There is a web article about EVs doing the rounds amongst “climate do nothingers”. I’ve no idea who first wrote it, or if it’s genuine. The article is attributed to “An Electrical Contractor In Melbourne”, and it makes some interesting points. You can see the original reproduced here, here and here. It’s important.

The story is that he was trying to install EV charge points in an apartment building in the Docklands area of Melbourne. Ironically and earlier puff-article claims that “Docklands makes the perfect spot for electric car charging infrastructure because it’s such a new development.”

The Electrical Contractor noted that:

  1. The building did not have non-allocated parking spaces, so there is no space that could be shared. This would mean billing would be complicated. However, many houses and home units in cities do not have private garages or driveways, so this could be a real problem in terms of charging and billing. But it can be worked on, and modes of sharing developed.
  2. The power supply in the building was designed for the expected loads in the building with virtually no spare capacity for car charging in any case. This is bad design, but completely plausible and probably quite common as its cheaper. It probably means that with increasing energy use the wiring etc will have to be ripped out soon anyway. People seem to be constantly updating electricity supplies in houses in the city, its certainly happened with places I know of, and whenever a unit block gets pulled down people seem to be able to find the electricity to make it modern.
  3. People are likely to fight over the charging spaces if every apartment cannot have them, so as to increase the value of their units. Quite possibly. This could be overcome by some kind of organising or having the charging spaces be owned by the body corporate (you get access for a couple of hours a day), but it is likely to be a source of contention otherwise. {another writer remarks that you have to get the motion passed at a Strata AGM and people without EVs could hold up the process, as it costs a lot}
  4. There are more statements that the electricity supply and arrangements for the building would have to be updated. Yes, true but we have already agreed on this, and making the same point several times does not add anything.
  5. Melbourne in general does not have enough electricity supply, or routers or feeders. Yes if we are going to ‘electrify everything’ we need to spend on cables, make sure those cables are not vulnerable, and supply improvement and this may have to be done by the taxpayers, as corporate wires owners seem to be reluctant.
  6. He then notices the huge amounts of extra electricity which would have to be generated to supply EVs. Again this is correct. He doubts it could be done with renewables which is fair enough, but possibly not correct. There is no point in doing it, if EVs are to be supplied with electricity generated by emissions intensive fossil fuels.

He concludes that going over to EVs is:

just a greenies dream in the foreseeable future other than in small wealthy countries.
It will no doubt ultimately come but not in the next 20 years.

However, not doing it soon, will result in climate catastrophe, which we probably cannot afford at all. We are already lagging in trying to rebuild or protect destroyed areas that are likely to be destroyed again, or in shifting people elsewhere with less possible destruction. The climate crisis is starting to disrupt efforts to stop it.

Clearly one implied consequence of the article is that we need planning which can take in the complexity of the situation here. Its not just a matter of building and selling EVs, its a matter of the whole system, and interaction between systems, such as the supply and use systems, and the ecological systems.

One retro-solution, which won’t be popular with neoliberals, is to greatly improve public transport and hire car facilities so that people don’t need cars for personal use all the time. That could slow the growth of the problem giving people some time to work it out. However, capitalism destroys commons, and many public transport systems have been privatised (just like the wires and supply), which renders them unlikely to adapt quickly because of the extra cost, the difficulties in cross-corporate planning, and the lowering of profits involved in expansion.

To help solve the problem, we also need to look at places with high levels of EVs now. How are they coping? What are they doing?

As the author notes, the question of where does the energy come from is a major issue. I’d say that despite his doubts renewables and storage could supply it, but not at the current rate of installation, which need to be much higher.

However, this is not easy. The real problem with electrification of everything and replacement of fossil fuel based energy is still ‘where do we get the energy from to build the renewables?’ We don’t have anywhere near enough renewables to build all the renewables we need from renewable energy, while replacing fossil fuel generated energy.

The real problem is that we have left it so long to act we seem to be in an impossible situation, where there is no real solution, especially if we demand increasing energy supplies and use, which we may need so as to repair increasing damage from climate change, and to protect ourselves from climate change.

However, this is the situation we have to deal with. Delaying action for even longer because action is difficult will not help at all.

I still would suggest we need degrowth, and we have a choice between planned degrowth now, or enforced degrowth later as the systems collapse.


