Huge impact coming for NESMA members from road transport electrification

NESMA members face unprecedented demand for their technologies in the years immediately ahead as demand for industrial and commercial transport electric vehicles surges.

“The switch from diesel and petrol to electric vehicles will add more than 40 per cent to total electricity consumption nationally,” says Electric Vehicle Council (EVC) Head of Energy and Infrastructure, Ross De Rango.

“That is the impact coming from road transport alone – not counting rail or other sectors – so demand for switchboards and technologies from NESMA members will be massive,” says Ross, who has authored landmark EVC studies of the impact on the Grid of EV charging by 2030. The next full study is expected to be released mid-year.

Electric Vehicle Council (EVC) Head of Energy and Infrastructure, Ross De Rango, pictured, sees the demand for switchboards and technologies from NESMA members being massive, as demand for electric vehicles continues to rise across Australia
Electric Vehicle Council (EVC) Head of Energy and Infrastructure, Ross De Rango, pictured, sees the demand for switchboards and technologies from NESMA members being massive, as demand for electric vehicles continues to rise across Australia

In this article, exclusive to NESMA members, he was responding to points raised by NESMA in the interests of advancing the switchboard manufacturing industry’s awareness of the challenges and opportunities arising from EVs.

Ross says the impact on the grid of domestic EV charging will be less dramatic than the impact from the transport industry, provided domestic EV charging is encouraged at off-peak times, as recommended by the EVC, and homeowners are encouraged towards self-consumption of their solar power, rather than feeding it back to the grid through FIT arrangements.

But the impact of demand from industrial and commercial transport, and of public high power charging, will have a profound impact on the switchboard and broader technologies produced by NESMA members to meet State and Federal government targets to increase EV sales to more than 50 per cent by 2030–31 and help achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

“Just look at the impact on small service stations alone, for example, that install a couple of high-power rapid chargers. Their electrical supply might increase from 160-250 Amps to 350-500 Amps or more. This will often mean a new switchboard, either to replace the existing switchboard or in addition to it as part of a second point of supply to the site.

The impact of demand from industrial and commercial transport will be profound. Australia’s existing heavy vehicle fleet, which includes nearly 360,000 rigids over 4.5t GVM and more than 105,000 articulated trucks, which each year carry about 175 million tonne-kilometres (tkm) of freight in this country, accounting for nearly 80 per cent of the total

“There are thousands of service stations out there – more than 6000 nationally – and there will be thousands more high speed public charging stations,” says Ross, who is a robotics engineer by background, and has spent the last six years getting involved wherever the Standards, codes and regulations relating to the electrical infrastructure supporting EVs in Australia are being considered.

He has been closely involved in the development of minimum requirements for buildings in Australia in relation to EV readiness, and in work preparing the energy system for the wide scale adoption of EVs.

Ross notes that, while electricity consumption has been growing relatively slowly over the last ten years, this is on track to change.

“Electrical energy consumption is pushed upwards by rising population, and downwards by increasing efficiency of appliances. The transition away from gas for heating, and away from petrol and diesel for transport, will mean that overall, we’ll be using a lot more electricity in future.

This in turn will lead to switchboard upgrades to increase capacity for EVs.

“Apartment complexes today require additional distribution boards, supplied from the building main switchboard, in order to support future uptake of EVs. This is driven by the National Construction Code. While this doesn’t mean the supply needs to be larger, the switchboard will need the spatial allowance to support more distribution boards.

“Where the EV charging requirements at the building can’t easily be met off-peak, or are significant in size, they’ll need larger electrical connections to the grid, and bigger switchboards.

Solar supplements power

“In commercial buildings where it’s convenient for EV charging to happen during the day – for example, most future workplace car parks – the increasing presence of EVs can be expected to make commercial solar installations more attractive.

“This will in turn increase the degree to which building managers look to install commercial scale solar systems, which will create requirements for switchboard modifications and upgrades.”

Ross says it would be good practice from now on to include provision for PV in any switchboard supporting a building with a roof on which PV might, in future, be installed. The National Construction Code can reasonably be expected to address this going forward.

Opportunity to upgrade to latest Standards including AU 61439

Ross shares NESMA’s priorities on Standards and Compliance. “Where an old switchboard is being replaced with a new one, there’s opportunity to bring it into alignment with more recent Standards,” he says.

“There’s also the opportunity to consider EVs, Solar, and Gas transition at one time – if the reason for upgrading the switchboard in a commercial building is to support EV charging in the car park, the switchboard designer should be asking the client whether the building is considering a future installation of solar, or a future transition away from gas for heating, so that provision can be made in the design.

“When optimising design choices, it is far better to pick these all up in one go, rather than have a disappointed client in five years’ time thinking, “If only we’d taken care of *this* when we did *that*.”

Bigger substations needed to handle the larger capacities

Some EV charging requirements can be expected to trigger upstream network augmentation requirements, at transformer, feeder, or even zone substation level. “

“This is especially likely in examples like large bus and truck depots, and in settings like regional freight corridors. Big trucks use a lot of energy – recharging lots of them quickly will take a large supply.”

Draw for EVs varies hugely. In addition to about 465,000 heavy trucks, Australia has nearly 100,000 registered buses

Ross notes that current draw for EV varies hugely. “Charging a car at home can be done on a standard 10A socket outlet (2.4kW, single phase). The highest power car chargers being deployed in Australia today are 350kW, which means about 500 Amps three phase per charger. High speed truck chargers will, in some cases, be bigger than this

“In some cases, EV charging will be able to be scheduled so that it doesn’t contribute to maximum demand. In other cases, the electrical installation will need to be designed to support the full rated load of the EV charging hardware, when everything else on site is in full operation.

“Understanding the future needs of the vehicles and the drivers will be key to the industry delivering switchboards that will stand the test of time.”