You can’t charge an electric vehicle in Australia? Think again!

I was at a pub talking to a mate the other day over a beer – so Australian. For some reason the discussion drifted onto electric cars, and I was a bit caught off guard. My friend casually stated that he thought there was a “chicken and egg” issue with EV’s.

No one’s going to buy an EV until there’s the proper Australian Charging infrastructure in place.

This struck me as quite surprising because not only is he an intelligent and generally all round good guy, but he actually works in the Australian auto industry. He literally builds systems for cars! Yet here he was with a completely incorrect belief on the state of charging infrastructure in Australia.

It got me thinking that if this person, who’s very much into cars, loves them and knows way more about them than I do has this knowledge gap, what does that mean about the general public, and what they know?

I can only assume that most Australian’s think along the same lines –  that there’s currently little or no electric vehicle infrastructure out there, and that this is a deal-breaker to considering an EV. Since then I’ve talked to numerous people who think the same way, so I’d like to bust this myth.

There are plenty of  EV charging options in Australia

Let’s get this out of the way first – sure, infrastructure could be improved, but there are plenty of charging points for EVs already – and  the best and most convenient option for most people is actually going to be at home.

Public charge points

The fact there are no charging options is just flat out wrong – with plenty of options all over Australia. To easily prove this as false, simply go over to these electric car charging station maps. Here you’ll see a huge range of charging infrastructure in all shapes and forms that have already been built and fully deployed.

Australian Charging
Thousands of chargers. Source: plugshare.com

As you can see there are thousands of chargers all over Australia. There are public stations, residential chargers (for use by the public), high powered “level 2” stations and more. They’re in every state, and they already exist right now.

They’re also usable by many different brands of cars and offer different charging rates depending on where you are and what you’re doing. This means that it doesn’t matter if you need a slow or fast charge or own a Nissan Leaf, BMW i3 or a Tesla. You’re already covered.

Sure, the more remote and rural areas are going to be tougher to road-trip through as an EV owner than a regular car, but a significant portion of the urban population is covered with a range of already available public chargers.

The Tesla Supercharger Network

Australian Charging

Next up we have Tesla’s famous Supercharger network. This is meant to enable long distant driving for Tesla vehicles and is again, already rolled out to many states as you can see in the image below (left, the red dots). You can read our full guide to the Tesla’s Superchargers in Australia here.

Not only is Tesla’s network already here and ready to go, it’s the fastest and most widely rolled out network in the world. While they’re not usable by all EV’s, they are growing rapidly and are free to use for most existing Tesla owners.

Tesla’s Destination Charger Network

Australian Charging
Left: Supercharger Locations. Right: Destination Charger Locations. Source: tesla.com

Also along side their Superchargers are Tesla’s Destination Charger network. While these don’t charge as fast, there are again already hundreds of them installed Australia wide.

You can find them at places like hotels, country clubs, shopping centres and more. Plus while they are mainly for Tesla vehicles there have been many reports that places add other adaptors or chargers to the mix while they’re at it.

Charging is not a “chicken and egg” problem – slow uptake of EVs does not mean a total lack of charging options

Many believe that they can’t buy an EV until the charging infrastructure has been rolled out, and that the infrastructure won’t be rolled out until more EV’s are bought.

But as we’ve just seen, the basic infrastructure is not just being rolled out, it’s already there. If you live within 200 km’s of a major city you won’t have any issues finding charging points – although charge speeds will continue to be a concern for those who rely on public charging for longer trips. This should be solved with the next round of EV’s coming on the market offering much longer range and more fast-charging options.

Many EV owners also find that their “range anxiety” quickly disappears once they own their new EV for a few weeks. They assume that owning an EV is like owning a typical petrol car. You take it to a charging point and charge it up once a week to full. This is entirely incorrect though, because…

You don’t need public chargers frequently – most of the time EV owners charge at home

Australian Charging
Source: bmw.com.au

Charging an electric vehicle is best explained by thinking about how we charge our phones. You plug it in at night and each morning you wake up to a full battery (or “tank”).

You’d no more take your EV to a charger each week to “fill up” than you would your smartphone. Sometimes, if you’re travelling to another city you might need to top up on the way. But for most cars and most people, they never come close to using the full range in any given day.

As an example the base model BMW i3 has a range of 200 km. That means that every morning when you hop into the car, it will have that full range available to you. If you do drive 200 km that day, come home, plug it in then the next morning it’d be full again.

