Overcoming challenges to the adoption of electric vehicles in Australia


Kristian Handberg,
Project Manager
– Electric Vehicle
Trial, Dept of
Interview with Kristian Handberg, Project Manager – Electric Vehicle Trial, Dept of Transport (Victoria, Australia)

What are the main/current challenges in the industry?

The main challenge for the industry is the relatively small market in the near-term in which to recoup investment. For automakers, charging infrastructure providers and even commercial property owners, the return on investment is challenging at best and requires a long term outlook. And for the key influence on market growth, vehicle purchase prices, automakers are unable to pursue discounting in the near term while expensive R&D, production tooling and even dealership upgrades must be paid for by small sales volumes.

Most of the key players know this and are pursuing partnerships to reduce their individual R&D investments. Whether a critical mass of key players can and will stay the distance for mainstream market adoption is what will determine whether EVs succeed.

What’s your vision for the industry looking forward?

I remain confident that the market will mature to become mainstream in Australia around 2020.  Before then, we’ll see the emergence of “sweet spots” in the market, and with this profitable business models in the period from 2015 to 2020. Up until 2015 the early market will be characterized by niche volumes, small successes and sometimes larger failures, and a swinging pendulum of speculative opinion.

What is on your calendar this year?

The Victorian government’s electric vehicle trial will further investigate the issues and opportunities within the emerging EV market.  

Workplace charging, where (long distance) commuters are able to charge at both ends of their journey, looks like being a key enabler for mainstream market transition, so we’re continuing with our investigations on this.

Leveraging Victoria’s investment in advanced metering infrastructure is also a great opportunity. Promoting understanding of how EVs can survive and thrive within the smart grid will be a key to gaining the widespread support from utilities. Drawing on industry directions from the Australian Energy Market Commission’s recent Power of Choice review and the AS4755 demand response standard also look like great opportunities.

More work is required to promote EVs in the eyes of CEOs who influence corporate fleet composition and workplace charging availability. We’ve learnt that fleet managers are finance managers rather than early adopters, so this is a challenge we’re looking to address to promote near term market adoption.

What are the projects you are most proud of so far?

Completing our Guidance on Land-Use Planning for EV Parking & Charging was very satisfying. Future proofing the built environment for EV rollout, particularly in the outer urban growth areas which are likely to be car dependent, will streamline rapid EV uptake as the value proposition becomes more compelling.

Completing our 100th charging station install was also a significant milestone. I recall not that long ago having to be explained what dedicated EV charging infrastructure was. To think that we’ve managed to install it in homes, corporate and commercial car parks, and even the airport is very satisfying.

Launching our EV school program was also a personal highlight. We unwittingly discovered that kids had been a major source of applications for household participation in the project. From this we worked with educators to develop a program that delivers the Victorian curriculum learning objectives through the topic of electric vehicles. I had a great Masters student pull it together, and some excellent work from our graphic designers to add some sizzle to the sausage.

What have been the challenges?

Getting reliable data from all our sources has been at times a nightmare. The vehicles had to be instrumented in spite of the manufacturers requiring us to reverse engineer a solution.  The telemetry has been unreliable, and the privacy arrangements constrain our ability to get access to and share the info. The charging infrastructure hasn’t been much better, and it’s a good thing we’ve got sufficient time to bear with the electricity market participants. And even with what I know now, there are only minor changes I’d make if I was doing it all over again.

What makes your company competitive in the market?

We’re an “honest broker”, pure and simple.  We took a risk keeping hold of the reins on the project, but I think it’s paid off in terms of our ability to negotiate solutions across the market, to be able to pursue opportunities as they’ve arisen, and to be clear on what the role for government is going to be in this emerging market.

What will be your message at the upcoming Smart Utilities Australia & New Zealand event?

Electric vehicles are a part of our future, and how this is going to work is looking a lot clearer.

Kristian Handberg is a presenter and panelist on fostering the adoption of EVs in Australia at the forthcoming Smart Utilities Australia & New Zealand 2012.