Driving an electric vehicle across the Nullarbor is now routine

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Nullarbor Roadhouse

Electric vehicles are on the verge of being mainstream in most other countries.

Importantly, these are countries that ship passenger vehicles to the Australian market, which means Australian buyers will soon have a clear choice: purchase a financially viable electric vehicle or purchase the old tech petrol guzzler that no one else wants.

Unfortunately, though, whenever there’s an article in the media discussing the future of electric vehicles in Australia the same old lines gets used in the comments section: “Good luck getting one across the Nullarbor;” or ” EVs are no good for Australians as they can’t cross the Nullarbor”.

The fact is 95 per cent of passenger vehicles in Australia have never crossed the Nullarbor, a vast majority of their owners would never consider driving across in the first place.

Driving any vehicle across a regional area is only routine if the vehicle is in good working order, with good tyres and a useable spare. Anything less and the trip will be frustrating and expensive. Concentration and respect for the conditions is also important to make the Nullarbor trip a success.

Also, why drive any passenger vehicle from Perth to Adelaide in the first place? It’s far quicker and safer to travel via commercial jet.

If you take into account the cost of fuel, food, accommodation and other incidental costs its most likely far cheaper too, but then to some folks saying I drove across the Nullarbor is far more interesting than saying I caught a taxi to the airport.

But for those car owners who drive the national average of 40kms per day, rarely leave suburbia, but whose number one criteria for purchasing a vehicle is its ability to cross this vast nation from east to west, then you’re in luck โ€“ Nullarbor crossing in an EV can be done, has been done (on multiple occasions) and will continue to be done.

The most recent trips were two electric vehicles driven by members of the Tesla owners club of Western Australia who drove from Perth to Adelaide and return stopping at as many locations as possible; confirming each newly installed industrial power outlet was operating correctly, discussing EVs with the public, business owners and local councils, but most of all doing something that many people still believe is not possible.

As each month passes the charging options will improve. At this stage it is low-cost industrial power outlets provided by the Australian Electric Vehicle Association.

This short term solution provides enough charge rate to cover up to 800kms per day driving only daylight hours.

Far more distance could be covered by a driver willing to take on the night time wildlife, although the first priority of driving is to get yourself, your passengers and your vehicle to the final destination safely.

The largest gap between industrial power is 225km. Shortly that will be reduced to under 200km, and it won’t be long before big business installs DC fast chargers to satisfy increased demand.

In the near future, drivers having to stop for 20 minutes every 300km will be beneficial to road safety. And if that’s not fast enough for you, then a commercial jet is the best option.

Robert Dean is an electric vehicle enthusiast and owner, who has driven his EV across the Nullarbor  

  • George Darroch

    You drive in that part of the country with a good awareness of what your fuel capacity is and how far you are from the nearest top-up. You’re unlikely to run out. But the consequences are more serious, and more expensive.

    I predict we’ll see brand-name and generic ‘supercharger’ stations at all towns of note soon enough.

    • MaxG

      One would hope…

    • David Lloyd

      Another advantage of EVs – they can charge wherever there is a kettle so there are far more top-up points. Also the display of range to go and wh/kms consumption is so accurate that you can plan the trip down to the last kms. Range increases dramatically with lower speed.

      • MaxG

        Good point… “wherever there is a kettle”… generator, outback, whatever… 240V = charging… even if it takes ages; e.g. 6kVA genny, but it will be charged; try this with petrol (bring your own refinery) ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Joe

    What is the source of the power fro the Nullabor charging stations…RE I hope?

    • Chris Jones

      Some have big solar+battery systems like Mundrabilla, while others rely in diesel generators. They won’t be doing that for long though – PV + battery is way cheaper.

      • Joe

        Diesel has got to go.

  • PacoBella

    Australia needs to convert to ev’ as fast as possible. With only 2 weeks of petroleum resources, Australia’s greatest strategic vulnerability is running out of petrol/diesel in the event of a sea blockade. With unlimited solar and wind resources this threat could be avoided by switching to renewable energy and electric cars and trucks. It won’t be that long before the aviation industry catches up with an electric offering capable of interstate flight.

