industry are not caught flat-footed.”

Experts including Chief Scientist Alan Finkel say the grid has the capacity to meet projected electric vehicle demand.

However Mr Colacino said Australian regulators and industry must prepare for the effects on the power system and demand at peak times of the day.

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel recharging an electric car CREDIT: REBECCA HALLAS

Infrastructure Australia analysis indicates the daily energy required to charge an electric vehicle is up to half the energy consumption of an average house, and the Australian Energy Market Operator has forecast that electric vehicles will significantly increase grid consumption within a decade.

Mr Colacino said the potential costs of investment in electricity generation to meet the requirements of electric vehicles was vast. In Victoria alone, investment up to $9.7 billion by 2046 may be needed, Infrastructure Victoria estimates.

Network infrastructure would also need upgrading to cope with the increased electric vehicle load, “a cost which is inevitably worn by consumers and taxpayers,” he said.

To keep electric vehicles from adding to peak demand, Mr Colacino said charging must occur in a managed way “and not simultaneously when most people arrive home at 6pm”, when usage and prices are typically higher.

However there were currently “limited incentives” for electric vehicle users to charge their vehicles at off-peak times such as during the day or late at night.

“Customers need information to help them decide when best to charge their electric vehicle to avoid high network costs. To achieve this they will require cost-reflective pricing tariffs and smart meters,” he said.

In January this year, then-environment and energy minister Josh Frydenberg heralded the electric car “revolution”. He promised better co-ordination and warned of the need for sufficient electricity system planning.

But Electric Vehicle Council chief executive Behyad Jafari told Fairfax Media that “close to nothing has been done” by the federal government to address the potential grid issues.

Tesla, the manufacturer of the Model S electric vehicle, has said “government leadership” is the main barrier to increase uptake in Australia.

If electric vehicles did cause grid problems it was not the fault of the technology, but a failing of regulators and government, he said.

“If you continue to not do your jobs, there is a potential harm when there could have been a potential benefit,” he said.

“We’ve seen local and state governments taking steps but nothing yet from the federal government. The closest they’ve come is a review on vehicle emissions that started in 2015, and we are still waiting [for the review to be finalised].”

In a submission to the inquiry, electric car maker Tesla, headed by controversial entrepreneur Elon Musk, said government leadership was the main barrier to increasing electric vehicle uptake in Australia.

Comment has been sought from Energy Minister Angus Taylor.


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