The infrastructure Australia needs to make electric cars viable

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Tesla is looking to upgrade its EV batteries, so they travel twice the distance they currently do. So what will be the implications for Australia?

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A Nissan Leaf getting charged up. Flickr/Washington State Dept of Transportation, CC BY-NC-ND
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The Conversation

A Nissan Leaf getting charged up. Flickr/Washington State Dept of Transportation, CC BY-NC-ND
A Nissan Leaf getting charged up. Flickr/Washington State Dept of Transportation, CC BY-NC-ND

Tesla may have ambitious plans for battery technology for the home but it is also looking to upgrade its electric vehicle batteries, which will allow them to travel twice the distance they currently do. So what will be the implications for Australia?

While Australia has generally been an early adopter of new technology, electric vehicles pose more of a problem. Anybody who has grown up in regional Australia knows that being the family taxi at weekends for children’s sporting events can regularly mean a round trip of more than 200km.

The current battery life of an electric vehicle is around 160km – the Nissan Leaf is quoting an average even lower at 135km – so they are still not an option as the primary vehicle for even the most die-hard regional environmentalist.

There has been some take-up of hybrid vehicles – and they are more suitable to Australian conditions – but what is needed for those who would love to move to a fully electric vehicle?

Electric is more suited to the major cities, where they can be used for the daily commute to work (and may provide an alternative for the second family vehicle).

But the uptake of new electric vehicles is slow according to one recent report, with limited sales in the first few months of the year, although BMW claimed the most with 70 of its i3 model. (It’s a similar story in other countries where sales are far less than predicted.)

One of the reasons for the slow take-up in Australia has been identified as a lack of infrastructure to keep electric vehicles powered, especially on the longer journeys that are typical here.

The need for distance

Three main issues need to addressed if we are to see more electric vehicles on our roads are:

  1. The battery technology
  2. Availability of charging stations
  3. Whether the cost of electricity continues to increase to a point where liquid fuels are the most economic option.

Technology in electric vehicles is changing fast. Vehicle battery charging stations that are being deployed in the United States and Europe are being developed right here in Australia.

New “fast chargers” will enable quicker charging, but will cost more (for both electricity at a higher tariff and use of the charger) compared to the overnight charge in the home garage. The Australian-designed Veefil by Tritium will allow for a charge of approximately 48km for each 10-minute charging cycle.

A battery boost network

The problem is who will pay for establishing a network that will allow for vehicle charging around what is one of the greatest highway networks (by length) anywhere in the world?

We could retro-fit every current petrol service station with electric vehicle chargers – but what incentive would there be for the oil companies to even entertain the idea?

Maybe the electricity distribution companies or retailers may look at vertical integration and diversify into their chain. Co-locating at existing sub-station sites may be a feasible option for them.

There is also an opportunity for electricity generators as it will help use up the excess capacity they currently have due to falling demand.

A parking bay reserved for charging electric cars at a shopping mall in Ohio, US. Flickr/Nicholas Eckhart, CC BY

With a maximum charging time (utilising a fast charger) being 30 minutes, shopping centres or take-away food chains may also provide a viable option, providing drivers with something to do while their vehicle is being charged. Maybe valet car charging may become an option.

While there has been much focus on the new Tesla battery for domestic use (primarily for photovoltaic (PV) systems), this is really a spin-off from what the company is doing for its vehicle batteries.

The company’s co-founder, Elon Musk, has stated that it should be able to extend the life of its batteries considerably within 18 months. This is a key area for all manufacturers of vehicle batteries and development in storage technology will flow through to the vehicle industry.

The final issue was the rising price of electricity within Australia. There has been much discussion around electric vehicles being a de-facto energy storage system for the home. However, in many cases the vehicle will not be in the garage during the day.

Electric cars will be the future, one day

For the foreseeable future, the price of charging the electric vehicle will be less than a tank of petrol and the whole distributable generation market will change considerably over the next decade.

While electric vehicles are the way of the future, for Australia we still have to wait until they go through the pain of the innovation curve for a little longer and technology makes them more suitable to our driving conditions.

We are at that stage where people will not invest in the vehicles until there is infrastructure to support them and those willing to put in the infrastructure will hold back until there are enough vehicles on the road to support the investment.

