Electric vehicle revolution in Australia

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Free parking, free charging, and access to bus lanes even during peak hours. That’s what drivers of electric cars in the UK are about to get.

While Europe, the USA, Japan and China are embracing electric vehicle (EV) ownership, Australia seems stuck at the lights.

For a country that had one of the fastest and highest take-up rates of smart phones and computers, our lack of interest in EVs has been somewhat surprising.

“People have a Mad Max approach to cars. They don’t relate to cars as a technological device. To many people a car just goes ‘vroom’,” Doug Rolfe from the Alternative Technologies Association said.

EV sales

Of the more than one million vehicle sales nationally last year, only two thousand were EV sales.

“Some people don’t even realise we have EVs on the roads here,” Mr Rolfe said.

Unlike the US or Europe there are few government incentives in Australia to encourage electric car ownership, there’s been no public education campaign about EVs, and the current high costs of EVs are adding to our ignorance.

“The Tesla S is extremely impressive but it’s also very expensive ($110,000 plus). The BMW i3 is a very good car, but it’s pricey ($65,000). Until the Nissan LEAF ($40,000) came out things have been quite slow. Although the new Tesla Model 3 (available from 2017-2018 at $45,000) will change that,” Mr Rolfe said.

Australia misses out

Leo Kerr, myelectriccar.com founder and an EV enthusiast, said almost every major car manufacturer is investing billions in clean energy cars but Australia as a potential customer is not on their radars.

Nissan shipped the first generation LEAFs to Australia four years ago. Since then it’s built third and fourth generation LEAFs but none are available here.

“Everyone is avoiding us because there is no interest and no infrastructure,” Mr Kerr said.

Charging points

By infrastructure, he means easily accessible charge points. Some private car parks, councils, shopping centres and hotels (including RACV resorts) provide charge points. Charge point numbers and locations are few, and only some are free or can recharge a car in about 30 minutes.

Most charge points take between four and seven hours to recharge a car. People with driveways can install their charge points using a 15-amp power point. But for those without driveways, recharging can be inconvenient.

EV trial

Six years ago, in partnership with RACV, the Victorian Government began a five-year EV trial to get a better understanding of what was needed to transition to electric cars. Moreland City Council in Melbourne’s inner north took part and bought four EVs. Of the council’s 50 vehicles, the EVs have become the most popular among staff because they are quiet, fuel-efficient and easy to drive.

Mayor Samantha Ratnam said the council was committed to encouraging the transition to electric cars and has installed six publicly accessible charge points, including fast charge points, for private EV owners to use free. “Once the infrastructure is in, it lessens the obstacles to get people to buy EVs,” she said.

It’s a classic case of build it, and they will come.

Reduced demand for petrol

Since June 2013, Moreland’s charge points have received 4800 visits, saving the environment 10 tonnes of greenhouse gases, and reduced demand for petrol by 14,000 litres.

The City of Melbourne has achieved similar results on fuel and greenhouse gases with its EVs. It’s also saved on car servicing. It says a LEAF costs $350 a year to service, substantially less than a conventional car because EVs have fewer moving parts.

Range anxiety

One of the biggest hurdles to EV ownership has been “range anxiety”.

While Tesla cars can travel about 350 kilometres before they need recharging, the Nissan LEAF’s range is 130 kilometres. On average we drive fewer than 40 kilometres a day.

Electric highway

Mr Kerr said newer generations of EVs would be capable of longer distances.

In preparation for that, Western Australia has created the country’s first electric highway, installing nine fast charge points between Perth and Margaret River.

The Victorian Branch of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association said Victoria could be serviced with just 26 strategically placed fast charging stations at a cost of under $1m.

Tesla is installing its own network of 16 supercharge points between Brisbane and Melbourne where Tesla owners can, within 20-40 minutes, fully charge their cars.

RACV provided opportunities for members to learn more about electric vehicles, RACV's manager of environmental programs, Simon Mikedis said.

RACV Green car pictured from the side

Green Car Program

“We offered members and guests at RACV resorts the chance to drive an EV, through our Green Car Program, which was an Australian first,” he said. “We are also building a charging station network across Melbourne and some regional areas.”

In Europe, BP service stations offer recharge points along major routes. A BP Australia spokesperson said there was currently low demand here.

“If the use of electric vehicles grows or these services are required in a specific location, then BP will consider supplying electric charge points at its sites,” the spokesperson said.

EV ownership grows

Myelectriccar.com.au founder Leo Kerr said the momentum for EV ownership is growing and the point where EV pricing reaches parity with conventional cars is not far off.

“Electric cars will be price competitive in the rest of the world in the next two to three years,” he said.

By 2020 he expects EVs to be cheaper than petrol-fuelled cars.

EV owner Don Batson says it’s an exciting time. Don recharges his second-hand LEAF at home, using the power generated by his solar panels and said with careful planning 90 per cent of all his driving was done within the LEAF’s range.

“Electric cars are so fun to drive. Why wouldn’t I have something that is powered by renewable sources rather than dinosaurs?”

Written by Verica Jokic
July 01, 2016

Electric car facts

  • EVs are slightly cheaper to register in Victoria.
  • Using the air-conditioner and heater while driving an EV uses more battery power and reduces the range.
  • Driving style and route choice can also affect EV range.
  • Fast-charging an EV all the time could reduce the life of the battery.
  • The Victorian Government EV Trial in 2010-2014 found the state could save up to $23 billion by 2040 by using EVs.
  • One of the major political parties in the Netherlands aims to ban all petrol and diesel powered cars by 2025. If the policy is passed, only zero emissions cars would be sold.
  • Just under 10 per cent of all vehicle sales in the Netherlands in 2015 were EVs.
  • Australia’s EV sales were about 0.2% (of about 1,000,000 cars sold about 2000 were EVs).
  • To find charge stations near you visit plugshare.com and search on your location.
  • RACV is helping address the lack of charging opportunities around Victoria and other regions of Australia.

Source: RACV

RACV plugs in

  • Dedicated EV charging stations are at RACV resorts, City Club and Healesville Country Club.
  • RACV has installed charging stations at Phillip Island Penguins, Sovereign Hill and Lorne Visitor Centre.
  • Dedicated Tesla drive days have been held at several RACV sites.
  • RACV is sponsor of the Melbourne EV Expo to be held in October.
  • RACV was premier partner of the Victorian Government’s EV Trial.
  • With the Royal District Nursing Service, RACV completed Australia’'s first EV fleet trial. For more details visit: electricvehicletrial.com.au