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Is Australia ready for electric vehicles?

While only comprising around 1% of new car sales, electric vehicles (EVs) are now a policy priority. This year alone, governments in Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT have all announced subsidies for EVs, while the Queensland government is progressing its Electric Super Highway.

But are we ready for them? EVs are projected to account for at least 30% of Australia’s vehicle fleet by 2040, but Australia currently has less than 2,500 charging stations. Combatting ‘range anxiety’ will be key to driving consumer demand for EVs – as such, planning authorities must consider what planning measures can be implemented to accelerate the roll out of EV charging infrastructure.

Key points

  • Car parks and service stations are prime locations to provide EV charging infrastructure;

  • Existing planning controls do not require EV charging infrastructure to be provided and, in the case of service stations, contain assessment criteria that are irrelevant to EVs; and

  • Local governments need to consider whether current planning instruments sufficiently accommodate electric vehicles.

Where will the infrastructure go?

At the moment, EV charging stations are typically small-scale, servicing a few vehicles. If EVs are to become the dominant form of private transport, large-scale charging infrastructure will be needed. 

There are two obvious existing land uses that could easily be converted to cater for this: car parks and service stations.

Car parks

Whether returning home, going to a shopping centre or visiting friends, EV drivers will want to ensure their car is sufficiently charged for their next journey. Installing charging infrastructure in car parks offers convenience for consumers, without compromising existing land use.

Installing this infrastructure will, of course, come at some cost, and governments are unlikely to be able afford all of it, or gain access to private car parks to install it. Developers and building owners will need to contribute, particularly for high rise apartment and commercial developments, where residents and tenants will otherwise have limited ability to connect their vehicles to power themselves. Planning authorities should consider whether their planning schemes include requirements for the provision of charging infrastructure.

Developers may reasonably ask why they should bear the cost of this infrastructure when EV uptake remains low. Achieving consensus between different levels of government and industry on what infrastructure should be provided will be key to ensuring an effective, uniform roll out.

Service stations

For travellers or commuters using EVs, who may not have access to the charging facilities that they would at home or work, service stations present a convenient alternative.

However, traditional environmental and planning controls for service stations are often unsuitable or irrelevant for EV charging stations. Such planning controls and conventions include:

  • Contamination controls: traditional service stations are well-known to pose risks of contamination. As such, service stations are often sited away from “sensitive uses”, such as residential or educational sites. EV charging stations do not pose a similar risk of contamination.

  • Noise and air emissions controls: service stations are generally required to meet noise and air quality criteria, to minimise their adverse amenity impacts on nearby land uses. EV charging infrastructure will not emit odours as petrol stations do and EVs are significantly quieter than internal combustion engine vehicles. These benefits will, however, need to be balanced against additional noise generated by consumers if they are spending longer periods at the service station (discussed below).

  • Co-located uses: service stations are often co-located with facilities aimed at providing ‘convenience’, such as fast food and convenience stores. This is largely because consumers will spend only a short time at a service station. However, without significant reduction in charge times, current EV charging technology will require customers to spend more time at a service station while ‘filling up’. Therefore, service stations may be more appropriately co-located with cafes, restaurants (rather than fast food), retail, public spaces or tourist amenities to enhance drivers’ charging time.

Policy ideas for planning authorities

Given that current provisions do not adequately provide for, or encourage, the implementation of EV charging infrastructure, planning authorities may consider the following ideas to facilitate and accelerate the roll out:

  • potentially introducing a new definition for a ‘charging station’, which could be clearly distinguished from a ‘service station’. This would then also allow planning authorities to introduce new, EV-relevant assessment criteria into their planning schemes;

  • alternatively, authorities may consider lowering the level of assessment (including removing redundant assessment criteria) for ‘service stations’ that cater solely to EVs (and again introducing new, EV-relevant assessment criteria);

  • reducing compliance costs for building approvals, where developers seek to install charging infrastructure into existing buildings;

  • introducing requirements in planning schemes requiring the provision of EV charging infrastructure, particularly for medium and high density residential and commercial developments;

  • using infrastructure charges to fund the government-provided EV charging infrastructure which, in time, could be an alternate government revenue source; and

  • requiring new petrol service stations to be designed so that they can be easily repurposed as EV charging stations in future.

Inadequate charging infrastructure remains one of the key barriers to EV use in Australia. Setting up the right planning controls now will help overcome that. 


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