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25 February 2019 Chloe Brigden

New Zealand is just starting to pick up the pace on its electric fleet; surpassing the 10,000-benchmark last year; reaching 12,195 last month.

The gradual upsurge in demand in Electric Vehicles (EV's) comes partly as an upshot of the Governments pledge to lower New Zealand's carbon emissions by investing in the infrastructure for an electric network. In 2016, the Ministry of Transport (MoT) announced an Electric Vehicle Programme- setting a bold target of 64,000 electric vehicles (EV’s) on New Zealand roads by 2021. At the time, there was just over 1000 EV's on NZ roads.

Since 2017 a contestable fund of up to $7 million per year has been invested in the programme. 

Additional factors fueling the demand include improved market perception plus, the falling cost of batteries that in effect - will lower the price of EV's moving forward. 

Globally WSP experts are recommending the adoption of electric vehicles in both public and private spaces. Our works towards battery powered public transport across the globe; including work here in New Zealand for the Greater Wellington Regional Council and Tranzit, electric double-decker bus rollout and converting our own WSP fleet to EV’s– whilst offering global advisory has allowed us to collaborate with policymakers, fleet operators and various levels of government to achieve a greener mobility alternative

Now, our electrical and transport engineers and designers are working to ensure that New Zealand will meet the government's targets. But the question stands...Can we do it?  

Can New Zealand's current Infrastructure support 64,000 EV's?

“Presently no,” says Kristian Jensen, Industrial Work Group Manager of Electrical Infrastructure.

“But, that’s not to say we won’t. It’s just ensuring our ducks are lined up first to support the grid and ensure that the power demand can be provided when and where it's needed”.

Raj Chand, WSP Opus Principal Electrical Engineer agrees, “The greater the demand for EV’s the greater the impact on our energy infrastructure network.”

Today, the infrastructure that surrounds the support of EV’s can be split into the following three categories:

  • Power generation; to supply the increase in demand
  • Power transmission and distribution; in other words, the wires, poles and switches needed to get the power to the consumer and connected
  • The physical and digital connection to the charger(s)

Below Raj and Kristian discuss the elements that must be considered for all three. 


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As of January 2019, there are approximately 500 public charging station sites across New Zealand ( Leading the Charge, 2019). That’s a ratio of 24 cars to one station. To efficiently facilitate 64,000 EV’s, Raj believes that New Zealand will need to increase the ratio to approximately 4:1. This in turn, will pull on our electric resources. 

 “On average the full capacity of an EV (these days) is around 32KWh of power. Let’s round this up to 40KWh as it is reasonable to expect a higher capacity of batteries within the next generation.” Say’s Raj.

“To charge 500 stations requires approximately 25,360 KWh of power. Determining the figure for 64,000 EV’s is a little hazier, but an educated estimation would sit around 6GWh; this is based on the average EV doing 60KM per day.”

To put this into perspective – this morning (25th Feb) New Zealand was generating 5.5 GWh of electricity. 

But it would be unreasonable to assume that all 64,000 cars would charge at the same time, meaning the above isn’t as discouraging as it looks.

“If we can implement a programme that ensures that our grid won't buckle; by simply staggering the charge throughout the day, then we have a shot of managing an infrastructure that will cope.” Say’s, Kristian.

What we must consider is – the type of charging infrastructure installed will ultimately dictate the times we charge our EV’s and subsequently the energy demand from the grid. This is how we manage electrical diversity.

“New Zealand’s electricity sector will meet demand through the use of new technologies and require a wide mix of renewable energy technologies, consisting of grid-connected generation (primarily wind and hydro), plus a range of distributed technologies (primarily solar and batteries).– Te Mauri Hiko

Transmission and Distribution

As it stands, there are two types of charging infrastructure available. An AC system that takes between 3-8 hours to fully charge and a DC system that can charge a vehicle to 80 per cent in 30 minutes (roughly). 

The problem with DC charging infrastructure is although it’s much more efficient, they are costlier than their AC counterpart; costing as much as $100,000 to install. And, because EV’s are still a relatively new concept, the government and private sector are likely to test the waters with AC before rolling out a pricier DC plan.

However, both will change our off-road behaviours.

“EV’s are not at the same stage (yet!) as petrol cars, where fuelling will take five minutes. Consumers will have to adjust and adapt their behaviours to sufficiently fuel their cars. The average EV owner will have no choice (initially) but to charge their vehicle at work, at home or whilst parked.” Says Kristian.