    • George Darroch

      It will be a long time before you get commercial aircraft going more than an hour on batteries. The energy density just isn’t there yet. But up to an hour is almost possible, and that gets you some distance.

      It’s more feasible that you electrify everything up until you launch the plane into the air, and save your gasoline for the actual flying.

      • Rob

        Or cruising at an altitude of thirty five thousand feet……

        (apologies to Donavan Leitch)

        • Joe

          Perhaps ‘Gliding’….at 35 thousand. Only need to get up there first and then the rest is sit back and enjoy the view.

        • Gyrogordini

          Existing aircraft cruise so high to gain engine efficiency, as well as possibly favourable winds. Why so high, if you don’t need high altitude combustion?

      • Mike Dill

        The issue is not energy density exactly, but energy per kilogram. Right now the producers are claiming about 200 to 300 w/kg, and medium distance (1000km) commercial passenger aviation becomes viable at about 400 w/kg.

      • Chris Schneider has a much quicker plan for Aviation….

    • Joe

      ‘Solar Impulse 1’ and ‘Solar Impulse 2’, the pathfinders of electric flight.

  • Tom

    If Nissan, for example, genuinely wanted to open up the Australian market to the Leaf but were hindered by range anxiety, they could potentially have an arrangement for new Leaf buyers that they could rent a Nissan petrol/diesel car for, say, 20 days in the year for free for the first 5 years.

    On the odd occasion that someone felt they needed a conventional fuel car to leave suburbia, they could ring up the Nissan depot the day before, and then Nissan could drive out a petrol car and drive the owner’s Leaf back to the depot, and when the trip is done they could swap them back.

    • nakedChimp

      Even better, arrange with one of the rental car businesses or even an airline.. no need for Nissan to become a car rental biz ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Chris Drongers

    There must be a way for private retail investors to buy into companies providing ‘merchant’ renewable energy/battery/recharge stations to serve the ‘electric highway’?

  • John McKeon

    I have range anxiety. How long will it be before we can be rid of the ICE*?

    *Internal Combustion Engine

    • Bob Fearn

      That is spelled the, “Infernal Combustion Engine

      • John McKeon

        I stand corrected ๐Ÿ™‚

  • MaxG

    “The fact is 95 per cent of passenger vehicles in Australia have never crossed the Nullarbor” I would claim even more than 99%… I know heaps of people, who never left Brisbane… (no kidding).

  • BushAxe

    The impact EV’s will have on regional/remote areas is huge because there will be no reliance on fuel deliveries when you can produce your own with local wind/solar generation and storage. This will also reduce cost of living as exorbitant fuel prices will be a thing of the past.

  • I “crossed the Nullarbor” in my LEAF in May 2016 as part of my EV trip around Australia.

    I have crossed many times before in ICE cars and wagons but the LEAF was the best of all.

  • Gavin Veldwyk

    Plenty of reasons to take the car. If I want more than 20kg of stuff is a good one.

    What’s the gap between three consecutive chargers? Are you stopping at every one to refuel, or can you skip every other charger range wise? I’m not hanging shit, barbecue has the same issue. A least dinosaur juice is portable.

    Lithium ion just sucks. As soon as the Real Soon Now batteries appear, I’m waiting!

    • Ferris B

      True, Dinosaur juice is portable, it’s shipped 1000s of kilometres to an Australian port, trucked 800kms to a Nullarbor roadhouse and then gets pumped into a car at $2.00 per Litre then burnt at 30% efficiency.

      • RobertO

        Hi Ferris B, ICE vehicles are about 17% efficient compared to EV at 78%. As for the gap it is getting wider and wider each time a new model arrives. RMS in NSW recommends 2 hr drive and stop to survive and EV are headed for 500 Km range so your doing very well it you can run out of juice in that time frame.

  • Bob Fearn

    In Norway 30% of new cars are electric, in mild mannered Canada it is .5%. I hope that Aussie’s can do better than that. Hard to beat a solar power EV.

