After some lip-service in the past year, the Coalition has suddenly changed its tune on electric vehicles. After Labor announced its EV plan and its rather cautious target, the Coalition now claims that EVs are going to destroy our way of life.
The Coalition – and conservative commentators – assert that EVs have no useful range, can’t tow and take all night to re-charge. So, here are a couple of reminders about the reality of EVs for the Prime Minister and Energy Minister.
You don’t usually re-fill/re-fuel an EV
Petrol/Diesel/LPG vehicles re-fuel. At service stations, every week or two.
EVs don’t. EVs can be charged at home or work from a standard 10A plug (or from a faster specially installed charger) or at shopping centres or other ‘destinations’ where you park. They TOP-UP. Regularly.
Usually while the person is working, sleeping or doing something else. A friend of mine has an EV with (just) a 150km range (BMW i3, First-Generation) and they top-up at work once a week and at home on weekends from the solar on their house.
They live 15km from work, i.e. a 30km round trip each day, excluding side trips to pick up some milk or go to a meeting. They say they have NEVER used a public charger because they always have charge in the car from this top-up strategy.
If they did need more charge for an unexpected long trip and didn’t know where the nearest charger was, they used their navigation system or phone to direct them to a charger.
You don’t ‘fill-up’ at fast chargers
In the rare case that a person needs to re-charge from a public fast charger, they take just what they need, and no more because it is both cheaper and quicker.
To explain, if they need to get home and are running low, they will need to find some charge. Their car’s dashboard will tell them how far the car can go, given current driving conditions and the current driving style.
If the battery range is not enough – let’s say they need another 10km to get home – they will need to get enough charge to drive at least 10km.
They will know how far their particular car goes on a kWh because it tells the driver on the dashboard, real-time. So, they go to a charger, plug in and load enough kWh to do 10km, and a bit more to be safe.
In this case, let’s say their car can do 6km on 1 kWh, they need about 2 kWh to get home. They load 3 kWh to be safe, pay, (possibly paying more for the 3 kWh than they would pay at home) and then unplug and go home.
A charge of 3 kWh will take about 30 seconds from an ultra-fast charger; 4 minutes from a fast-ish charger; or 8 minutes from a medium-speed charger. Faster chargers will probably cost more to use per kWh, so re-filling at home will be cheaper. When they get home, they plug in and the car fills up while they sleep.
Re-filling on long trips
Most people don’t drive long trips every day. Some do, and they may not be able to use an EV but could use a plug-in hybrid. But for the majority, long road trips are a rare occurrence.
If a person is travelling inter-state in an EV, they will need to ensure that there is a charger every 70% or so of their car’s range. (Just like you do with petrol.)
If the car’s range is 400km (the new normal), they’ll probably be looking to stop every 250km (i.e. every 2.5 – 3 hours) for a break and a re-fill. Using an ultra-fast charger, that will take less than 10 minutes – just time for a toilet break and to buy a coffee.
Some EVs can tow; some can’t. Some petrol cars can tow; some can’t.
Generally; the power, torque, weight and centre of gravity of an EV is higher than its equivalent petrol/diesel vehicle. Electric utes aren’t available yet but should be available soon to ‘plug’ that particular market gap.
Drivers select a vehicle that suits their needs. If a person needs to move sand all day, they won’t buy a sedan. If they need to tow a caravan, they will pick an EV that can.
EVs are more expensive
Yes, to buy. Today.
But because the running costs are so ridiculously low, they make up for that quite quickly. In the trade, this is called Total Cost of Ownership and it factors in servicing, fuel, brakes, tyres, etc. EVs have today, in many cases, a similar TCO to petrol/diesel in the categories where EVs exist – large SUVs and Utes are not yet available.
Most analysts (ICCT, Bloomberg et al.) expect the purchase price of EVs to fall below the purchase price of equivalent petrol/diesel by 2025.
At this point, a buyer will be faced with a choice: buy a petrol/diesel car which will cost more than an EV to buy and MUCH more to service and re-fuel – i.e. it will have a much higher TCO; or buy an EV.
The Labor announcement of a target of 50% of new sales being EV by 2030 is thus quite conservative because the market will shift to EVs on its own after 2025, based on rational financial decision-making.
No access to off-street parking & charging, anywhere
If a person really can’t top-up at work or at home (e.g. they have no off-street parking and not even an ordinary 10A plug-point), then they will need to periodically top-up or re-fill at a public charger. They will either use ultra-fast chargers or top-up at a medium-speed charger while they do their shopping.
Speed of re-charge
Ultra-fast chargers can re-charge EVs at over 2000km per hour, based on the size of the battery in the car, the speed it can accept charge, the number of km it does on 1 kWh and some other factors.
If an EV has a 400km range and arrives at the charger needing 300km (in other words, on a quarter battery), it’ll take 8 – 10 minutes to re-charge if one discounts the slow-down for the last 20%.
Generally, if an EV is using a fast charger, most drivers don’t wait for the last 20%; they drive off, unless they really need to get to 100% which may take a few more minutes.
In towns and cities, vehicles travel at a low average speed due to traffic lights, congestion, roundabouts, etc. In Melbourne, according to VicRoads, that average speed is 35 km/hour. So, for someone who has an EV with a range of 450 km, they can travel, non-stop, for 12 hours.
People who live in rural areas may need to re-charge within the day if they travel more than 300km in that day.
EVs can reduce emissions
If charged from renewable energy, EVs produce no emissions during their lifetime. Anywhere. That’s good because we need to stop climate change. Petrol/diesel cars produce high emissions their whole lives. EVs should use renewables wherever possible – a nice challenge for government policy.
If EVs are charged from the grid, then emissions are produced because the grid includes coal/gas generation. However, the proportion of renewables in the grid is increasing and the proportion of coal/gas in the grid is decreasing, so grid emissions will decrease over time.
Even in Victoria, currently the worst state for grid emissions, an EV will produce between 120 g/km (smaller car) and 180 g/km (big car). TODAY.
(Compare that with a medium-sized petrol sedan actually using 10 L/100km, which is well over 200 g/km). But in 5 years, the grid will be producing far fewer emissions. So, the same cars charging from the grid will produce, say, 60g/km (small car) and 90g/km (large car).
Putting a petrol/diesel car on the road today will result in a lifetime of worsening emissions (as the engine wears out). Even if charged from the various State grids, an EV produces lower emissions every year.
In conclusion, the world is switching to EVs not just because they are faster, quieter, less vibrating/tiring to drive, more fun, or better for our health.
They are also switching because the world believes that we need to stop climate change and transport emissions are a major contributor to climate change.
Bede Doherty is an independent consultant in climate change mitigation, specialising in transport including fuels/powertrains, fuelling infrastructure and emissions.