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Enabling infrastructure

Enabling infrastructure is a new category in the Low Emissions Technology Statement (LETS) 2021, identifying technologies and infrastructure that are essential for enabling commercial deployment of low emissions technologies and supporting consumer choice.

The government will take strategic and targeted action to ensure enabling infrastructure are available to support commercial investment and consumer uptake. Government action will also be focused on ensuring energy affordability for businesses and consumers.

The government’s first enabling infrastructure priorities are:

  • battery charging and hydrogen refuelling stations to support consumer choice in electric vehicles
  • a digital grid with enhanced management systems and capabilities to support rapid growth in solar and wind generation.

Electric vehicle charging and refuelling infrastructure

There are broadly two types of electric vehicles (EVs):

  • Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are electric vehicles that exclusively use electrochemical energy stored in rechargeable battery packs to power one or more electric motors, with no secondary source of propulsion. BEVs require battery charging to restore the electrical energy in the battery by connecting it to a power supply.
  • Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are electric vehicles that use electricity from a fuel cell powered by compressed hydrogen. FCEVs require hydrogen refuelling stations to refill the FCEVs hydrogen tanks in much the same way as a conventional petrol or diesel vehicle.

The voluntary uptake of BEVs and FCEVs by consumers and businesses in Australia has been hampered by:

  • higher vehicle upfront costs
  • limited deployment of public charging and refuelling stations
  • lack of model variety.

Global advances will see electric vehicles reach cost parity with internal combustion engine vehicles, potentially around the middle of this decade.[16]

However, the market is likely to supply too few chargers for BEVs in rural and regional areas due to a lower population density and slower increase in demand. More chargers are needed to fill ‘charging blackspots’ across metropolitan, regional and rural Australia.

Hydrogen refuelling stations will need to develop in line with FCEV deployment to ensure commercial viability in Australia.

The government is backing battery charging and hydrogen refuelling stations to enable greater consumer choice and support demand for electric vehicles in Australia.

The government has created the $71.9 million Future Fuels Fund to support businesses to integrate new technology vehicles into their fleets and deliver battery charging and refuelling stations across capital cities and key regional centres, helping to improve motorist confidence. 

In July 2021, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), on behalf of the Australian Government, announced $24.5 million of funding for round one of the Future Fuels Fund. This investment will build 403 fast charging stations for battery electric vehicles in ‘charging blackspots’ around the country, including: Sydney, Newcastle, Central Coast, Wollongong, Melbourne, Geelong, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and Darwin.

Further investment will be required to prepare for a rapid increase in the number of consumers choosing electric vehicles, including to:

  • increase availability of public battery charging and hydrogen refuelling stations
  • ensure that electricity networks can handle the increase in charging from households and businesses.

As demand for vehicle charging increases, we will need to consider possible impacts on electricity grid security and reliability. The government is continuing to work directly with the states and territories and through the Energy Ministers Meeting to enable and incentivise BEV charging that will effectively and efficiently integrate BEVs into the National Electricity Market.

Smart charging for optimised grid integration

Fast charging infrastructure will be essential for long-range BEV driving across Australia. However, estimates suggest 75% of charging will occur at home.[17]

Increased numbers of electric vehicles being charged at home at peak times could overload existing electricity networks, and require investment in distribution networks, which would be borne by all network users.

Investment in low power smart charging infrastructure will be required to optimise grid integration of BEVs. When coordinated and managed effectively by aggregators and grid operators, BEV charging offers a new form of flexible demand that could support the security, reliability and affordability of the electricity system for all energy users. Deployment of smart chargers will minimise the need to further invest in network upgrades.

Digital grid

Australia's electricity system is experiencing rapid growth in distributed and grid-scale renewable generation. At the same time, coal-fired power plants are progressively retiring. These changes will deliver continuing deep emission reductions in the electricity sector, support for decarbonisation in on-grid industrial sectors and the emergence of a clean hydrogen industry. LETS 2020 prioritised storage to firm renewable electricity as a critical technology to support this transition.

The transformation of Australia’s electricity system is making the planning, investment and operation of the grid more complex. Existing software systems and capabilities were not designed to cater for large amounts of variable renewable generation. An enhanced digital operating system is imperative for the Australian Electricity Market Operator (AEMO), together with market participants such as generators, networks and policy makers, to continue to manage a changing grid in a way that is:

  • effective
  • efficient
  • secure
  • reliable.

AEMO is world leading in responding to these changing needs, and has already begun to develop this operating system. This has involved taking a modular cloud-based approach that will enable the system to be built in a progressive and adaptive way. An initial investment of $13 million, including more than $2 million from ARENA, is already under way to develop a foundation module and a connections module. The foundation module creates a ‘digital twin’ of the National Electricity Market at transmission scale, including every grid-connected solar and wind farm in the system, to enable high-resolution grid simulations a hundred times faster than before. The connections module will help integrate solar, wind and storage faster and at lower cost by allowing modelling against the wide area network whilst protecting intellectual property of existing assets that are connected to the grid.

The government will support the ongoing expansion of an enhanced operating system, to ensure the full suite of capabilities needed to manage high levels of variable and distributed electricity generation are available over time.

The next priority identified by AEMO is the development of a distribution system module. This module will allow various distribution networks and AEMO to integrate distributed energy resources and distribution networks with the transmission-level system in the grid simulation. In partnership with the distribution businesses, this will help manage generation from rooftop solar, firming from residential and community batteries, electric vehicle charging and energy security. This will be particularly useful for rooftop solar, the output of which is weather dependent.

Other tools and capabilities for future development could include:

  • similar modules for the Western Australian electricity market
  • predicting operational constraints from renewables to inform electricity market operations and investments
  • linking real-time grid operating data with the simulated grid
  • adoption of precision weather forecasting for planning
  • integration of gas systems and markets
  • accurate frequency response modelling.

Enhanced operating systems will underpin the grid control rooms of the future across the world. For AEMO and policy makers, these systems are critical to the planning, design and operation of future electricity grids and markets. They will assist in the efficient development of the National Electricity Market through the Integrated System Plan, and post-2025 reforms. These systems will also reduce uncertainty and risk for developers and investors, and facilitate capital flows.

AEMO is not the only system operator facing the technical challenges posed by higher penetration of distributed and variable renewable electricity. Leading system operators around the world are now beginning to prioritise the development of new operating systems such as these. AEMO is currently one of the international leaders in this area. As a foundation member of the Global Power System Transformation (G-PST) consortium, and with government support, AEMO will continue to collaborate with other grid operators in the development of advanced digital grids.

G-PST Consortium

The G-PST is an international group of electricity system operators collaborating with leading international researchers to accelerate the transition to low emissions, low-cost, secure and reliable power systems. The G-PST represents a major global commitment to implementing technologies and approaches to permanently reduce emissions trajectories, while simultaneously improving grid reliability, resilience, and security. AEMO is a founding member of the G-PST and, with CSIRO, leads the Australian research delegation contributing to the Consortium.

Footnotes

  1. McKinsey 2019, Making electric vehicles profitable, accessed 9 August 2021
  2. McKinsey 2018, Charging ahead: Electric-vehicle infrastructure demand, accessed 9 Aug 2021