It is now 25 years since General Motors introduced the EV1 full-electric vehicle to the world, and something interesting has happened in the transition to EVs – it is no longer the domain of the “innovator” or the “early adopter”.
Overseas, the transition from ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) to electric vehicles (EV) has been accelerating over the last 6 – 12 months, and the fall in ICE vehicle sales that began in 2017 continues its decline.
In fact, many of the biggest vehicle manufacturers are now planning to end the production of ICE vehicles within the next 5 – 15 years.
Even in Australia, still with low sales compared to other western economies, the the market is about to move beyond the ‘innovators’ stage, the UK is even now passing out of ‘Early Adopter’, Sweden has hit ‘Early Majority’ and Norway is effectively starting to mop up the ‘Laggards’. (See graph below).
As a result, it is probably time I wrote a new ‘EV101’ article to introduce EVs to Australia’s next (and bigger) group of EV buyers – the ‘Early Adopters’. No longer are EVs the domain of the geek – they are now a mainstream technology on the way to replacing the previously entrenched one.
Jusdt to be clear: Early adopters are characterised by their willingness to adopt new products early, but carefully – unlike the innovators who are prepared to take a risk before a new technology is settled.
So what is an ‘EV’?
The term Electric Vehicle (or ‘EV’) is used to cover all types of vehicle using an electric motor/s as part or all of their drive system. There are four main types of EV – these being BEV, PHEV, HEV and FCEV.
Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV)
The simplest EV is the battery electric vehicle (BEV), which effectively has only four major components:
- An AC electric motor,
- a battery (either 400 or 800V DC),
- a motor controller that converts DC electricity to AC in order to drive the motor. (By the way – when braking, the vehicle motor acts as a generator to partially recharge the battery – a process called regenerative braking) and
- a socket that can accept either AC or DC to recharge the battery.
All new BEVs on the Australian market now have reliable driving ranges of between 250km to 550km depending on the battery size. However, the most costly component of any EV is still the battery.
As BEVs need a good sized battery to give a respectable range, manufacturers have in the past developed ‘hybrids’ of EV and ICE technology to minimise vehicle prices whilst battery production increases enough to produce the economies of scale needed to significantly reduce their cost.
Hybrid EVs fall into two broad categories.
Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)
To reduce overall vehicle cost, PHEVs use a smaller battery and add a diesel or petrol motor to extend the driving range. PHEVs generally have an electric-only1 range of 12 – 70km2 depending on the battery size.
Provided a PHEV is driven mainly within its electric-only range and recharged between uses – there are considerable savings to be had by owning one. PHEVs are best suited for short trip, stop-start inner city type journeys where regenerative braking plays a major role.
However, if a PHEV is normally driven at highway speed and/or driven well beyond the electric-only range and/or not recharged between uses – a PHEV can actually generate more greenhouse gas emissions than driving a smaller, fuel efficient vehicle. Therefore choosing a PHEV needs careful analysis of the intended use-case in comparison with both BEV and non EV options.
Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV)
Being the first mass-market EV to be sold in numbers, HEVs are often considered by the general public as the first ‘electric vehicle’. The best-known examples being the Toyota Prius (introduced to Australia in the early 2000s) and the current Toyota Camry hybrid.
HEVs have smaller batteries than PHEVs, as well as no recharging plug/s. This means the only way a HEV battery can recharge is through regenerative braking – which in stop-start conditions results in fuel savings of up to 20%. (This by the way is why HEVs are currently so beloved of the taxi industry).
HEVs generally do not have an electric-only range, or if they do will only operate in electric-only mode up to a certain speed – commonly 40km/h. As a result, many in the industry do not consider HEVs to be true EVs as they cannot run without using fossil fuels and cannot be recharged by a plug.
In fact, HEVs are including in the upcoming bans on sales of new fossil-fuelled vehicles being legislated for by many countries. These include Norway and Holland in 2025, the UK in 2030 and all of Europe by 2035.
It is worth noting here that the tipping point for BEV price parity with ICE is predicted to be around US$100/kWh. Given battery prices have fallen from above US$1100 in 2010 to around US$137 now, the commonly predicted 2024 price parity point seems to be holding up well.
As a result – hybrids may soon see the end of the road when BEV ranges and recharging speeds are seen as effectively equivalent to ICE (which for the majority of use cases, they are reaching now) – as well as being vastly more convenient through most ‘refuelling’ being done from the comfort of your own home.
