Electric cars in Australia work just fine

Cam Murphy
May 4, 2019 · 8 min read

I’m a person who likes to adopt new technology early: I was into MiniDisc players way back when; I had the first Android phone; I moved away from conventional home audio and adopted Sonos in 2012; I’m all about that home automation. I love products, services and companies that make me feel like I’m in the future.

I first drove an electric car in August 2014. I was offered a test drive through the Tesla Australia mailing list, which I had been a of member since 2011. It immediately became a dream of mine to own a Tesla.

I placed a refundable reservation for their small sedan, the Model 3, in April 2016 when it was first announced. That same year, I made an investment in a cryptocurrency called Ethereum because like many of us in the tech industry, I felt like I had completely missed the Bitcoin boat. In early 2018, following an extraordinary stroke of luck and capital gains of 7500%, I sold out and purchased a Tesla Model X.

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It has been nearly 14 months since I took delivery and I am still completely obsessed with it.

Being an EV owner has opened me up to many impromptu conversations with interested strangers (which is great — it’s a big part of why I bought the thing!) but most people ask the same two questions. First, they’ll ask “how long does it take to charge?”, and they’ll follow that up with, “how far can you drive?”. I give them a long winded answer that talks about home charging vs supercharging vs destination charging, but it’s a lot to digest.

The short answer is:

  • If my car battery was empty, it would take 20 hours to reach 100% state of charge (SOC) when plugged in at home.
  • I can drive somewhere between 400km and 430km with 100% SOC.

But this doesn’t really say much about my experiences, because I have never completely flattened the car’s battery and I very rarely charge to 100%. Let me explain.

Home charging

An electric car is much like a phone: you plug it in at night and you wake up with a charged battery. This is the equivalent of having a petrol pump at your house. Trust me, this part is awesome. The need to visit petrol stations just evaporates.

Don’t listen to people that say we’ll all need to upgrade our homes to three-phase power (a higher voltage connection to the grid). I thought that too but JET Charge, the group that installed my included wall charger, talked me out of it.

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Day-to-day, fast charging just isn’t necessary. My commute is a 12km round trip which consumes about 4% battery. When charging at the end of a day, that energy returns to the battery in under an hour. Even if my commute were a 100km round trip, I’d only be looking at 6 or 7 hours of charging overnight.

To help you understand charging speed, here’s the maths:

Amps x Volts = Watts

25 amps x 240 volts = 6000 watts or 6 kilowatts.

Charging isn’t perfectly efficient, so I typically see a charge rate of about 5% per hour (or 5 kilowatt-hours of my car’s 100 kilowatt-hour capacity). I could even plug my car directly into a regular power point instead of paying to install the wall charger. An average wall outlet can supply 10 amps.

10 amps x 240 volts = 2400 watts or 2.4 kilowatts.

With power point charging I typically see 2% added per hour of charging. If charging were to occur between 7pm and 7am, this would still be enough to achieve my hypothetical 100km round trip commute.

So, what does it cost me? Well, my energy supplier is Powershop, and to them I pay a premium to be 100% covered by renewable energy, so my energy rates are quite high at about 30c per kilowatt-hour. This equates to about $1.20 per commute or roughly 10c per km. A ‘full tank’ would cost me about $30 — but again, electric cars invoke a different mindset.

Supercharging

This is where things really differ. Can you imagine someone stopping at a petrol station and only putting 7 litres of fuel in their car? That would seem strange, yes?

With an electric car you almost never perform a full charge, so you ARE that weirdo that buys less than a full tank of fuel. It’s difficult to explain so during a recent road trip to Adelaide I created this video.

Contrary to what people would have you believe:

  • We made no unnecessary stops. We stopped for lunch, a toilet break, and dinner.
  • We did not sit around waiting for the car to charge.
  • We didn’t reach 0% or 100% SOC.

We only needed enough energy to get between charging stops. As you can see from the map, there’s a Tesla supercharger every 220km or so between Adelaide and Melbourne. Stopping every 2 or 3 hours is hardly an inconvenience — in fact it’s recommended.

Supercharging is fast. I’m talking 120 kilowatts. My car charges way, way faster than my phone. Our 9-minute toilet break in Horsham added 20% SOC; gains that would take 4 hours at home. We already had sufficient SOC to reach Ballarat without the Horsham stop (the car suggested we’d arrive with 5%) but we all needed a whiz.