    • George Darroch

      We are doing really badly right now with EVs. So much possibility!

  • thecavedweller

    Not hard at all. I’ve just driven a 90D (not mine) from Darwin to Sydney via Adelaide and it’s clear to me that it’s all over for petrol cars. EVs just do everything better. I know I’ll never own anything other than a plug-in electric car.

    • David Lloyd

      The trip Perth to Adelaide need not be slow in an EV. The latest Teslas have >500kms range which allows 9 hours of driving and day-charging to cover 700 kms per day. This just gives enough time for a breakfast and lunch stop (and charge). Obviously the tank has to be filled from empty each night. So we took 4 days and 3 nights from Perth to Jamestown, and >95% was on autopilot (even where there were no road markings). The exact control of range enabled us to pull into our night stops of Esperance with 6 kms in the tank, Cocklebiddy with 5 kms in the tank and Penong with 4kms in the tank, but we messed up Jamestown arriving with >40kms, because we overestimated the consumption required to climb 500m into Jamestown (for the Big Battery opening).

  • JohnM

    Congrats to Rob and Matt!
    Getting the message out there -and here, getting the plugs in, flying the flag…

  • Marc Talloen

    Congrats to Rob and Matt!
    I’ve also done some adventurous driving throughout remote parts of Australia with my electric car and so have multiple other people. It may be good to mention here that with some versatile EVSE portable chargers you can top-up batteries from multiple power sockets be it single phase or 3-phase power. As a result of an initiative started by AEVA (Australian EV Association) and TOCA (Tesla Owners Club Australia) there are many EV charging points available, allowing you to drive all around Australia. Just use the PlugShare app on your smartphone and find the power supply points along your planned route.

  • Mike Shackleton

    One thing I have noticed is Australia can be a bit slow on the uptake regarding new tech, but once it is clear it makes sense and people can learn about the benefits directly from a friend or colleague (we don’t like being told something is good by strangers) the resultant adoption is very fast and overtakes other places. Look at things like PCs, mobile phones, “broadband” internet (yes I know, but NBN), rooftop solar Extremely high rates of use ahead of the world.

    I’m hoping someone comes along and builds an electric car factory in the Holden Elizabeth factory. Hopefully something like the Tesla Model 3 that is at the more affordable end of the scale.

  • Mike Dill

    Where do I find a good map for the Nullabor EV Charging locations? Where is the 200Km gap?

    • Ferris B

      The biggest gap at this stage is 225kms between the small town of Penong SA and the Nullarbor roadhouse, between those is the location of Nundroo that has a hotel/motel, roadhouse and 3 phase power, if a useful outlet can be found in that location the largest gap then transfers to the 197km leg between Norseman and Balladonia in WA, in between those locations is Fraser range station and accommodation, this has 3 phase but is not really needed as any new EV sold in Australia from 2018 onwards will have a real world range of at least 210kms.

      • neroden

        Plugshare shows Davis Motors between Penong and the Nullarbor Roadhouse, and Fraser between Norseman and Balladonia.

        Balladonia to Caiguna Caravan Park seems to be the longest true gap right now. Or maybe Nullarbor Roadhouse to Border Village — this is unlikely to be filled in because the whole route is through national park. There are a few other 120 km gaps. Anyway, any decent electric car can make it across those distances no problem.

        • Ferris B

          Davis motors in Nundroo has a 4 pin socket on three phase, that needs to be changed to a 5 pin or potentially another option at that location. Fraser range is not really needed for charging but is a good option in future years, great place for an overnight stay. You’re spot on with the Superchargers, In terms of cost per kilometre charging from on-site solar/batteries will be far cheaper than filling vehicles tanks with fuel that needs to be transported in over a long distance.

    • Sed

      The definitive map of charging locations worldwide (including the Nullarbor) is

  • David Lloyd

    Another advantage of driving a Tesla across the Nullarbor is that the car does all the driving. More than 95% on autopilot even on this section where there are no lane markings.