WA buries report on low cost charging network, frustrating EV industry | The Driven
Three EVs parked at the Esperance foreshore. Supplied
Three EVs parked at the Esperance foreshore. Supplied

The Western Australian government has drawn criticism around a highly unusual delay on the publication of a report on establishing a statewide electric vehicle (EV) charging network.

The report, which proposes a relatively low cost roll out of a network in Perth and across regional and remote West Australia, has sat on the desk of cabinet for more than twelve months since it was finalised.

The product of an electric vehicle working group created in 2017 under a memorandum of understanding to “identify opportunities to collaborate in promoting and accelerating the transition to electric vehicles”, it was finalised in December 2018 and only published after a push by its authors.

Although Australia lags behind the transition to electric mobility, there were three times as many EVs sold in Australia in 2019 compared to 2018 and the global shift is likely to continue as carmakers are forced to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles in countries such as the UK.

Western Australia once led the way in the introduction of electric vehicle charging infrastructure – the RAC EV charging network rolled out in 2015 consisted of 11 sites from Perth to Augusta in the south, and was the first of its kind in Australia.

The new report seeks to ensure equity of access to EV charging infrastructure across remote and regional WA and hence encourage consumer confidence in the technology – and according to the authors it could be done for the “crazy cheap” sum of $23.6 million.

“The last barrier to EV uptake is to encourage regional and rural Australia to embrace EVs,” says Australian Electric Vehicle Association (AEVA) spokesman for WA, Chris Jones, adding it wouldn’t cost very much compared to other vehicle refuelling infrastructure.

“It’s crazy cheap compared to what we spend – even a (petrol station) roadhouse is a minimum $2 million.”

After it was submitted to cabinet, Jones says he and other contributors to the report, including EV owner David Lloyd and head of the UWA Renewable Energy Vehicle Project (REV Project) Thomas Bräunl, were surprised at the lack of action on the report.

“Usually when proposals go to cabinet its in lockdown and then it comes out as a policy. We thought maybe they’re spending time devising a cracking good EV policy,” Jones tells The Driven.

Bräunl tells The Driven, “After one year lapsed and nothing had been done we were really pushing to get it published so we could at least use it for scientific publications.”

It took Bräunl writing to government to request it be published or he would publish it to get any response. As a result, it is now published on the REV Project website, not a government site.

The report outlines a plan to establish 6 EV charging sites in the Perth area and another 57 sites across the state about 200km apart to provide access for locals as well as encourage electric vehicle tourism.

It also encourages the state government fleet to adopt a moderate target of 25% electric vehicles that would also help establish a secondhand market for electric vehicles.

But Lloyd says that the report may have been held back by the hydrogen lobby backed largely by the powerful gas industry.

“The amount [of $23.6 million” is a drop in the bucket for main roads,” says Lloyd.

“One reason for delay was the hydrogen lobby which wanted the report to include hydrogen stations,” he says.

Jones agrees. “I do think they’ve been huffing on hydrogen pretty hard, because gas industry rules the roost,” he says.

But installation of hydrogen refuelling stations have an asking price of $4-5 million per station according to Lloyd – and while the technology may make sense for long haul and heavy vehicles, there are only two hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles currently on the market, the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Nexo.

Hydrogen infrastructure would not only cost more to build, it would also cost drivers more at the pump.

“To produce the hydrogen it’s going to cost more than petrol, cost more than electric energy, because the energy efficiency is 4-5 times lower for hydrogen compared to electricity for passenger vehicles” adds Bräunl.

Because the government has chosen to instead sit on the report, Jones and fellow AEVA members are instead taking matters into their own hands, starting a campaign to build a crowdfunded EV network between Perth and Esperance.

“In the absence of government support we have to do it ourselves,” says Jones. “We’re sick of waiting, although I don’t think it’s a sustainable way to do it.”

Bräunl says that it’s not too late to table the report, and AEVA is encouraging EV owners to pressure their local members to do so.

“The data hasn’t dated, ideally it should be actioned,” says Bräunl.

“There needs to be initial funding from government otherwise it’s not going to be economical.”

“Western Australia is unique from most western countries – the market is not going to solve this.”

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