Murdoch media and the myth about Tesla EVs causing blackouts

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Murdoch media and the Coalition have plunged the depth of stupidity in their campaign against EVs, but the prize goes for the claim that Tesla EV charging is already causing blackouts.

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It’s been quite an extraordinary election campaign. Every day, readers have been able to turn to the Murdoch media stable – Sky News, The Australian and the state-based tabloids to read or listen to some complete nonsense about climate change science, renewables, or electric vehicles.

It’s a tough call, given the intense competition, but if we had to give a prize to the dumbest story of all, it would likely be The Australian columnist Robert Gottliebsen and his story entitled Electric cars are already causing some grid failures.

According to Gottliebsen, a friend of his had told him about an unidentified street in Melbourne where six households had a Tesla EV, and when just three of four of them charged at the same time, the power went out.

“It’s a crisis that has been concealed from the vast majority of the population,” Gottliebsen writes.

“The danger really came home to me when I met up with an affluent, long-time Melbourne acquaintance who lives in a street where there are six Tesla cars.  When they all try to charge their batteries at the same time, the power goes out in the street because the grid fails. Sometimes it fails when only three or four of them try to charge at the same time.”

The claim is laughable because most Tesla EVs are powered at home by a 7kW charger, which is about the same as many electric ovens and air conditioning units. And nearly all houses have these, and in the summer heat turn them on at the same time. (Some Tesla’s, such as chief scientist Alan Finkel’s, trickle feed from a normal socket).

As one Tesla officianado noted: “I did see that (Gottliebsen article) posted a while back and it’s pretty much entirely baseless crap. For starters, this was discussed on the Tesla Australia Slack group and no-one there (200+ Tesla owners) could pinpoint where 6 Teslas exist on one street. Sounds made up to start with.”

Still, we decided to check with all the local grid operators in Melbourne. Had there been any such cases? No, came the answer.

“In regards to home EV chargers, they are not causing reliability issues, such as outages, on our networks,” said Emma Tyner, who speaks on behalf of Powercor, Citipower and United Energy.

“We have not had blackouts or major network issues caused by EVs in our network,” said Helena Lilley, from Ausnet.

And why should they? For a start, network data shows EV drivers have different charging patterns and only charge on average every three days. But even if six neighbouring EVs charged simultaneously, as quoted in the article, it would be highly unlikely to cause any problems on standard networks. Perhaps The Australian thinks there should be a roster for oven use.

It’s not the first time that Gottliebsen, who last year was ordered an Order of Australia for services to journalism, has got it wrong on renewables or other new technologies.

A couple of years ago, he was predicting 10-15 days of blackouts in Victoria because of the rise of renewables. And, like many commentators in Murdoch media, he does not accept climate science. So why would he, or they, listen to experts?

Normally, an article like this would be considered so ridiculous it wouldn’t be worth mentioning – were it not for the fact that it has been republished, and swallowed whole, in numerous other outlets.

We haven’t been keeping a close enough eye on Sky News to see if they were running with this line, but given that Alan Jones and Peta Credlin were trying to explain – with a bag of rice – why climate science was just one big hoax this week, then nothing would surprise us.

It was Sky commentators, after all, who kicked off the anti-EV campaign after the release of Labor’s 50 per cent EV target for 2030, declaring people would be “better off walking to Dubbo”, and predicting the end of the weekend, huge increases in car costs, and promising to “defend the ute.”

Perhaps they would like to know one Australian maker is already making an electric ute, to increase safety in underground mines, and many more electric utes are on their way, from the likes of Tesla, Rivian (now allied with Ford), General Motors, Toyota and others.

Dubbo featured again this week when the Daily Telegraph tried to expose, via “analysis” from the Coalition and the energy minister Angus Taylor, about the supposed extra driving times for electric vehicles between Sydney and various destinations – Surfers Paradise, Jindabyne and Dubbo.

“Road trips will become detour de force”, the Daily Telegraph punned in its headline. And then went to say that trips to Surfers would take nearly three times as long as it would in a “standard” vehicle, twice as long to Jyndabyne, and 60 per cent long to Dubbo.

It compares “standard vehicles” to the Nissan Leaf, which has a range of 240km. “It’s a plan that will have you stuck by the roadside,” Taylor said of the “research”.

We asked Taylor’s office for a copy of the research, but it referred us to Coalition campaign HQ. We asked them but didn’t hear back.

Here’s what we can establish. The figures for petrol cars are taken from Google – type in the travel time for Sydney and Surfers and hey presto, you get exactly 9hrs 26 mins. It assumes that petrol drivers don’t stop to go to the toilet, or stop to refuel. Or stop at all. Maybe they figure the drivers – and all the family – have a direct line from their bladders to the petrol tank.

If the calculations were done to recognise human and mechanical behaviour i.e. the need to pee, eat and rest, and to fill petrol tanks, then the equation looks a lot different. EV drivers have the added advantage of being able to eat, or pee, at the same time as the car is charged.

It’s all too silly. And the Daily Telegraph could have compared the standard car to the 450km range Hyundai electric Kona, which would have got them to Dubbo in a single charge and at the same time, depending on the bladders of the respective drivers, and the need to observe police safety recommendations that drivers stop every two hours.

P.S. Gottliebsen’s article also included some nonsense about how “intermittent” sources like wind and solar cause electrons to become “very choppy” and warned of grid explosions happening across Melbourne and Sydney, and even the “complete collapse of the system.

He wrote: “When these choppy electron flows hit the transformers, they greatly increase the temperature. To my horror I discovered that cities like Melbourne and Sydney are in danger of either experiencing explosions or even a complete collapse of the system.”

Again, complete and total bollocks. We haven’t seen this level of ignorance since former ABC political editor Chris Uhlmann predicted widespread blackouts due to the rise of wind and solar.

“Choppy electron flows is totally fabricated. It’s not a thing,” said one power engineer we consulted.  “Explosions… complete collapse… Yeah, no that’s just not how things work. We have protection devices that trip on overcurrent and load shedding devices if there wasn’t enough generation to meet demand. Absolutely fear mongering.”
Thanks, Rupert.
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