Our Model 3 has done 66,000kms in 2 years, and we’ve paid zero for “fuel”. But not for long

Published by
Giles Parkinson

It’s 2pm on a Monday afternoon in early spring. The sun is shining, and the rooftop solar system on our home is powering everything we have switched on just now – the fridge, the pool pump, assorted appliances, and the charger for the Tesla Model 3 in the car port.

Black Beauty – every Tesla is invited to adopt a name when you take delivery and set up your personal profile in the car’s computer system – has just turned two.

It’s also just clocked up 66,000kms in those two years, courtesy of the near daily trips to town and the beach and a whole host of longer journeys, including six trips (in between lock-downs) of more than 2,500kms each from the Byron region to Sydney and Canberra and the Blue Mountains, and other trips further north and west to visit wind and solar farms.

So far, we have not had to pay a single dollar to “fuel”, or to charge the battery, for our EV.

The reason is that we have been able to charge the car at home with our rooftop solar, or we have been able to use the free charging facilities in the local area and elsewhere installed by councils and the NRMA, and the free “super-charging” from the Tesla super-charging network thanks to a series of “referrals”.

The big brown blob in the middle is mostly the EV charging.

It’s been – apart from the sheer joy of driving an electric car, and the Tesla in particular – one of the benefits of being an early adopter, and has offset some of the extra cost that comes from being such an early adopter, who get to pay much more for their EVs than those who follow.

Just as an example, we could now buy a similar model Tesla in NSW – thanks to price drops, rebates and stamp duty exemptions – for around $12,000 less than what we paid two years ago. Ouch.

But in that time we’ve saved thousands of dollars in fuel costs. At an average of 140 watt hours per kilometre, Black Beauty has consumed 9,240kWh of electricity. And we have been lucky enough to pay nothing for that electricity, apart from foregoing some revenue that we would have earned exporting solar back into the grid from our rooftop solar system.

If we had covered the same distance in my old Peugeot, it would have cost us around $7,000 in fuel, assuming around 7 litres per 100kms, and around $1.50 a litre for the diesel.

What’s more, we’ve done a lot for the environment. According to the WHO, air pollution – much of it from the tailpipe of fossil fuel vehicles – is responsible for around seven million deaths a year, and there are zero tailpipe emissions from this car.

And even on the bleakest assessment of the life cycle carbon emissions of EVs, the Tesla has been running on a net benefit for the last 6,000kms, and will continue to do so for the rest of it life. Given that we use solar and 100 per cent renewable offset EV charging, the embodied emissions in Black Beauty was probably paid back more than a year, or 35,000kms ago.

The sad news is that the days of free charging are likely to be over anytime soon.

For a start, it appears Tesla has now brought an end to its referral system, which allowed for a new owners, and the referrer, to get 1,500kms of free charging at Tesla’s supercharging network. Fortunately, we’ve still got some in the “loot box” that should be good for another couple of long distance trips, if and when the lockdowns end.

Tesla super-charging with friends in Goulburn

The second development is that the local Byron Shire Council, one of several forward thinking municipalities that installed charging points at various locations, is bringing the offer of free charging to an end.

It turns out there are now so many EVs in the shire – resident or visiting – and the charging facilities have become so popular (particularly the 40kW fast-charger at the council library), that the council has decided that users should now start paying.

So, from the end of this week, that will cost 40c/kWh (and 20c/kWh for the slower charging units in the council office carpark).

It’s also likely that some time soon the NRMA will start charging money for its network of fast charging stations too, although we don’t know what that will look like, or if it will apply to NRMA members. Good on the NRMA, though, for taking the initiative and being one of the early movers in building a fast-charging network.

All this means that we will end up doing more charging at home. Before the latest lockdown I hadn’t done much of this because there were so many free alternatives, and all of them conveniently close to my favorite cafes.

But the lockdowns have closed those cafes, so it seemed to make more sense to charge at home after my morning exercise. And because we want to do it with solar only, we dial down the charging capacity from 7kW to 2kW. But even at that “trickle charge”, it’s enough to put back into the battery what we use in the  morning within a few hours.

What does that cost us? No money goes out the door, but it means that we sacrifice some revenue from the solar feed in tariff. In the rate structure we have, which pays just 6c/kWh after the first 35kWh of exports a week, that’s not a big sum.

Let’s say we add in 8kWh over four hours to replenish the electricity we used in the 50km round trip to town in the morning, that’s going to forego a grand total of 48c each day. It would have cost us more than $5 in fuel in the Peugeot.

And here’s the other thing. Apart from the fuel cost savings and the emissions reductions, we’ve paid zero for maintenance. We haven’t taken the Tesla for a service, because we don’t need to. We’ve topped up the windscreen washing liquid and we’ve changed all the tires once, and we are about to change the rear wheel tires again (it’s a rear wheel drive).

But that’s it. The brake pads are fine because we rarely use them – the regenerative braking handles most of the slowing down, and puts energy back into the battery as it does so. It means you hardly ever need to touch the brake pedal.

And we couldn’t be happier. The initial buzz of owning and driving an EV has subsided a bit, but this car is still so much fun, and so relaxing to drive. NSW energy minister Matt Kean, who also owns a Model 3, says it is the best car he has ever driven.

We agree. We take our Model 3 on work trips, camping, on holidays, for 3,000km round trips, and the long board is easily accommodated on the roof rack. Other Model 3s have tow bars for boats and campers and jet-skis. Other people barely give the car a second glance, now that there are so many around, although many people still have lots of questions.

It will probably be that way until the first electric utes arrive on Australian shores. And that, more than anything, will really change the conversation.

Distance travelled: 66,000kms at an average of 140 watt hours per kilometre.

Electricity consumed: 9,240kWh.

Charging cost: Zero

If we’d charged at home using rooftop solar only: $554 in lost solar feed in tariff revenue (6c/kWj).

If we’d charged at home using grid: $2,310 (25c/kWh).

If we’d charged only at fee-based charging stations: $3,700 (40c/kWh).

If we used the Peugeot (7l/100kms and $1.50/l): 4,620 litres of fuel, or $6,930.

If we had a bigger gas guzzler (10l/100kms at $1.50/l): 6,660 litres of fuel, or $10,000.

Note: Charging rates vary from network to network, and charging speeds. The highest we have seen is $1/kWh. Some charging stations also have a “time based” component to discourage users from going to lunch and leaving their car plugged in.


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