Emerging challenges for Australia electric vehicle charging infrastructure

Peter Holcombe Henley, William Deng
26 Sep 2022 Time to read: 4 MIN

Structural challenges are emerging for Australia’s new EV charging infrastructure, with growing concerns regarding inter-operable access to charging stations, charging station availability, maintenance and customer behaviour while charging and trip planning.

Current Australian policies and programs to develop the charging network

Across Australia, there has been a push from state governments to construct and support an expanding network of Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) (often referred to as “charging stations” or “charging points”) to both drive and satisfy an ever-increasing growth in the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs).

Commitments by State Governments include:

  • Western Australia’s build of the world’s longest continuously connected electric highway, installing 98 EVSEs over 6,600kms and costing a total of $43.5 million.
  • Queensland’s $10 million co-funding commitments for contribution towards building fast charging infrastructure for local government and industry throughout the state.
  • Victoria’s $19 million for the rollout of EVSEs for Victorian Government’s commercial EV fleets and destination charging throughout regional Victoria.
  • NSW's $149 million investment into developing charging network across the state, including co-funding private industry development of fast-charging stations.

Overseas comparisons – Europe and the United States

The push for EVSE and larger EV fleets is also being mirrored around the world.

In the US, the Biden-Harris Administration has:

  • committed to the goal to build the first US national network of 500,000 EVSEs along the US’s highways by 2030; and
  • secured $7.5 billion USD for EV charging infrastructure, of which:
    • $5 billion USD is to fund the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program for individual states to build out their charging networks; and
    • $2.5 billion USD is to be offered in competitive grants to support community and corridor charging in under-served and overburdened communities.

In Europe, the recent decision of the European Parliament to mandate that all new car and van sales should be zero emissions from 2035 has also spurred EV sales and EVSE construction across the EU.

Maintenance gaps result in out-of-service charging stations

Despite commitments to the roll-out of fast and standard EVSEs across Australia and overseas, there is a growing chorus of discontent from EV owners, who complain of EVSE outages, unavailability and impact on travel plans, which is now receiving media attention.

Flooding, equipment damage or failure, missing parts and delayed maintenance responses are all cited as reasons for outages by EV users. While some of these problems are inevitable, outages for the same issue can last for weeks, if not months, permeating the whole charging network, causing unreliability for consumers.

As consumers, councils, governments and other corporations make the full-time switch from traditional internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) to EVs, the reliability and maintenance of EVSE will become an increasingly critical factor in the pace of EV uptake, and may also have commercial and legal implications for EVSE suppliers, installers and operators.

Contract and business models that may plug the gap

A key lesson from this emerging issue is to provide greater focus in the procurement process to the operational phase of an EVSE install. As has been noted by Thomas Caldwell, Global CTO of Techniche, writing recently in Forbes: "Runaway repair costs can easily ruin the ROI on an EV charger investment."

However, a proper maintenance and service structure is not always a simple task to achieve. To do so, parties must navigate a variety of commercial and legal complexities including:

  • identifying who takes the long-term risk of EVSE availability: is it a fuel company, an energy provider, a commercial retailer or government agency?
  • understanding an asset’s life-cycle management from station design and installation to operations and refresh / decommissioning;
  • ensuring both software and hardware support, particularly for EVSE software licensed and supported by a third-party provider;
  • aligning various contractual and financial incentives to achieve a commercial and viable support and maintenance outcome throughout the equipment’s lifecycle; and
  • providing an effective, reliable and appealing end-user outcome and experience.

A variety of installation and service models are available in the market currently, which range from:

  • a basic EVSE installation service, where customers buy the EVSE outright and may receive ongoing product warranties and basic software support; to
  • a full infrastructure-as-a-service subscription model, where the customer has no ownership and simply pays a periodic fee for a guaranteed level of EVSE availability and performance.

Factors to consider in entering such contracts include:

  • Is the EVSE providing a standalone service, or is it intended to support other commercial or operational benefits?
  • Is there opportunity to levy usage fees on some or all users of the EVSE, and will those fees apply to unknown third parties / the general public, or to employees / contractors for whom other charging frameworks may be available?
  • What is the physical layout of the facility, and are existing facility management arrangements sufficient to accommodate longer-term support and maintenance arrangements for EVSE?
  • How scalable is the EVSE offering, and how many EVSE installations can be made before the existing electrical infrastructure of a site needs to be enhanced?

Customer behaviour: do we need new etiquettes (or rules)

Beyond user frustrations with EVSE outages, there is also a growing debate about the ‘normal’ etiquette for using public EVSEs ranging from regular reports of non-EV users parking in public charging sites (or “ICE-ing”) or EV users parking in those sites without charging to monopolisation of public fast-chargers where there are no usage limits in place.

In November 2019, the Transport and Infrastructure Council (now, the Infrastructure and Transport Ministers’ Meetings) approved the Australian Road Rules Amendment 2019, providing draft legislation to make offences of improperly parking in public charging sites. To date, these amendments have been implemented by Victoria, the Northern Territory and Queensland, with other States and Territories to follow suit in the near future.

As driver numbers and available bays for EVSE increase, we expect to see further reform in this area.

Network challenges for major station upgrades

Substantial EVSE installations may require electricity network connections to be upgraded.

For example, as part of the Victorian Government's Zero Emissions Bus Trial, electrical substation upgrades have been required to provide necessary power requirements to bus depots. As hub or depot EVSE installations increase in other transport sectors (such as hire cars and logistics / corporate fleets), significant further upgrades are likely to be required.

Since 2021, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has been funding projects to expand the public charging network to address EV charging blackspots, increase public take-up and better understand how the emerging market will function. Significantly, the projects are also designed to ensure renewable energy is used to power all charging sites, and aim to provide insights into:

  • the impact of public fast charging on the electricity grid;
  • the effect of existing tariffs on EVSE use-cases; and
  • the relationship between EV uptake, utilisation and charger congestion.

The outcomes of ARENA's analysis will be critical in informing how energy and transport sectors can integrate renewable energy generation into an enhanced grid infrastructure to support decarbonisation goals, and in identifying the legal and commercial risks and opportunities this presents.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.