Government officials have again debunked a viral image of an allegedly diesel-powered electric vehicle charging station in remote central Australia, revealing the prototype has only provided renewable energy to vehicles.
The issue emerged during a Senate Estimates hearing on Monday, when Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie asked about the widely circulated photo of an NRMA charger at Erldunda, in the Northern Territory, that appeared to be using a diesel generator.
The image, which sparked speculation about the environmental credentials of using electric cars in outback Australia, was shared on Instagram in late October last year and viewed more than three million times.
But Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water deputy secretary Jo Evans clarified the charger in the photo was connected to solar panels that powered the unit, in addition to a backup generator.
“They are not diesel-powered chargers – they are renewable chargers but they have a back-up diesel generator because we are experimenting here about what’s the best way of delivering charging services,” Ms Evans said.
Federal energy department spokesman Matthew Ryan, from the land and transport division, also revealed the charger’s diesel backup had not been used to charge any electric cars to date.
“I did ask NRMA about how that is going,” he said.
“I asked how many times that had been used, the backup generator, and zero.”
Mr Ryan said Erldunda’s electric vehicle charger had been installed as a prototype to support the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge taking place between Darwin and Adelaide, and was designed with a backup generator to work separately from the electricity grid.
He said three types of electric vehicle chargers were being tested as part of NRMA’s EV-charging rollout, including models connected to the electricity grid, models using a combination of power from the grid and a battery, and others using solar with a generator as backup.
“There is a diesel backup generator, which is common practice, because the approach is if, say, rain happens and you’ve got motorists relying on this network, you want to be able to charge (their cars),” he said.
The NRMA received federal government funding to establish a network of 117 fast-charging stations in rural and regional Australia in April 2023 as part of a target to make chargers available every 150km across national highways.
Australia added another 755 car-charging points in 397 locations during 2023, according to research from consulting firm Next System.
The company’s Public Fast Charger Network Report predicted another 900 charging sites could be installed at 470 locations during 2024 to accommodate the growing number of electric vehicles on Australian roads.