A new company chaired by former NSW Liberal leader Kerry Chikarovski has bought up 60 car washes around Australia, and plans to transform them into ultra-fast electric vehicle charging stations.
The company, called Bell Resources, will install solar panels and a battery at each car wash, and use them to power ultra-fast chargers ranging from 175 to 350 kilowatts.
The company’s chief executive, Mark Avery, told The Driven the chargers would eventually be able to charge EVs to 80 per cent in well under 10 minutes.
He said initially the plan would be to install around 100 kW of solar capacity at each site, but as demand grew, more capacity would be added by leasing space on neigbouring buildings, and other places. The batteries, built by Swedish firm ABB, would start at around 200kWh with the potential to increase in 100kWh blocks as demand grew, he said.
Avery said the car washes were mostly small operators, but would be brought under the uniform “Bell Hub” branding, and upgraded to resemble petrol stations, complete with “barista coffee” facilities and boards out the front advertising the going rate by the kilowatt.
The self-serve car wash facilities – which he said were often highly profitable – would remain there, though customers would not be able to charge and wash their car simultaneously.
Avery said the batteries would allow the company to set dynamic pricing, meaning at certain times – when the battery is well charged but demand is low – the cost per kilowatt could fall as low as 10 cents.
“We’re doing things a little bit differenlty in the EV charging side of things,” he said. “Most operators to date have simply put EV chargers in straight from the grid, and put transformers in.
“Our plan is to put a large battery on site, and also we’ll build out a solar farm platform on the roofs of the carwashes, and also extend out that footprint … as far as possible to create as much solar energy [as possible] from the site, that would go into the battery.”
He said this set up would provide options. During the day, a percentage of the power used to charge cars might be pulled straight from the solar panels, some of it might come from the battery, and some from the grid. The battery would give flexibility to respond to fluctuations in demand.
“What it does is it provides us the opportunity to provide dynamic pricing,” he said. “With the service station market, the minute the per litre price drops down, there is a lot more activity of people filling up there cars. That’s what we want to do with charging of the cars.”
The 60 car washes are located across Australia, from northern Queensland to Western Australia. He said over the next few years, the plan was to expand the network to around 300 charging stations.
Despite the lack of federal government policy to incentivise EV uptake, Avery said he was confident that consumers would increasingly go electric, attracted by their lower cost to run, and increasingly the potential to charge quickly.
But he said he hoped most state and federal government would eventually come to recognise that incentives such as tax breaks are a good idea.
“The states are pushing ahead in this area. Eventually we’ll see some policies. As the electric vehicles become more into the mass market, I think the policy both at a state and federal level will evolve,” he said.
Kerry Chikarovski was leader of the NSW Liberals from 1998 to 2002.
James Fernyhough is a reporter at RenewEconomy and The Driven. He has worked at The Australian Financial Review and the Financial Times, and is interested in all things related to climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy.