AUS­TRALIA GET­TING WISE TO WORLD OF FAST CHARG­ERS

While parts of the coun­try lag when it comes to putting the power back into elec­tric cars, China is lead­ing the way in get­ting switched on

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - BUSINESS - Bloomberg

THE whole four-hour drive to

Coober Pedy, Wiebe Wakker knew the in­evitable was com­ing. Less than 24km out­side town, a sun-scorched out­post of Aus­tralia’s out­back that’s served as a back­drop for Mad Max movies, the bat­tery of his elec­tric car ran out.

Wakker, a 31-year-old Dutch­man, steered his bright blue VW Golf off the rust-coloured high­way, smeared on sun­screen and stuck out a thumb in the hopes of a tow. He com­pleted the fi­nal stretch with his ve­hi­cle tethered to the back of a pass­ing truck.

“It’s hap­pened a few times now, and no one’s ever re­fused,” said Wakker, who has pushed the lim­its of his retro-fit­ted, bat­tery-pow­ered car on a jour­ney across Aus­tralia that marks the end of a spon­sored 33-na­tion tour to show­case the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of elec­tric ve­hi­cles (EVs).

“A lot of peo­ple call it range anx­i­ety, the fear of run­ning out of bat­tery in the mid­dle of nowhere. I don’t have range anx­i­ety, only range ex­cite­ment.”

Few driv­ers are likely to ever cross a wilder­ness as vast as Aus­tralia’s out­back, or share Wakker’s en­thu­si­asm for run­ning out of fuel, but his ex­pe­ri­ence is in­dica­tive of one of the big­gest chal­lenges fac­ing wide­spread adop­tion of elec­tric ve­hi­cles. Boost­ing avail­abil­ity of pub­lic charg­ing points out­side the home, in ur­ban cen­tres or along re­mote high­ways will be crit­i­cal in re­mov­ing con­sumer angst about long-dis­tance driv­ing.

As with many na­tions that have been slower to add sales of elec­tric cars, Aus­tralia is lag­ging in devel­op­ment of pub­lic charg­ing net­works, mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult – and typ­i­cally slower – for EVs to ac­cess some parts of a road sys­tem that spans about 875 000km.

Of about 600 000 pub­lic charg­ing points cur­rently in­stalled glob­ally, more than half are in China – the world’s top EV mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to Bloomberg. That dom­i­nance is even more pro­nounced when it comes to di­rect cur­rent fast charg­ers – equip­ment that’s ca­pa­ble of top­ping up car bat­ter­ies in min­utes rather than hours.

There’s about one fast DC charger for ev­ery five EVs in China, and about one for ev­ery 13 of the ve­hi­cles in Ja­pan, the coun­try with the sec­ond-largest num­ber of the units, ac­cord­ing to Bloomberg New En­ergy Fi­nance (BNEF) data.

“Pub­lic charg­ing in­fra­struc­ture is es­sen­tial,” said Paul Ser­nia, chief prod­uct of­fi­cer at Tri­tium, a Bris­banebased pro­ducer of fast-charg­ing points that’s ex­ported equip­ment to 26 coun­tries, in­clud­ing the US and Ger­many.

“With­out the in­fra­struc­ture in place, the adop­tion of the ve­hi­cles won’t in­crease, or won’t hap­pen,” he said. With plans to rapidly boost their elec­tric line-ups, car­mak­ers are work­ing to en­cour­age ex­pan­sion of fast recharg­ing in­fra­struc­ture to help boost customer con­fi­dence.

In New Zealand, adop­tion of EVs has bal­looned since the de­ploy­ment of a fast-charg­ing net­work from 2016, gov­ern­ment data shows. Au­tomak­ers “recog­nise that pub­lic fast charg­ing is crit­i­cal to sell­ing EVs,” said Cathy Zoi, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Los An­ge­les-based EVgo Ser­vices, which op­er­ates about a third of fast charg­ers in the US and has part­ner­ships with com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Hyundai and Nis­san.

In Europe, an al­liance of au­tomak­ers in­clud­ing Volk­swa­gen, Daimler, Ford and BMW is work­ing with Tri­tium to add charg­ing sta­tions about ev­ery 120km along the con­ti­nent’s high­ways. Tesla is con­tin­u­ing to ex­pand its own global net­work of fast charg­ing points.

En­ergy pro­duc­ers and fuel pump mak­ers are also back­ing the strat­egy. Oil gi­ant Total ac­quired an op­er­a­tor in Septem­ber for EV points, while US charg­ing sta­tion op­er­a­tor ChargePoint raised fund­ing this month from in­vestors in­clud­ing Chevron.

CHAL­LENG­ING BUSI­NESS

The high costs of fast charg­ers and low lev­els of util­i­sa­tion mean there’s a chal­leng­ing busi­ness model, at least for now. Fast charg­ers can cost about $45 000 (R634 000) to $60 000 (R845 000) a unit and need to be used about eight to 12 times a day to break even – more than an av­er­age of five daily charges cur­rently, ac­cord­ing to an Oc­to­ber BNEF re­port.

Op­er­a­tors would also need to charge cus­tomers about 50 cents a kilo­watt hour, which is the equiv­a­lent of about $3.95 a litre of petrol. It costs about $2.45 a litre at the pump in the US.

“Some elec­tric ve­hi­cle in­fra­struc­ture projects will need both pub­lic and pri­vate sup­port,” ac­cord­ing to EVgo’s Zoi. The com­pany agreed in Au­gust to build and op­er­ate a net­work in Vir­ginia in a part­ner­ship with the state.

EVgo’s pric­ing to recharge is now at par­ity with petrol or bet­ter in many mar­kets, Zoi said. Im­prove­ments in car bat­ter­ies and charger tech­nol­ogy should even­tu­ally al­low mo­torists to fuel on high­ways just as quickly too, cut­ting stops to be­tween five and eight min­utes, ac­cord­ing to Tri­tium’s Ser­nia.

“We want to repli­cate the petrol sta­tion ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said. “We are not there yet.”

In parts of Aus­tralia’s cen­tral and west­ern re­gions, EV driv­ers are still con­tend­ing with slower al­ter­na­tives, ac­cord­ing to Har­ald Mur­phy, a 49-year-old elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer who com­pleted a cir­cuit of about 14 520km around Aus­tralia in a Tesla Model X last month. Con­nect­ing to in­dus­trial-style sock­ets at re­mote road­houses meant he of­ten spent as long as five hours charg­ing dur­ing the day.

Along the more densely pop­u­lated eastern coast, where fast charg­ers are be­ing in­stalled, the ad­van­tages were clear, he said. At a Tesla su­per­charger in New South Wales, the car’s bat­tery topped up be­fore his cof­fee and omelette or­der was ready at a nearby café.

“I ended up eat­ing my break­fast on my lap in the car,” Mur­phy said. “I must ad­mit, I couldn’t hold back the feel­ing of eu­pho­ria.” |

DANIA MAX­WELL Bloomberg

DRIV­ERS charge elec­tric ve­hi­cles (EV) at a Volta In­dus­tries LLC elec­tric charg­ing sta­tion in Los An­ge­les. Glob­ally, China is on track to be­come the global leader in terms of EV pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion.|

STE­FAN WERMUTH Bloomberg

A TESLA Model S elec­tric ve­hi­cle charges at a Su­per­charger sta­tion in Oftrin­gen, Switzer­land. |

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