This technology isn’t actually new either! Tesla launched their first supercharger in 2012. They recently announced their third-generation chargers which can deliver 250 kilowatts. Chargefox are currently deploying 350 kilowatt chargers. Charging out on the road is only going to get faster with time.

Destination charging

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The third type of charging involves charging at your destination when you arrive. Electric car charging is already offered in a surprising number of places. On our drive from Melbourne to Adelaide we stayed at Keith Motor Inn and they provide three-phase 17 kilowatt chargers to guests. I’ve even charged at Falls Creek Village (pictured). I’m keen to road trip to Byron Bay next year.

So that’s how charging works.

I see a bright future for electric cars. Tesla have proven that electric cars are ready for the prime time. Here’s my reasoning.

  • They’re really fun to drive: there are no gears or clutch, so as soon as you put your foot down, they go. The immediate response is super addictive. For those that desire speed, they’re seriously quick.
  • They’re really easy to drive: when you take your foot off the accelerator the car charges the battery by using the electric motors as generators which in turn slows the car down. It’s something to get used to but it gives me way more confidence on the road. I only need to gently touch the brake to come to a complete stop so it is unlikely I’ll ever replace the brake pads. This also has an added benefit of the vehicle properly maintaining speed when descending down a steep hill. Gone are the days of riding the brakes to keep to the speed limit.
  • They’re cheap to run: electricity is cheaper than fuel and electric cars don’t require much maintenance. You can even generate your electricity using solar panels on your roof. The energy seriously just comes out of the sun and goes straight into your car’s battery. Rad.
  • They’re reliable: they’re actually quite simple machines — something in the order of 50 moving parts. Internal combustion engines can have well over 3000 moving parts so they are more prone to mechanical failure.
  • They’re quiet: some people are going to miss engine noise but personally I look forward to quieter cities. Someone legitimately just tore down my street in a noisy car as I typed that…

So, what’s holding them back?

A few things:

  1. In Australia, people don’t know much about them! Hopefully this has helped you understand them better :)
  2. Our government does not like them very much. It’s a problem.
  3. There are plenty of misconceptions.

So, I’d like to take the opportunity to talk about a few things that you might have heard in the media.

“They’re expensive”

This is currently true. Without government incentives they’re just more expensive. However, this is changing at a formidable rate. We’re on the cusp of the ‘EV tipping point’ because the price of batteries per watt-hour has been plummeting since 2014 when global battery production started ramping up. This video explains.

“They can’t drive across the Nullarbor

This is currently true. Without additional infrastructure, you cannot take electric cars through the heart of our desert nation. As a side note, if you instead want to circumnavigate Australia, this woman has proven you can pull it off for $150.

The problem with the Nullarbor statement is it assumes charging infrastructure will not continue to grow. Even without the government’s help companies like Tesla and Chargefox are building out charging networks. Anywhere a petrol station currently exists, it’s possible to build a charging station.

The statement also assumes that the range of electric vehicles has peaked. Electric vehicle range depends on electric motor efficiency and battery energy density (how much energy can be stored in a battery of a certain size and weight). Both metrics are currently improving. The next generation Tesla Roadster will have a 200 kilowatt-hour battery and a range of over 1000kms. This is a remarkable improvement on the 53 kilowatt-hour battery and 393km range of the original Tesla Roadster. There’s nothing preventing the development of electric cars that could drive even further. Perhaps an electric car is able to drive across the Nullarbor without charging one day?

“The batteries degrade really quickly”

People are making claims that electric car batteries degrade by as much as 30% over a period of 8 years. While I haven’t found evidence of degradation so severe, Tesla’s batteries have been found to degrade by less than 10% after 160,000 miles (260,000kms) of driving. Battery technology continues to improve and it’s likely they’ll become capable of many more recharge cycles in the future. The battery packs are also highly recyclable and can easily be replaced.

“They emit just as much carbon”

They don’t. This is just wrong. Read here.

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I firmly believe electric cars will be the prevailing technology — they won’t go the way of the MiniDisc (rest in peace). One day it will seem humorous that we once pumped flammable liquid into our vehicles and performed controlled explosions under the hood to make them move.

Australia’s ready for the transition.

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