Preparing energy networks to cope with charging the increasing number of electric vehicles (EVs) on our roads is a major challenge. It’s crucial to make the right decisions to meet the growing demand of today’s users and be ready for what’s coming.

WSP Opus power experts are at the forefront of ensuring our infrastructure is ready for large-scale adoption of EVs. It fair to say this is throwing up a few challenges.

Kristian Jensen, Work Group Manager – Industrial, says the biggest issue is ensuring that power demand for charging EVs can be provided when and where it’s needed.

“The problem is that everyone wants to do things at the same time and that causes a huge spike in power demand. If people plug their cars in to charge when they get home from work that’s going to increase demand, which is why it’s important to strengthen and improve existing infrastructure.” he says.

For instance, it takes the equivalent of powering 200 homes to fuel an electric bus. While WSP Opus has designed and constructed EV charger facilities for double decker buses of up to 430kW, Kristian says this would be woefully insignificant to meet the charging demand of a fleet of heavy trucks being plugged in after their over-night haulage.

As of January 2019, there were approximately 500 public charging station sites across New Zealand, a ratio of 24 cars to one station. Kristian says that, ideally, charge time would be the same as it currently is to refuel a car – under 10 minutes – so this will need to increase in line with an increase in EVs, ideally to a ratio of four cars to one station.

“The fast charge demand of this nature, even for a light EV with a range of 400km can be staggering, especially if the charge station is charging 10 to 12 EVs simultaneously as you would find at a busy fuel station. What would happen if you added three heavy vehicles into that load?”

Kristian says these problems aren’t unique to New Zealand and are being tackled by many international cities by WSP including in Singapore and London.

I was chatting to my WSP colleagues in Sweden recently and they indicated that the biggest investors in EV charging are the food courts at truck stops. They don’t care what ‘fuel’ is being sold as long as they have customers, because if their customer base drops off it directly hits their land value and turnover.

To prevent a backlog of charging, businesses and public spaces will need to ensure that there are enough facilities in place for charging to be staggered efficiently throughout the day. This can be achieved by developing a Station Implementation Programme for in-demand areas, spaces such as workplaces, supermarkets and parking lots; where vehicles can be left for a number of hours.

A workplace conundrum

That said, the ability for workplaces to provide charging facilities may be easier said than done, particularly when it comes to retro-fitting existing buildings.
While electric vehicle ownership is still very much in the hands of individuals, organisations around New Zealand are starting to transition their fleets. This is being driven by the need for businesses and public organisations to demonstrate sustainable practices by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

WSP Opus is no exception and aims to be Carbon Neutral by 2050 through reducing and offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. Given that driving an EV reduces emissions by 80% versus a petrol and diesel equivalent, Ineke Brockie, Group Procurement Manager, says switching the vehicle fleet to EV is a clear solution.

However, as the organisation aims to transition 30% of its pool passenger fleet by the end of the year, one of the challenges is the difficulty of installing charging infrastructure in leased buildings.

“All of our premises are leased buildings and there is an associated cost to us of getting power supply to the carpark. For some sites these costs can be very high. Landlords also have legitimate concerns about the electricity supply and load share of the site, especially for our larger buildings. We also have car parks that are in public spaces, where all of these issues are of concern to landlords. So, while we can put EVs in the fleet, there will be limitations at some sites, meaning we can’t necessarily provide onsite charging facilities at all our premises.”

Insights into these challenges are being incorporated into infrastructure planning, says Kristian, who is confident that the correct infrastructure will be delivered.

“I think EVs will play a pivotal role in New Zealand’s energy future and it’s important we start the discussions today to ensure that we make the right decisions for tomorrow. The type of charging infrastructure installed will ultimately dictate the times we charge our EVs and subsequently the energy demand from the grid. This is how we manage electrical diversity.”

Questions our experts are asking:

  • Where are the vehicles going to sit to be charged?
  • How do we get the power to them?
  • How do we keep them operating?
  • How do we get the range that we need?
  • Who’s going to pay for the investment – and how do you recoup it?