One of the many benefits of spending hours working in cafes (pre-Covid) over the last few years is the ability to quickly scan and identify any available power points, because they don’t make laptop batteries like they used to. Turns out it’s also a useful talent when you drive a battery on wheels, as we found during a recent holiday in Tasmania, where we rented, or rather borrowed, an electric vehicle.
It’s true that Australia trails the world in both the uptake of EVs and the rollout of the relevant infrastructure. But don’t let anyone tell you that there are no charging options. Any power point will do, as long as you have the time and the patience – and power points are perfect options for overnight stays and slow lunches and dinners.
And that’s what we did, for example, on Bruny Island. We were staying at a friend’s “shack” that is powered by just two small second hand solar panels – enough for the fridge and some lights – but not for the 2019 Nissan Leaf we were driving. So overnight charging was not an option.
Happily, the beer garden at Hotel Bruny is full of power points, so – with the permission of the manager – we plugged in as we tucked in to one of their renowned seafood chowders and their other delightful offerings.
Tasmania seems to be the perfect place to rent an EV for a driving holiday. The island is relatively small, so the distances between towns and villages and its many beautiful landscapes and wilderness are short. And – thanks mostly to its considerable hydro resources and some newly added wind farms and the growing amount of rooftop solar – it has zero emissions electricity.
But rental EVs are almost impossible to find. There are some hybrids and plug in hybrids available from some rental companies, but apart from a few private owners (and some hefty daily rental rates), there are no options for renting full battery electric cars for a week or two travelling around the green Apple isle (or anywhere else in Australia, unlike New Zealand).
That may change some time soon. A private company, Electric Highway Tasmania, has played a key role in creating a network of fast and ultra fast EV charging stations which means that drivers of even mid-range EVs (200kms and more, such as the modern Leaf, the Hyundai Ioniq and the MG electric SUV) can travel almost anywhere across the state where there is a bitumen road.
The head of EHT is Clive Attwater, who was also the generous person who offered us his “spare” Nissan Leaf (he has also imported a long range Nissan Leaf from Japan), so we could discover for ourselves the joys, and the challenges, of using a “rented” EV on a driving holiday.
We had been frustrated by the lack of EV rental options, but Attwater explains in a recent episode of The Driven podcast, which you can listen to here, why he is happy that no car rental companies had “jumped the gun” and offered EVs without the charging infrastructure in place. Now that the bare minimum number of fast-chargers are operating – Attwater says the state will likely end up with around 25 such installations and a whole lot more slower chargers – he expects rental companies will start planning their roll-out of EV options.
There couldn’t be a better place for it.
We had a great time in Tasmania, we always do: the scenery (see above on top of Mt Wellington), the walking, the food, the beer and the wine are all magnificent, and the people are welcoming (even if one suspects many would have been happy for the border to stay shut during Covid).
The EV was a bonus. We drive an EV at home, so we know the pleasures of driving an electric vehicle, the lack of engine noise, the lack of idling, the relaxing drives. We are not short of charging options where we live (at home and in the nearest town), but we were interested to know how it would work out on a holiday in a place we didn’t know so well. There’s no doubt that in these early days of charging infrastructure, it does create an added element to holiday planning.
I won’t bore you with a day by day diary of our driving and our charging, but I will note just a few highlights that describe most of the issues we came across.
Mountains eat batteries, and then they feed them
Tasmania is full of mountains – none of them huge in the global scale of things, but steep enough in many instances. The first place we went to after leaving Hobart was Mt Wellington which overlooks the city. We left our AirBNB in South Hobart with around 80 per cent charge and got to the start of the drive up the mountain with around 79 per cent. Just nine kilometres later, at the summit parking lot (1,100m) it was down to 56 per cent.
It’s a little disconcerting to see the state of charge winding back before your eyes, and it probably means that you can’t drive much more than 40kms up a steep hill in a car like the 2019 Nissan Leaf (nominal range around 250kms). But guess what, what goes up must come down, and when we came back down the hill, the regeneration from the electric motor put a fair bit back into the battery.
