In ‘Electric vehicles’ Category

Renault Zoe at EV Expo

Understanding EV emissions

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Does it really make a difference to your emissions if you buy an EV but run it on fossil fuel generated electricity, compared to sticking with the petrol guzzler? Bryce Gaton re-examines this issue.

Does owning an EV make any difference to your personal transport emissions? In the light of recent statements about EV emissions from Liberal MP Craig Kelly, it seemed a good time to revisit my 2012 analysis of carbon emissions from electric vehicles (EVs) versus petrol vehicles.


In 2012, the result was positive for the only new EV available in Australia at that time—the Mitsubishi iMiEV—when stacked up against a comparable small car, the Toyota Corolla. The iMiEV had lower emissions when driven in all states in Australia on the ‘city cycle’ (modelling typical car use around the city). Only in Victoria on the ‘combined’ city/country cycle did the EV have slightly higher emissions—and that situation could be avoided if it was charged using solar and/or GreenPower.

Six years later, the grid has changed, and the EV and petrol car offerings have changed. So has the result changed too?

To investigate this, I will look at three scenarios for calculating your personal transport CO2 emissions:

  1. Buy an EV for city driving, but take no other CO2 reduction measures.
  2. Combine an EV with a solar array at home.
  3. Other methods for reduction of CO2 for EV electricity consumption.

Scenario 1:
Buy an EV for city driving, but take no other CO2 reduction measures

For this scenario, the answer will depend on where you live. Individual states and territories continue to use different mixes of brown or black coal, natural gas, hydro, wind and solar to generate electricity used in EV charging. These different generation methods produce different amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse pollutants (together referred to as CO2-e).

For petrol- or diesel-powered internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, the figures generally stated for CO2 emissions are not the full story. For ICE vehicles, CO2-e includes the CO2 from combustion, plus the direct greenhouse potential from CH4 (methane) and N2O (nitrous oxide) and the indirect emissions from extraction, refining and transport. Adding in these factors enables an ‘apples-for-apples’ comparison.

These factors for both electricity and petrol emissions are sourced from the National Greenhouse Accounts (NGA) Factors report published by the Department of the Environment and Energy and last updated in July 2017. The data on energy/fuel use is sourced from the Green Vehicle Guide (, see note 2).

Read the full article in ReNew 143.

Charging station

Is your home EV ready?

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Electrical contractor, EV charging point installer and EV owner Bryce Gaton looks at what you need to know to assess the potential hidden installation costs and practical considerations in preparing your home for an EV.

AFFORDABLE electric vehicles (EVs) with a range of 300+ kilometres are about to hit the showrooms (see Table 1). If this is going to be your year to make the shift to electric transport, then now is the time to assess your home’s electrics and prepare for the installation of an EV charging point, commonly called an EVSE (electric vehicle supply equipment).


Here are four steps to help you prepare:

  1. Assess your home’s electrics for its capacity to deliver the fastest possible charging time.
  2. Choose your EVSE charging mode and current.
  3. Decide where to position the EVSE.
  4. Choose which EVSE to buy.

Assessing your home’s electrics

At one end of the spectrum, you might just need a 15 A socket outlet, with cost starting around $400 installed. At the other end, you might require a complete switchboard and supply upgrade, and full home rewiring. Costs for this can be $10,000 or more, and of course it will also entail time (possibly many months) to get the work done.

It boils down to what speed of charging you want/need and how much electrical energy your current household wiring can deliver.

First, let’s look at what the current and coming crop of EVs need if you intend to charge them as fast as you can at home. Table 2 lists the AC charging needs for all the EVs available now or coming soon to Australia.

From Table 2, we can work out what additional load (in amps) the EV will add to the household use. The next step is to assess the existing wiring, incoming supply and switchboard in your home to gauge if it is likely to be able to supply this load.

To assess your home’s electrical wiring and switchboard capacity to supply an EVSE, begin with the following checklist (of course, you will still need your installing electrician to check this via a full inspection before installation).

  1. Is your home less than 20 years old or has it been fully rewired in the last 20 years?
  2. Does your switchboard have at least one spare slot?
  3. Do you have three-phase power?

Read the full article in ReNew 143.

2018 Leaf

More EVs for Oz?

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There has been a dearth of electric vehicle options here in Australia, despite dozens of models being available overseas. Bryce Gaton looks at what’s happening in our EV market.

