by India Murphy, Energy Magazine Assistant Editor

Chris Mills

Electric vehicles (EVs) are beginning to increase in popularity with more Australians conscious of their environmental footprint, but Australia currently does not have the necessary infrastructure to support the uptake. We spoke to Chris Mills from Evie Networks about the challenges of implementing an EV charging network in Australia and what sets Evie apart from its competitors.

According to the Electric Vehicle Council’s State of Electric Vehicles August 2019 report, Australians purchased 2216 electric vehicles in 2018.

Price and distance to be able to travel per charge remain the two biggest obstacles in consumer uptake.

Evie Networks is currently working to manage the second challenge with the installation of the largest ultra-fast EV charging network along the highways of Australia.

In August 2019, Evie Networks received $15 million in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to help implement the network.

The network will consist of 42 sites, each housing two 350kW chargers capable of charging two cars simultaneously. The sites will cater for all EV models available.

The price of power

According to Mr Mills, the biggest challenge of implementing the network is securing the necessary power connections from the power utilities.

“We’re asking for a high level of power, and the technology of the equipment is quite new.

Power utilities are understandably quite conservative in how they go about introducing new clients, and new energy consumption into the network, because they don’t want to risk the performance of the network.

“So, when they are introduced to a new technology like an ultra-fast charger, which draws a lot of power, there is an understandable reluctance to be quick about it.

“Power utilities want to examine it from every different angle, and they want to make sure that they are not introducing any untoward risks to the network by introducing the chargers.”

Evie Networks is also faced with the challenge of how the power utilities charge for power use. “With publicly available EV charging stations, there are periods of low to no usage and then sudden spikes of power as EV’s draw a charge from these ultra-fast chargers.

Whilst there is a big spike in power demanded at the site, the actual amount of energy drawn is small.

This can result in high demand charges levied by the power utilities, which when amortised across the small amount of energy drawn results in a very large increase in the cost of power supply to EV drivers.

“It becomes a situation where the blind application of historically generated tariffs by the power utilities,  particularly to the supply of power to these ultra-fast chargers, could create a situation where the cost of power is so high that nobody would ever make
the transition.”

Finding the right technology

Evie Networks will install charger technology from Brisbane-based manufacturer, Tritium. The Tritium technology delivers a 350kW charge and according to Mr Mills, it is regarded as one of the best chargers in the world.

As one of the conditions of the ARENA funding, the charger network must use 100 per cent renewables. As Mr Mills put it, “There’s no point electrifying cars, but sourcing your energy from coal.”

Evie Networks will secure a renewable energy certificate before working out their usage profile and pursuing a power purchase agreement (PPA).

“As we get to know our profile, we get to understand our usage patterns, then we can go to a solar farm, or a wind provider, or a combination, and we can then negotiate a PPA,” Mr Mills said.

Electrifying the sharing economy 

“Where we see one of the greatest benefits, particularly in the cities, is to promote electrifying ride hailing,” Mr Mills said.

Ride hailing or ride sharing is hugely popular in Australian capital cities, with Ray Morgan reporting that nearly 4.3 million Australians aged 14 years and older are travelling by Uber in an average three months.

Mr Mills said that Evie Networks is challenged to locate chargers in metropolitan areas to support the popular culture of ride sharing.

“How do you start to locate chargers in metropolitan areas that provides enough electrical vehicle charging infrastructure to encourage Uber drivers who lease petrol cars today, to lease electric vehicles tomorrow?

“If you’re driving a lot of kilometres, like an Uber driver does, then you quickly get to the stage where the total cost of ownership of an electric car is the same as a petrol car.

“Whilst the purchase cost is more expensive, the fuel costs and the servicing costs are much cheaper. But Uber drivers won’t make the transition to an electric car because there’s no network of publicly available fast-charging infrastructure to get their charge.

“An Uber driver typically drives about 300km a day. And a battery is typically around, current battery size is typically around 300km, so they’ll need a quick top-up during the day.

“They need to be confident that they can get a charge somewhere during the day so that they can do their full day and get home at night-time.

So you need to make sure that you can place these chargers where Uber drivers get reasonable access to them.”

Putting the customer first

Evie Networks believe that customer service is central to our business. When choosing sites to host EVs, Mr Mills said it is important to consider the customer experience over the ability to quickly set up a site.

“We have very strict criteria on the sites that we select,” he said.

“It’s really important to make sure that the customer has security, convenience, and amenities at the charging site.

“If all I cared about was how quickly I could acquire the sites and get them built, then I would go to locations where there are no planning constraints, like industrial areas. I would negotiate deals with people in the back of depots.”

The customer experience at charging stations is particularly important as unlike traditional petrol stations, drivers need to be spending around 20 minutes to half an hour for their EV to charge.

“If it’s like two o’clock in the morning, and you need to charge, and the charger that you go to is in the back of a depot and it’s dark.

You’ve got to be there for 20 minutes, half an hour to charge your car. We wouldn’t allow that.

“I have a very simple rule, would I let my daughter Georgia charge her car in that location at two o’clock in the morning? If the answer’s no, we don’t touch it.

“Doesn’t matter how quick we can get the site, doesn’t matter how easy it would be to build, doesn’t matter how cheap it would be to build, we would not touch it.”

Where to from here?

With a clear mandate in mind, and the most recent funding Evie Networks has secured from ARENA, the company is now focused on delivering the network it has promised.

“We have estimated that Australia needs around 350 sites to cover all the highways that make up Australia’s National Land Transportation Network.

While many consumers will charge at home, they will also need plenty of fast chargers in towns, suburbs and cities.

There are currently around 6500 petrol stations in Australia, so these 350 sites will be just the beginning of the infrastructure build out.

“Our focus is very much on a quality charging experience. Our sites will be co-located with on-site amenities and convenience stores; they will feel safe and secure, with 24/7 access, lighting and security; and availability of a charger will be assured, with at least two ultra-fast chargers at every site.”

As the development of the network continues to progress in the coming months, Evie Networks will soon be announcing the location of multiple sites across New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.

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