An Appendix

A day later David Waterworth a writer on EVs wrote an article about a group of residents in an 18 unit block in Redcliffe. Four of the unit owners had EVs, where there was talk of having one charger. It was obvious that one charger would not be enough for the EVs already present, let alone those that would arrive later. Objects of discussion included

the need for growth, how the power the EVs consume would be paid for, the total amount of power available to the building as a whole, and situating the charging stations in a place that did not disrupt traffic flow in the basement car park.

Waterworth A Solution For Unit Charging Outlets In Apartment Building. Clean Technica 6 October 2022

The solution they came up with was that they

decided to use the money available from the developer [who had planned to install one charging station] together with a top-up from all the residents to install up to two 15-amp power points in each resident’s garage (most units come with a three-car garage[!!!!]). An extra $11,000 was allocated to this project — which is fairly minimal when spread across 18 units. All of the power points are on separate mini-meters which are read every three months. Each unit holder reimburses the Body Corporate for the power they use. The final step in this evolution will be to put a large solar array on the roof of the building. This will reduce the cost of electricity for the Body Corporate. The follow-on benefit of this step is a reduction in the cost to charge EVs, as they will be charged at the cheaper Body Corporate rate.

Waterworth A Solution For Unit Charging Outlets In Apartment Building. Clean Technica 6 October 2022

Obviously nothing stops people using the new power points in their garages for other purposes.

However the problem for people without parking spots remains.


Some further comments

A CitiPower spokesman told Australian Property Investor Magazine that more EVs are being connected to networks in Melbourne and Victoria every day but challenges for apartment owners remained.

“There are ways to manage the electrical peak demand on-site using smart control systems, however, we do recognise that electric vehicles may present a challenge for existing apartment owners,” he said.

CitiPower has recently conducted a major upgrade of its network to support Melbourne’s CBD to ensure security of supply and is enabling the needs for new load connections in both the CBD and Docklands areas.

“Increases in electrical load requirements in specific buildings may trigger the need for a substation upgrade and/or system augmentation,” the CitiPower spokesman said.

“This is normal practice and is similar to new connections and changes to customer load requirements at different premises across our network.

“CitiPower is actively supporting the connection of distributed energy resources, including electric vehicles, by investing in our network and in new technology to support this growth.”

Francis 2022. Charged environment as apartments are prepped for electric cars. Australian Property Investor 26 July

The same Magazine spoke to the NSW government

a spokesperson… said many buildings are not currently designed in a way that easily accommodates the installation of charging infrastructure in the carpark.

“They lack the necessary wiring, electrical infrastructure and accessible space needed to install charging infrastructure.

“Retrofitting EV infrastructure into existing buildings can be expensive and technically challenging; depending on the size, layout and age of the building, this can cost approximately $75,000 for an apartment building with 20 car spaces.

“Ensuring EV electrical infrastructure is built-in when a building is under construction is much cheaper and can save apartment owners at least 75 per cent for the same building size if planned for upfront.

“The NSW Government will update relevant regulations to make sure all new buildings and precincts are constructed and wired to be ‘EV ready’.”

Some of the problems still arise from lack of useful regulation and the question of profits…

The hurdles facing apartment-dwellers who want to use electric vehicles, install solar panels or switch from gas to electric for cooking and heating are not just financial, says Associate Prof Cathy Sherry, of the University of New South Wales law and justice faculty. And for those who rent – about half the people who live in apartments across the country – the barriers can be insurmountable….

Only owners can vote on strata committees, and in many cases the interests of those who live in their apartments and investors are at odds when it comes to improvements that will reduce emissions, but cost money in the short term. [sometimes apartments are even left vacant by investors.]

Kurmelovs 2022 Apartment dwellers face hurdles in the race to install EV chargers. The Guardian 8 May

There are some ‘good stories’ in this article, of gradual switches, say doing solar first to reduce electricity costs, so people have some spare money to move into the chargers.

However the final comment goes to two people who essentially both recommend information and education to help strata management committees looking to make the switch, and a strata-specific grant program to help pay for upgrades to older buildings.

“There are hundreds of thousands of strata schemes in Australia, there’s no point them all reinventing the wheel….. They need mandates and guidance. That’s the reality.”

Kurmelovs 2022 Apartment dwellers face hurdles in the race to install EV chargers. The Guardian 8 May