It is not a case of will electric vehicles dominate the market, it is just a case of when. This is an area where Australia can play a dominant role in the long-term roll-out of infrastructure requirements for long-distance travel.

 

Source: The Conversation. Reproduced with permission.The Conversation

 

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11 Comments
  1. ElectrikLeo 4 years ago

    Sorry but the author of this story misses the point – it’s not infrastructure holding EV ownership back it is the cost of these vehicles in Australia. With no government incentives, unlike just about every developed country in the world, we will be the last nation to benefit from these vehicles. Anyone who drives an EV knows that you simply charge at home for the vast bulk of your charging.

    • Steve159 4 years ago

      Early adopters buy EVs irrespective of the infrastructure (and to a large extent, cost). But for majority consumption, price and infrastructure are needed. It’s not either/or, but both being necessary.

      • ElectrikLeo 4 years ago

        Well we might agree to disagree Steve but having driven an EV for many years it would only have been on a handful of occasions that I had a requirement to ‘fill er up’ on public infrastructure. All my EV friends are the same. The infrastructure is already in place – it’s called home charging. Price is the main reason why people have not migrated especially in Australia where the ‘Australia tax’ and lack of incentives are the main factors. It’s not a chicken and egg scenario. When enough EVs are on the road the private sector will supply the infrastructure where needed – this experience has been borne out overseas where EV penetration has been much higher than here in Australia. Seems that more and more EV drivers around the world are coming to the same conclusions e.g. http://www.casteyanqui.com/ev/infrastructure/index.html

        • Neil_Copeland 4 years ago

          Absolutely agree that price is the problem. This fossil fuel obsessed government will never help though. They receive billions in fuel excise from petrol. If they incentivize the use of electric vehicles with subsidies they will lose tax dollars and that’s all this government cares about. The environment isn’t included in their calculations.

        • RechargingNSW 4 years ago

          As your article suggests ElectrikLeo we still need to overcome the psychological barriers non-EV drivers have, and get them thinking about EV’s in their daily lives. This can be done by visible infrastructure where non-EV drivers shop/work/eat. And as trying to get the government to give us a hand increasing EV uptake is falling on deaf ears, supporting businesses who install EVSE’s is the next best thing.

      • nakedChimp 4 years ago

        You get an iMIEV for ~30k AUD last time I checked.. try to move them at this price point in the US or anywhere else.
        Aussies might do dumb stuff some times, but they are not totally retarded 😉

  2. Mike Dill 4 years ago

    I would be more likely to stop at a roadside restaurant if they had a place for an EV to charge.

  3. Ronald Brakels 4 years ago

    Australia is actually one of the best potential markets for short range electric vehicles in the world. This is because multiple car families are the norm which allows for one of them to be be a short range electric vehicle. Our commutes are on average shorter than in the US, another country where multiple car ownership is common, and our standard current is stronger than in Japan and the US making for faster charging from a normal powerpoint. Eight hours charging in Australia from a standard power point could give an electric car 100 kilometers of range here. Due to reductions in the costs of batteries, short range electric cars may never take off in Australia, but there is definitely a niche provided they come with enough of a discount over their longer range brethren. (Or at least there will be a niche until self-driving Johnny cabs take over most private car ownership, leaving one highly personalised private vehicle for the motorhead in each familiy.)

  4. JayJ 4 years ago

    Yes it is the cost of EVs that is holding the industry back. I would buy one now as a small commuter car given the small distances I travel to and from work and for kids’ sport on weekends but I can’t justify it with the current cost of an EV

  5. Leigh Ryan 4 years ago

    Interesting discussion, i agree cost of EV’s is the major stumbling block in Australia, if i could buy an EV for the same or approximate cost of a petrol guzzler, i guarantee i would already have one in the garage, this government and quite probably the opposition will never subsidize the cost of EV’s, they are all talk on GW and care only for Government revenue, so any subsidy will have to come from the manufacturers who may consider the long term benefits of getting EV’s on the road now rather than current profits, government has always been the stumbling block to new technology and also the dominant figure in protectionist rackets for key industries that provide government with major revenue and of course large political donations.

  6. Peter Smith 4 years ago

    Those of us who use an EV for city trips have no need for “infrastructure”, other than roads, since our trips are rarely more than 50km from home. We recharge, for free, from our solar panels.

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