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