In 2016, Norway and Holland became the first countries to set a year—2025—for ending sales of new internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. This could be discounted as something that’s easy to do in countries with no auto industry to protect, but 2017 has seen something of a sea change: countries with significant automotive manufacturing industries are now following suit. France and the UK have set 2040 to end ICE sales; China is setting aggressive year-on-year percentage targets for EV sales versus ICE (such as 20% by 2025) and is reported to be moving towards setting an overall ICE sales end date; India has set 2030; and California in the USA is proposing legislation to set 2040 as the end date.


Existing ICE vehicles are not covered by the above-mentioned laws, but this too is about to change. Holland is the first country to set a year—2030—for having all petrol and diesel cars off the road, together with closure of all coal-fired power plants . Meanwhile, at a recent meeting in Paris, the mayors of 10 of the world’s larger cities (including Paris, London, Los Angeles and Mexico City) pledged to remove petrol and diesel cars from large parts of their cities by 2030.

Sadly, here in Australia we can’t even get our politicians to agree on a plan to move our energy supply off fossil fuels, let alone one to shift transport to more renewable sources of energy.

However, some state and local governments are starting the legwork. Byron and Tweed shire councils in northern NSW recently released a report that looks at ways the region can encourage the uptake of EVs to reduce the region’s carbon emissions. The full report, ‘Power Up—the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Strategy’, can be found at:

The Victorian Government has asked for input to a new report which seeks to understand “the benefits and barriers to the wider uptake of electric vehicles in the state of Victoria”; public submission hearings are being held in November 2017.

In the meantime, do consumers in Australia have any new options if they want their personal transport to be less polluting? The answer is: yes, but not many.

Excitingly, two new EVs have just been announced for sale in Australia! In late September Renault Australia announced the Kangoo ZE van and Zoe electric sedan were available for order. Disappointingly, the release is being done in stages, with the first being to commercial and government buyers only. Purchasers must hold an ABN (sole traders are included) and orders can only be made direct from Renault Australia, not through the dealer network. This is in line with the staged introduction they had in Europe, so it’s hoped they will become more readily available in the not-too-distant future. For more info on purchasing, see

Featured image: courtesy of Nissan

Read the full article in ReNew 142.

Bryces Leaf

Assessing your Leaf’s battery health

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In the second part of a series about EV batteries, Bryce Gaton looks at the ways you can test and monitor the battery pack in a Nissan Leaf—useful info for both owners and potential purchasers.

When the Nissan Leaf was first on sale in 2011, it came with a 24 kWh battery and a reported range of 175 km, according to the European NEDC test. New owners soon realised that this reported range was highly optimistic and that the actual range varied widely depending on driving style and conditions.


Nissan then performed a series of tests in the USA, with results as shown in Table 1. Nissan also stated the Leaf battery would slowly reduce in capacity as it aged and, under normal use, it should have 80% capacity after five years and 70% after ten.

In the real world, owners found that early Leafs rapidly lost capacity if operated in very hot climates, at something like double the rate stated by Nissan. In 2015 Nissan addressed this issue with a slight change to the battery chemistry to enhance its operation under extreme conditions (this newer 24 kWh battery is sometimes referred to as the ‘lizard’ battery). Note that system design and efficiency changes in late 2013 raised the range to 200 km (NEDC) and, in 2016, the Leaf battery size was increased to 30 kWh, giving an NEDC range of almost 250 km.

Secondhand Leafs in Australia
What does this mean for Leaf owners or potential purchasers in Australia? First, all the Leafs in Australia are 2011 or 2012 models, with the original chemistry 24 kWh batteries; none have any of the later efficiency or battery size upgrades. Second, because they are all now five to six years old, they likely have, at best, 80% remaining battery capacity.

So how can you tell if that secondhand Leaf you are planning to buy has the expected, or less, battery capacity, other than driving it fully charged until it stops? (And, given the data in Table 1, this may still not be an accurate reflection of its remaining capacity.)
Well, luckily, there are multiple ways to assess the health and capacity of a Nissan Leaf battery, both Nissan-provided and via aftermarket apps that can directly access vehicle data via its OBDII (on-board diagnostics, version 2) port.

Read the full article in ReNew 142.

Waymo self-driving car

Who’s at the wheel: driverless cars

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Will driverless cars transform our cities for the better? Dr John Stone explores what’s driving the development of driverless cars and what they might mean for sustainable urban transport.

THERE IS a lot of talk about emerging transport technologies such as driverless cars. Much is being made of their potential to disrupt urban travel in ways we have not seen since Henry Ford’s black automobiles began rolling off his new assembly lines in 1913 and utterly transformed urban life. What futures— utopian or dystopian—might be unfolding in the boardrooms and laboratories of Google, Tesla and Volkswagen? What alternatives might the new technologies offer us?


