Charging ahead: the future for the electric vehicle industry
The electric vehicle revolution is off to a modest start, but the electrotechnology industry should now prepare for the surge that’s coming. Peter Vandenheuvel reports.
The looming change in transport will involve more than simply plugging some electric cars into the nearest socket-outlet and seeing what happens.
Any serious electric vehicle (EV) introduction program is going to be much more than that, and make no mistake, our industry is poised to benefit hugely. Changing to EVs will be an immense undertaking, with almost countless facets. So if you are looking for 10 or 20 years of business opportunities then read on.
There is considerable momentum, especially in developed countries, to fully embrace electric road transport. The move may even extend to drone transport for people and freight, given that this mode is likely to use electric power and batteries.
Australia had some 4,000-plus EVs in 2018. However, even on that basis (with yearly sales growth of 65%) in 10 years three-quarters of the million cars sold in that tenth year would make the total EVs in Australia about 1,900,000.
These figures are challenging and will not come about unless buyers of conventional vehicles (private and commercial) are convinced that the convenience and economics of ownership will be the same for an EV.
There were roughly 19 million registered motor vehicles in Australia in 2018 of which about 14 million were passenger vehicles. New car sales hovered about 1.1 million a year for the previous seven years, and the average car was 10 years old.
So the market for EVs and related goods and services will be very large. Also, it does not stop with the purchase of the EV but will involve every EV rollout lifecycle stage as all of the work involving the charging infrastructure as well as much of the traditional mechanical work will shift to the electrotechnology industry.
The effect on our industry will be immense, especially for entrepreneurial contractors, service businesses, engineers, manufacturers and related enterprises, some of which would already be doing their EV homework. Almost every facet of the EV rollout involves dealing with electricity in the low-voltage range, thereby needing an electrical licence.
Our industry will be a front-runner, from domestic installations to larger installs for the top end of business, industry and commerce – and everything in between.
Even with EV production, there are great opportunities in working for those companies wanting to assemble in Australia.
So what makes the change to EVs so appealing? The well-known reality is the internal combustion engine is very inefficient in converting fuel into energy.
This is where EVs have the benefit of the power generation company doing that conversion before users buy the energy, and so it’s already built in to the purchase price.
(It should be noted that AS/NZS 3000 (the Wiring Rules) provides additional information for New Zealand users in Clause 7.9, and for both NZ and Australian users in Appendix P.)
Currently, ‘range anxiety’ is often cited as the most important reason people are reluctant to buy electric cars.
Getting stuck with a flat battery means having to call either a fl at-top tow truck or ‘emergency charge’ rescue service. Jumper leads, taking a can to the nearest servo, or push-start will not fix this problem.
This will remain the primary deal-breaker until a wide-ranging, readily accessible, no-waiting EV charging network becomes a reality.
Anecdotal information published by some EV manufacturers suggests that the typical range is 300- 00km, whereas it is double that for conventional cars.
This uncertainty of how much is left in the ‘tank’, leads to a high degree of ‘comfort and confidence de-rating’ due to:
- charging only to 90% of capacity, as recommended to extend battery life;
- discounting 10% of that figure in case the range indicator is unreliable; and,
- discounting another 10% to be safe rather than sorry.
Because of derating, the 400km range above has now dropped to 292km, just to make sure you are not stranded. If you only charge the EV at home, the trip is just 145km each way.
There are multiple electrotechnology opportunities for enterprising manufacturers to develop:
- on-board universal self-recovery devices for any vehicle regardless of battery type, size and voltage;
- safe and ‘smart’ equivalents to the jumper lead so that one EV can top up another;
- high-capacity after-market on-board batteries as an extra range device or standby (like the spare tyre); and,
- recovery vehicles with large on-board batteries that don’t need fossil-fuel charging between calls.
Some automobile organisations already have fast-charge devices in rescue vehicles that allow an EV to ‘limp’ to the nearest charging station, and the rescue vehicle recharges (using fossil fuels) when travelling between calls.
Charging is typically from an AC supply for lower battery capacities and charging rates, but it can be from a DC supply for higher-rate chargers or charging stations.
There is no ‘standard’ charging connection, and EV owners may need to invest in several adaptors. Four charging modes are detailed in AS/NZS 3000 Wiring Rules (Clause 7.9 for NZ and Appendix P for both NZ and Australia).
EV owners generally talk of the ‘km per hour’ charging rate, as charging speed is as much of a concern as charging point availability. Some charging stations have a limited supply, so they ‘water down’ the charging rate to share the power among the simultaneously-connected users.
Charging times can be from 20 minutes upwards using fast-charge stations and many hours using a 16A socket outlet. This is a far cry from the five minute fill for a conventional vehicle. Charging voltage can vary but it is typically below 1,000V.
These voltages create a serious arcing hazard, especially if the connection hardware is damaged, worn or improperly connected. This needs to be frequently checked.
There are many ways in which our industry can capitalise on the EV transition, for example:
- component manufacturers could explore a lightweight ‘one type fits all’ interface connection to be carried in the EV without losing luggage space (may be different for each charging mode);
- regular inspection, servicing, testing and certifying of the larger charging stations and their charging leads;
- developing or enhancing apps to assist service and delivery enterprises; identifying charging facility options en-route to extend the EV range and reduce premature returns to base.
These will generally be one-off installations, most likely of dedicated 16A or greater socket outlet circuits and also for any flow-on work that may be needed as immediately below.
Taking the average yearly distance travelled as 14,000km, the daily electrical energy requirement per EV would be 4-11kWh (depending on the size and use of the EV). Regardless, the impact on the maximum demand is to be based on the rating of the socket outlet.