We don’t need all petrol stations to be charging stations

This thinking stems from people thinking that you’d treat an EV just like a petrol or diesel car. The truth is though that because most of the time most people will be charging their cars at home, most petrol stations won’t be needed.

As indicated, most users will charge at home because it’s easier, quicker and more importantly cheaper. Even Tesla’s excellent Supercharger network that can costs $0.35 / kWh is a lot more than most can get electricity at during the off-peak night times.

There of course will still be times when a charging station is needed but these will be the exception, not the rule.

What about people who live in units or apartments?

Australian Charging
Any normal powerpoint in your garage will do! Source: clipsal.com

EV owners who may require charging stations all the time are those that live in apartments or rent. Often these people either can’t add home charging stations as they don’t own the unit/house or they simply don’t have a parking spot at all if they live in the city.

For those that can’t add a special charging station to their home/unit a standard power point will still be acceptable. Australian mains power is normally 240V at 10 Amps. If you charge your car over night from 7pm when you get home to 7am when you leave that’s 12 hours of charging. Charging for that long at 2.4 kW equals almost 29 kWh’s of delivered power which will get you around 100 km’s of range on a Tesla Model S.

For those that have no access to a car space, they will indeed have to rely on charging stations as if they are petrol stations. Each week or so they’ll have to take their car to a charging station to charge, so cars with fast charging capability, plus proximity to a fast charger, will be way more important to apartment dwellers.

The main option, if you can call it that given the expense, would be a Tesla – as the only EV on sale in Australia with significant enough fast-charging capability and a supporting charging network behind it. But other options will come in the next year or two, such as Renault’s Zoe, the new Nissan Leaf, and others.

For sure, EV ownership defines different behaviours in how you charge your vehicle based on how and where you live – but don’t rule it out.  

Most charging stations for EV’s are free!

That fact is many, if not most EV charging stations that are already deployed here in Australia are free! While you’d never expect to roll into a petrol station and fill up for free, that’s how life is for most owners of EV’s – for now at least.

As a quick example of this you can jump over to the ChargePoint website and turn off the “Fees Apply” button on the button left. It will then only show you free charging points in their network, of which there are many.

ChargePoint make chargers which then get installed and managed by owners, with free charging a draw-card to bring EV owners to their businesses. Below is a quick example of all the free ChargePoint charging stations in Sydney.

Australian Charging
Free ChargePoint Charging Stations

There are many of them fully installed, working and completely free. You do have to sign up to ChargePoint to use their chargers but this is also a free process.

The future of EV charging in Australia

According to the Climate Works Australia report from June 2017, there are 476 dedicated EV charging stations in Australia right now. While this is obviously less than the number of petrol stations out there I think it’s no where near as big a gap as most people assume.

Given there are 6400 petrol stations that means there’s about 1 EV charging station for every 13 petrol stations, and yes, the ratio of available chargers to pumps is much greater, that’s not a bad ratio considering how few people will be relying on them due to home charging.

And we’re by no means done with deployment of charging stations. Tesla has just recently outlined another huge expansion of their Supercharger network to add another 23 locations.

We also have the Queensland Electric Super Highway that will cover over 2,000 km is also being rolled out now adding another 18 locations. There’s also the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) in Western Australia that has installed 11 fast charging stations in south west WA.

All this adds up to the issue of availability of charging stations is becoming irrelevant now to those in urban areas, and will become increasingly irrelevant for everyone in Australia, over the next few years.

There are still many cases where rural Australians might be limited in their pick. However for the majority of people that live in Australia’s main capital cities it’s no longer anything to worry about – it’s about potential owners gaining an understanding of how and where to charge to suit their daily routines.

With charging options becoming more prevalent, the issue now is the availability of longer range, and more affordable, vehicle options that suit the Australian buyer. 

Let’s assume Aussie tastes in vehicles don’t change – to speed up the adoption of the EV in more urban areas we need to see the EV equivalents of the standard hatchback, sedan and wagon and the family-friendly SUV come on the market, and at a price point that a buyer would consider. For those outside our cities, more practical vehicles like utes and longer range 4x4s will be needed to satiate the Aussie buyer.

Let’s hope we see some options from the big manufacturers as their big EV investment push in the next few years starts to bear fruit.

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