An electric future is possible

Alternative propulsion for the standard car or truck is already available. With new battery storage or hydrogen fuel cells, we can begin to imagine a future where electric motors allow us to leave dwindling oil stocks in the ground and stabilise the global climate without disrupting our hyper-mobile urban lives.

I’ll leave to another time the debate on whether we really can generate sufficient extra renewable energy for this sort of transition, but powering well over a billion cars and trucks across the planet is no trivial task (see box). Analysts like Damon Honnery at Monash University say that motorised transport, if made sustainable, will be dramatically constrained whatever our power source.

But better policy is needed

In any case, there are many serious problems in our cities that mass transition to electric power won’t fix: electric vehicles don’t strengthen urban growth boundaries or reduce demand for parking that eats up valuable urban land, they don’t make driving safer, they don’t make the life of the city any more accessible to anyone with few options other than to live on the urban fringe, and they don’t provide the daily exercise that helps prevent heart disease and diabetes.

Read the full article in ReNew 139.

Automatic solar charging

Charging directions: EV owners tell all

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From a plug-in Prius conversion to an electric vehicle charged from the sun to an e-bike as a vehicle for change, EV owners describe how they’ve made an EV work for them.

From plug-in Prius to Leaf on PlugShare


Tim Johnston shares his electric vehicle experiences so far: converting a standard Generation 2 Toyota Prius hybrid into a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), becoming an owner of a 2011 Nissan Leaf in 2014 and registering their home as a charging station on PlugShare.

OUR family of two adults and two kids is very energy conscious and concerned about environmental issues. In 2009 we needed a second car and we wanted that choice to be as carbon-neutral as possible. We also wanted a car that was large enough to carry the kids comfortably, had the latest safety gear and cost less than $20,000.

We’ve always had an interest in electric vehicles; my brother-in-law has had one for a while so I’d seen that electric vehicles were a practical alternative. A test drive of a Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV at an RACV event in 2009 further piqued my interest. However, a new EV was well beyond our budget, and options were limited at the time. As a compromise, in 2010 we purchased a secondhand 2006 Prius i-tech and so began our electric vehicle journey.

Converting a Prius to plug-in

The Prius is a hybrid vehicle that uses the efficiency of an electric motor/generator system to improve fuel economy. The 2006 Prius can be placed into full-electric mode (using an EV mode button on the dash), but the small high-voltage 1.3 kWh nickel-metal-hydride battery means it can only travel short distances in this mode. I researched ways to increase the battery size and settled on a 4 kWh plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) conversion kit, produced by a company called Enginer.

The Enginer kit is a rechargeable battery pack that supplements the Prius OEM high-voltage battery. In Australia, the kit was rebranded by NilCO2 as K40 and was suitable for both the Gen 2 and Gen 3 Prius and came in 2, 4 and 6 kWh sizes. In 2011, we purchased the 4 kWh kit for approx $5000. We bought it mainly for environmental reasons and as a bit of a hobby, so we didn’t expect to recoup the cost on savings in petrol.


Towards a fossil fuel free EV: charging from the sun

Based in Canberra, Dave Southgate and his family are aiming to be a ‘fossil fuel free family’. Transport is a big challenge in that arena, but Dave found a smart way to maximise solar charging of their EV. Dave explains the system.

E-vehicle for change

Indigenous elder, actor and educator Uncle Jack Charles is a long-time e-bike rider. He spoke with Eva Matthews about the joys and value of this mode of transport.

Accommodating EVs in strata

How do you charge 15 Teslas in one apartment building that’s not wired for EVs? Resident Gordon Streight spoke with Eva Matthews about this interesting conundrum.

EV stories, two years on

With their stories first shared with us two years ago (‘Best EVer Stories’ in ReNew 131), Eva Matthews caught up with first-time EV owners Linda Hamilton and Ross Ulman to see how they’ve been getting on.

Charging regime and V2G

Consultant at Beyond Zero Emissions and energy expert, Richard Keech takes us through charging the Holden Volt and the potential for backup electricity to the home.


Read the full article in ReNew 139.

VelectriX Ascent Hardtail e-bike

Changing lanes: the emergence of e-bikes

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Worldwide, electric bikes are one of the fastest growing segments of the transport market. Dr Elliot Fishman breaks down the numbers and explains how e-bikes can make transport cleaner and greener.