This means the incoming (consumer) mains rating can become an important issue. AS/NZS 3000 requires EV charging equipment to be included in the maximum demand for the connected load at 100% for one to five living units per phase, 90% for the next 15 units and 75% for the remainder.
As noted above, it must be based on the rating of the socket outlet supplying the charger, not on the charger rating.
There is an added requirement that each charger ‘should’ have its own socket outlet and be on its own circuit.
As many consumer incoming mains are in the 35A to 50A range, even one added 16A charging socket-outlet can cause an overload. So, when an EV charging point is added, the electrician should do a maximum demand assessment. This can mean a consumer mains upgrade.
It may also go further, requiring upgrading of the distributor lead-in from the street, especially if there is more than one EV and they are on separate socket outlets, as in AS/NZS 3000 Appendix P. Switchboard upgrading or replacement may result, and additional AS/NZS 3000 requirements may apply.
For residential installations with PV there may be some benefit when charging an EV. However, as most cars used for travel to work or used at work will be away during the day, this may not be a solution unless a battery system is installed.
These issues may be exacerbated for those living beyond a city or large town, where the poles and wires may be able to carry only small loads. In such cases, other solutions – including batteries – may have to be considered.
Some retailers may off er tariff reductions, but this can require an extra meter, changing to a smart meter, extra switching or extra meter panel space.
Again it could mean a total switchboard replacement, and other AS/NZS 3000 requirements – such as more residual current devices (RCDs) – may apply.
If substantial surplus PV energy is available, a stationary battery may be considered so that EVs can be charged at any time. It should be remembered that there may be stringent requirements as to where the batteries can be installed.
Also, it is important to note that every point in the charging, discharging and inverter system circuits will involve losses of around 10% at each step and where this involves metered power, these losses will automatically be included in the home occupier’s electricity bill.
All of this offers great opportunities for electrical contractors keen to get involved and become known as EV specialists including;
- installation of socket-outlets and/ or chargers for every residentially-homed EV;
- possible upgrading of consumer mains and power supply in-feeds from the street; and,
- possible upgrading or replacement of switchboards, meter panels and RCDs.
Commercial, industrial, residential, institution and government users are different to domestic users, but some of the same issues may apply.
However, the primary power supply for organisations will be from the grid or other substantial generation source, and for many the cost per kWh and the cost of enterprise-purchased EVs will be considerably lower than for private buyers. The power cost could be as low as 10c per kWh, a far cry from residential rates.
The enterprises that are (or expect to be) charging EVs will fall generally into three categories:
- Those using EVs for day-to-day operations.
- Those providing free or paid charging for employee or customer EVs.
- Those doing EV charging as a business.
Dedicated charging bays sufficient for EV numbers to be charged at any one time will need to be available during charging ‘windows’, which could be outside business hours.
Enterprises with customer parking areas could use them after hours for EV charging, but they would need to be secure from vandals and equipment thieves both to prevent damage and to meet their duty of care to prevent injury (or worse) from vandalised chargers or leads.
Because charging stations or installations in these situations are used on a continuing basis, the maximum demand implications are important. The full current rating of the highest-rated EV charging appliance or its socket outlet must be included, as well as 75% of full load for all the remainder even if not always in use.
If these installations have multiple charging points they will need a maximum demand assessment before installing the outlets or charger stations are installed.
There is a high probability that upgrades to the incoming mains will be needed. Likewise for the incoming or distributor lead-in, especially where there are numbers of EV outlets.
Enterprises in regional or remote communities will have additional special requirements.
For organisations with solar there may be some benefit in charging EVs if they are parked there during the day.
Retailers may off er a tariff reduction for EV charging, but this can again require upgrades or switchboard replacement – which will mean sizeable other works.
If there is substantial surplus PV energy available, batteries may be considered so that EVs can be charged at any time. However, there may be stringent requirements on where these batteries can be installed.
Again, it is important to note that every point in the charging, discharging and inverter system circuits will involve losses of around 10% and where this involves metered power, these losses will be included in the facility occupier’s electricity bill. This would need to be factored into any cost analysis.
In AS/NZS 3000 appendices C (Table C2) and P2, each EV charging connection point is considered to be used at its full rated current in normal use for the highest rating appliance and 75% of the remainder as detailed above. Where more than one connecting point is installed, all points must be included if they can be used simultaneously.
Appendices P3 and P5 note that separate dedicated circuits ‘should’ be provided for each EV, protected by their own RCD. Protection against DC fault current should also be applied where socket outlets or vehicle connectors complying with IEC series 62196 are used.
In addition to Australia’s more than 14 million passenger vehicles there are 4 million freight vehicles.
Even a small proportion of these numbers will mean an additional market with many opportunities for contractors and electricians.
These opportunities include:
- becoming the ‘go to’ business for setting up EV charging;
- identifying, finding, designing and developing EV charging sites;
- upgrading consumer mains and distributor feed-ins;
- upgrading electrical works and switchboards for feed-in upgrades;
- sale and installation of charging stations at workplaces and in multi-residential areas;
- servicing, repairs, maintenance and safety auditing;
- developing regional and remote EV user solutions where the electricity supply rating is limited;
- retrofitting or repurposing car parks and parking stations (ideal charging stations);
- uprating overhead and underground mains and submains;
- installing ‘turnkey’ charging stations and connection points in multiple residential and institutional settings;
- new installations or upgrading systems integrated with PV generation;
- installing batteries where the cost of upgrading the supply is prohibitive or peak loading exceeds installation capability; and,
- securing installations against vandalism or theft.