To prevent a backlog of charging, businesses and public spaces must 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.” Say’s Raj.

In January last year, Energy Minister Megan Woods announced a $3.74 million rollout of public charging stations across New Zealand. $800,000 was granted to Foodstuff, owner of Pak ‘n Save and Four Square – as they pledged to install charging infrastructure around their network of stores.

Countdown followed suit in November, installing three DC charging stations at five of its Waikato supermarkets (Countdown, 2018). This came after an approved grant of $300,000 from the Energy Efficiency Conservation Authority (EECA)

New Zealand’s workforce is also feeling the pressure. Westpac, Waste Management, Go Rentals, Generator, Arup and ABB not to mention New Zealand’s largest energy and automotive suppliers are all members of Drive Electric – a non-for-profit EV membership forum for businesses.

Although we are seeing an uptake in private and government investment, we should still be prepared for an influx of overnight charging, as ultimately, this will be more convenient for drivers.

“Within the proposed implementation programme, public infrastructure should also be installed in in-demand neighbourhoods.” Believes Kristian.

“We’ve already seen initiatives like this being rolled out overseas. Ubercity is installing EV charging lampposts on high demand blocks in London and LA (Elective, 2018). Plus, we are seeing a general uptake of shared stations amongst trending suburbs across the world.

New Zealand shows to be following suit; between June and July last year, Wellington City Council (WCC) conducted a trial of at least 50 electric vehicle on-street charging points for residents who do not have the infrastructure to sufficiently charge at home (Wellington City Council, 2018).  

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Behind the Meter Technology

 Behind the meter technology covers the cogs needed to facilitate New Zealand’s growing electric fleet. The wiring inside of a building, the charging stations themselves, battery storage and peer to peer trading platforms – are just a few of the tangible infrastructures that are needed to replace New Zealand’s existing infrastructure. 

The activity required is wide-ranging for several stakeholders. From utility to the generator and transmission companies.

“We must also consider the soft systems; the demand-side load response – i.e. consumer self-restriction of peak loads based on some tariff or financial incentives.” Say’s, Kristian.

As the demand for renewable energy rises, so will the price for consumers. “The solution for such will have to be widespread and will probably need government intervention along with some specialised soft-finances, like a green investment bank to help companies through such change.”

“Plus, generation will have to be sized for both average and peak loads. We can assume that peak-loading of the grid will happen in the early hours of the morning and late evenings; this will ultimately affect the design of New Zealand’s EV infrastructure.”

There are a couple of solutions for overcoming the impact of peak-loading. One includes retailers offering special time tariffs to large consumers. This can be offered to both commercial and residential consumers. However, a large user such as New World, for instance, can choose to Re-schedule their peak demand and gain a financial benefit.

Bulk Food suppliers are already testing this with their chillers. The idea is to limit the operation of chillers during peak periods – by reducing the access to cold rooms (i.e. re-scheduling loading and off-loading to non-peak times) This, in turn, means the temperatures are more stable during peak energy demand times and less demand is incurred on running the chillers. When added to improved efficiency cold rooms, cold room doors and chillers, the financial savings can be appreciable over time.

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Final Thought

Above are just three face-value infrastructural components that are being considered in the development of New Zealand’s electric future.

“Although I feel very optimistic that New Zealand will someday meet the MoT’s target, there are still a number of non-infrastructural challenges to be considered.” Says Raj.

"For example, we need to ensure that the correct policies and price signals are in place to ensure that the cost of infrastructure is paid for by the people who benefit from the technology." 

"Compared to just a decade ago, we have a lot more choices now when buying an electric car, and as technology, battery and range improve, we will see prices drop.” 

Last year, analysts predicted that the total cost of ownership of electric cars will dip below those with internal combustion engines in 2022 (The Guardian). 

"I think EV's 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." 

“I am encouraged that our country is beginning to engage in conversation about the important issues surrounding our energy future.” Te Mauri Hiko.


 WSP Opus talks at Downstream NZ 2019

What is the future shape for energy companies (when you don’t know where your client is)?  The definition of an energy company isn’t so straightforward as it used to be. Kristian JensenProject Director of Utilities and Electrical hosted a round table talk at this year's Downstream conference. Keep your eyes peeled on our News and Publications page as we follow up with Kristian's 5 takeaways, including FAQ's, themes of discussions and potential solutions for utility and distribution companies.