One of the most common questions that is put to me as an electric vehicle driver is the time it takes to go on a long trip – just long does it take to charge an EV on the road? And how much does it cost?
Some people reckon they know already. Federal energy minister Angus Taylor has tried to scare people off EVs by claiming it would take five days to charge an EV with solar power, and three times as long to drive from Sydney to the Gold Coast in an EV, compared to a fossil fuel car. Nonsense.
Motoring writers, such as this one, often leap to conclusions and make wild claims about EV charging being significantly more expensive than filling a tank with petrol and diesel. And former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson hates EVs so much he blames the manufacturers when he spends an hour at lunch and then discovers he forgot to plug in properly.
I’ve made the trip from the Byron area to Sydney and Canberra and back four times in the last 14 months in my Model 3 SR+, and many times previously in a fossil fuel car. And I can vouch that it takes about the same time. On this trip, at least the return leg, I decided to log it in detail, to carefully monitor our usage and charging, just to set the record straight.
First, to the question of time taken. It doesn’t take three times as long, as Taylor wants people to believe. On the way down, we left Byron just after 7.30am, stopped at our favourite cafe to pick up some takeaway latte’s and then stopped three times en route to top up the battery, and arrived in Sydney at 5pm. That’s 9.5 hours, including total charging time of 1hr and 10 minutes, and we weren’t in any particular rush.
On the way back, we left just before 7 and the car told us we’d be home just before 4pm, after another three top up charging stops of about 20 minutes each. In the the end, we got back at 5pm, but that’s because we stopped for an extra hour for brunch, and to write a story and edit much of yesterday’s newsletter, at the Cassegrain winery near Port Macquarie, where six Tesla superchargers are located. I’d recommend it, great food and fine coffee. And it’s prettier than a petrol station.
Tesla charges 52c per kilowatt hour for its superchargers, a recently increased rate that created some outrage in some quarters and led to articles like this that claimed driving a Tesla now cost more in fuel costs than a petrol or diesel equivalent.
But that’s wrong. Clearly, the author hasn’t travelled any distance in a Tesla, because he would know that the Wh per kilometer rating he cited was not right. Either that or he’s got a lead foot and likes to drive well beyond the legal speed limit.
He cited 190wh/km. To be fair, that’s an “official” figure provided to the government, but it’s not correct, and is the result of the perverse testing rules in the US that are not worth going into in detail here.
To illustrate this, I recorded in detail the Wh/km rate and charging figures of our return trip from Sydney to Byron.
The first illustration above is the leg from the northern suburbs of Sydney to Heatherbrae, near Newcastle, the first supercharger. It includes some suburban driving, and then the freeway to Newcastle. It loves the hills! In this section it averaged 137Wh/km.
In the next section, from Heatherbrae to near Port Macquarie, it was pretty much all freeway, and pretty much all at adaptive cruise, and with the air-con on, and mostly sitting on 111km/h. The average consumption was 155Wh/km, which rose to 166Wh/km in the next section to Coffs, and then back to 155Wh/km for the next leg home.
We left Sydney with 92% charge, and topped up three times at Tesla superchargers along the way (Heatherbrae, Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour), for a total of 87kWh, or $45.24 if we had to pay. When we arrived in Byron we had just less than 20% left, and will top it up in the morning with our own solar. And dear Mr Taylor, it won’t take us five days to do so.
I reckon $45 for a 760km trip isn’t usurious. My old diesel Peugot 207 was reasonably efficient on long trips and consumed around 45 litres (at 6.o litres per 100kms) for the same trip, for a cost of near $60 (at around $1.25 a litre), or close to $70 at around $1.50 a litre. And it’s inevitable that fast charging, and then ultra fast charging, will be more significantly more expensive than charging at home, but you only use it for long trips.
Even if you included the notional cost for the home charging before this latest trip, the Tesla still comes out cheaper than a petrol equivalent. And frankly, not many people actually pay at Superchargers. Drivers usually charge at home, and when they do travel long distances they take advantage of free credits.
I’m still going through the credit from a referral (1,500km if you use a referral code), so I didn’t actually pay the $45.
Over the past 11 days, from the round trip to Canberra and back, and various side trips, we racked up more than 3,000kms of driving, but only used 1,100kms of the credits on our account because we mostly charged overnight or during the day – at hotels and friends.
In fact, it’s one of the joys of being a relatively early adopter in an EV right now, there’s free charging almost everywhere (from NRMA and local councils), so thanks to that and an abundance of free credits, I haven’t actually had to pay a cent and I’m just about to reach 40,000kms on the odomoter (at an average consumption, I should point out, of 138Wh/km). I have used my own rooftop solar to charge, but that’s costing me nothing, or a notional 6c/kWh in lost revenue from solar exports.
So there you go. It’s true that you have to think about where and when you will charge if you go on long trips, more so if you don’t own a Tesla (In a Tesla, the computer will do it for you). In another EV, there are fewer and often insufficient fast charging options, so it may take longer to charge, but the numbers of charging options are growing, and need to.
PS: If you are interested in buying a Tesla Model 3, and you would like a 1500km charging credit, you are welcome to use my referral link. https://ts.la/giles20203 – do remember to add it in when you actually order, and not as an afterthought.
PPS: And if you do want to find out more about charging options, at home and on the road, please register and then tune in to our free Zoom webinar we are hosting next Wednesday afternoon with Solaray’s Peter Thorne , ABB’s Steve Amor, and Everty’s Carola Jonas (and myself). There will be plenty of opportunity to ask questions, and there are many to ask.
PPPS. We averaged 155wh/km over the 750kms up the highway to Byron. That includes having air conditioning on for just about the whole trip, and driving into a stiff north-easterly for much of it.
Another thing we have noticed is that having the car on adaptive cruise or auto pilot seems to increase the consumption by a small amount – maybe around 5 per cent. That might be because the car stays at the nominated speed up a hill, so gobbles up the energy when trying to maintain that speed. We think that rigid adherence to a setting consumes more energy than a human, who might allow the speed to come off a bit and then go faster down hill. Or maybe the human migh acelerate up the hill! Just an observation, I’d be interested to know what others make of it.
PPPPS. I wouldn’t recommend that people do the same trip. The holidays are coming and Byron is already full! The Gold Coast has superchargers too! And so does Victoria!
PPPPPS: Don’t forget the webinar.