Better known as ‘the hydrogen car’, FCEVs combine hydrogen and oxygen inside a special reaction chamber, called a fuel cell, to generate electricity to drive the electric motor.
Unlike EVs, FCEVs do have a tailpipe – but all that comes out is water vapour! FCEVs incorporate a battery similar in size to a PHEV to accept the recharge from regenerative braking, as well as provide boosted electrical capacity under acceleration. (Fuel cells do not tolerate rapid changes in electrical demand).
Currently, FCEVs and their refuelling network are far less well developed than BEV technology. In addition, the electrical needs for generating the hydrogen to run an FCEV are significantly greater than that needed to run a BEV for the same distance.
Given the recharging speed for the latest BEVs is now up to more than 100km charged in 5 minutes (with further improvements still to come), even the previously touted refuelling speed advantage of hydrogen over BEV has effectively been lost before FCEVs become available for sale in any numbers.
As a result – FCEVs are unlikely to take a slice of the future electric passenger or light commercial vehicle markets. FCEVs may have a niche in heavy trucks or machinery, but with the Tesla BEV semi soon to hit the market with the same load capacity as its diesel equivalent, a driving range of up to 1000km plus a Tesla ‘megacharger’ network about to be rolled out, it may be hard for a niche hydrogen transport sector to emerge.
How do you charge an EV?
There has in the past been some confusion here – not helped by a recent Toyota ad for hybrids showing a tangle of leads – but rest assured that any confusion about plug types and leads is behind us.
The key issue with EVs is it is a paradigm shift in refuelling thinking. First up: the stats are that 90% or more of charging is currently done at home, with only 5 – 7% using DC fast charge (DCFC). This means 90% or more of petrol station thinking is gone.
Once you get to realise that standing in all weathers to pump fuel into your vehicle is a waste of time, and that EVs saving you perhaps 15 to 30 minutes a week in finding, refuelling and returning to your route – the rest is easy.
EV charging is instead done in one of two ways –
- using regular household power to charge at home/work/your holiday destination or
- using a special purpose DC fast-charger (DCFC) that can give much faster recharge times when you need them. (Like when travelling interstate).
If using regular household power – you have the choice of recharging using a simple power point or, for faster recharges, installing a dedicated higher power outlet called an EVSE.
On the road, every two to three hours you will stop to use a different charger with a slightly different shape that fits into the same socket as your home charger. (This by the way is called the CCS2 socket, as shown below. All new EVs sold here have CCS2 sockets except the Nissan Leaf. Nissan however will change to CCS2 with their new generation EV – the Ariya).
The latest crop of EVs using DC fast-chargers can achieve charging speeds of up to 100km charged in 5 minutes, with improvements still to come. EVs doing this now include the Porsche Taycan, Mercedes EQS and the long range Teslas, as well as the soon to arrive Hyundai Ioniq 5.
To help with understanding this new EV charging paradigm, I have put together the following table for a Hyundai Kona and a Hyundai Ioniq 5.
Notes to table:
All times are estimates only and not endorsed by the manufacturer.
- Assuming 15kWh/100km efficiency.
- Kona has a maximum AC charge rate of 7.4kW.
- Ioniq 5 3 phase AC rate is 11kW.
- Kona maximum DC charge rate is 70kW.
- Ioniq 5 maximum DC charge rate is 220kW.
- To 80%.
And that’s about it! EVs are really simple, far simpler than their ICE predecessors.
This makes them both cheaper to maintain and less likely to break down. Running out of ‘fuel’ is also easier to remedy – no waiting for the local auto association to arrive or walking to find a fuel station and return with a messy 4L fuel tin and funnel.
All it takes is finding the nearest power point and plugging in for a short while to get enough charge to reach the nearest DC fast-charger.
With Australia about to pass 2% EV sales, I feel very pleased to be welcoming the next generation of EV owners: the Early Adopters. I am looking forward to meeting you on the roads … and making many, many more new friends.
- Electric-only. Means the vehicle can drive using the electric motor alone without the ICE running.
- The BMWi3 REx is the exception with a 200km electric-only range for the 120Ah version.
Bryce Gaton is an expert on electric vehicles and contributor for The Driven and Renew Economy. He has been working in the EV sector since 2008 and is currently working as EV electrical safety trainer/supervisor for the University of Melbourne. He also provides support for the EV Transition to business, government and the public through his EV Transition consultancy EVchoice.