We didn’t need to use the brakes once on the decent, apart from when one cyclist got a little excited, and by the time we got to Huonville late in the afternoon (see pic above) we had travelled about 66kms and used just over a quarter of the “tank” – after all the ups and downs, the Nissan Leaf’s consumption of one kilowatt hour of electricity per 6kms of travel had averaged out as advertised.
Islands are a challenge
We charged overnight at the next two stops where we stayed with friends, but the biggest challenge for our trip was going to be the visit to Bruny Island. We were going to get there (after the ferry crossing) with around 200kms in the tank, and we wanted to stay a few days. But Bruny is a big island, we had no overnight charging, and the limited charging infrastructure that does exist there (in Adventure Bay) was not suitable for this 2019 Leaf (although OK for a Tesla and old Leafs), so we desperately needed a top up.
Luckily, I do have an eye for power points. The first one I saw was outside the post office in Alonnah. I popped in to ask if it was OK to charge, and the lady said sure, I don’t see why not. A few minutes later someone had clearly raised an issue about their responisbility should there be a “problem” and the power point killed the car battery, or vice versa. But we re-assured her that was not a risk, so we plugged in and went for a long walk, which we were planning anyway.
On the way back, we walked past Hotel Bruny, where we had a reservation for dinner that evening, and saw the power points in the beer garden, right next to the car park. We asked the manager if it would be OK to plug in, and he was very enthusiastic, and wanted to know what sort of charger he should get installed to encourage more EVs. I said just letting people know that it is OK to plug in at one of his power points (and list it on Plugshare) is a good start, and we suggested he also have a chat to Clive to discuss other options.
So we got about another 50km of range out of those opportunistic “trickle” charging events as we went for a walk and then ate dinner, and that was enough to take away any range anxiety on Bruny, allow for an extra side trip (and a late, last dash to the Bruny Island Cheese Company), and it gave us plenty of scope to take the scenic route back to friends at Gardners Bay.
Fast charging up the highway
The longest piece of driving over the two weeks was up the highway from Hobart to Launceston, which is about 200kms, easily do-able in a longer range EV (like a Tesla, or Hyundai Kona), and do-able too in a Leaf if you don’t go flat out.
We didn’t, and wanted to take the scenic route. We stopped twice to charge – once at Kempton, where we added just 2.5kWh of juice because we wanted to see for ourselves a charging station that charged $1/kWh. See our story about that here: Is this the most expensive EV charging station in Australia?
And we also stopped at a fast-charger at Campbell Town, where we topped up while we rested and had a coffee. The point of having charging stations every 60kms or 80kms or so is that it adds choice and options. One day, no EV drivers will have to worry about charging options any more than a petrol or diesel car driver has had to worry about the location of the next service station. But that may take a few years.
We used the Campbell Town fast charger (50kW) one more time (on the way from Launceston to Swansea and during another coffee break), and the rest of the time we topped up overnight wherever we were staying.
One time, that meant putting the extension cord out through the bathroom window of the motel to reach the EV parked out front, (an Ioniq driver was doing exactly the same thing a few rooms up from us), but on most other occasions there was usually an out-door plug handy.
And in Tasmania, you can rest assured that overnight charging is emissions free, and you can wake up to a fully charged EV.
Next time we go back to Tasmania, we hope that EV rentals are actually a thing. We agree with Attwater that there is no better place to do it than Tasmania, and making EV rentals available is a great way to introduce new drivers to the pleasures of driving electric.
Here is one final thought about our trip, and something that we have learned from the 18 months of driving our own electric car. EVs can go really fast. But it is really nice to take it slow. If your holiday is about racing from one spot to another in the shortest possible time, then maybe electric is not your best choice for a rental. But if you are looking for peace and relaxation, then you couldn’t make a better choice.
We spent more than two weeks driving around Tasmania (in between a couple of long walks), and never even put the driving mode out of “Eco” – the other choices are “normal” and “sport”. We didn’t feel the need.
An EV, even in Eco mode, still has enough instant torque to make driving fun, the batteries in the floor give it a low centre of gravity and good handling, and the quietness and the lack of vibration and tailpipe emissions make it all a much more pleasant experience.
Hopefully, coming to your next holiday destination some time soon.