TRANSPORT systems and behaviours are difficult to change. Although only constituting a fraction of vehicles, there are now many more e-bikes on our roads and bike paths than ever before. In recent years, regulations in Australia have been brought in line with those that exist in the EU, meaning Australian consumers are now afforded greater choice in the types of e-bikes available. The new legislation allows motors with a power output of 250 W and assistance cutting out at 25 km/h.


Electric bicycles (e-bikes) represent one of the fastest growing segments of the transport market. Commercially available e-bikes originated in Japan in the early 1980s1, but technological and cost factors limited market attractiveness until the early 2000s2. Improved battery and motor technology, component modularity and economies of scale have meant e-bikes can now travel longer distances and are more affordable than at any time in history. In the past decade more than 150 million e-bikes have been sold2, the largest and most rapid uptake of alternative powered vehicles in the history of motorisation.

China leads the world in e-bike sales, followed by the Netherlands and Germany. It is estimated that some 95% of the world’s e-bikes are in China, but these are almost entirely of the scooter variety, without functional pedals. The Dutch and German markets are dominated by pedelecs, in which engagement with the pedals is required for the electric motor to function.

Very little is known about Australian e-bike sales, as there are no official databases kept on imports or sales. While we do not know the number of units sold, we do know a little about the demographics of e-bike users (as least those willing to respond to university research projects). Researchers from Monash University found a disproportionately high concentration of respondents within the 41 to 60 age band and almost half earnt more than $100,000 per year, substantially higher than the population average. Almost all (94.4%) of respondents owned a car3.

Read the full article in ReNew 139.

Renault Master ZE

Market acceleration: electric vehicle update

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Around the world, the electric vehicle market has grown phenomenally in both sales figures and vehicle options since our last update barely six months ago— though not so much in Australia. Bryce Gaton outlines what to expect.

IN THIS article, I explore what to expect around the world and in Australia for electric vehicle (EV) and associated equipment releases and updates. I’ve also included some predictions on what we’ll see less of as some of the competing systems start to die away. Sadly, for most of the new releases around the world, I also give the automaker’s reasons for not yet bringing their EVs to Australia.


Cars and vans coming in 2017

Hailed as a game-changing lower-cost, high-range EV, the Chevrolet Bolt (an all-electric 5-seat/4-door hatch, with a real-world 350 km range on the US EPA test cycle and a pre-rebates US price equivalent to AU $48,000) is now rolling out to customers in California and six other US states, and will be available for order across all 50 US states by July this year.

Even international deliveries have commenced with the first Bolt delivery in Canada happening in January this year. It was also exhibited at the 2016 Paris motor show last September as the Opel Ampera-e, to go on sale in Europe sometime in 2017. Unfortunately, this first-generation Bolt will not be built in right-hand drive, so we will have to wait for the next generation Bolt before we might, possibly, see it in Australia.

Also at the 2016 Paris motor show, Renault announced a doubling of the range of its all-electric Zoe. Based on the Nissan Leaf and developed as part of the Renault–Nissan alliance, the Zoe was launched in 2013 with a real-world range of around 140 km. The Zoe has been the biggest selling EV in Europe since 2015, outselling its cousin the (now ageing) Leaf with its attractive styling and modern interior. With the doubling of the Zoe’s range to around 280 km, it should sell even more.

On our side of the world, the Zoe has even reached the shores of New Zealand. In August 2016 it was released there, but with an eye-watering driveaway price of around AU $71,500 (compared to AU $30,000 to $45,000 in England), I doubt they’ll sell many. Sadly for Australia, Renault still maintains they will not do much about selling EVs here until the government introduces incentives for them. Given the current Australian government’s approach to the auto industry, we are likely to be waiting a while.

On the topic of Renault, at the Brussels motor show in January this year, Renault made two major announcements. The first was an addition to their EV line-up with a 200 km (European test cycle, see box on EV ranges) battery range Master ZE. The Master is a 1.5 to 2 tonne van (a common-sized van used for local deliveries in Europe), so an EV Master makes a lot of sense there. The other announcement from Renault was an increase to the battery range of the smaller Kangoo ZE electric van to around 270 km (European test cycle). The Kangoo ZE is also listed as “will soon be available in Australia” on the Renault Australia website—as it has been now for well over a year.

Meanwhile Tesla (arguably the initiator of the other automakers’ recent rush to EVs!) has started deliveries of the Model X in Australia, with several seen on the roads here recently. And just around the corner is the production of the Model 3, slated to start production in July this year (and pre-production in February), with the first US deliveries planned for later in 2017.

Read the full article in ReNew 139.

Nissan Leaf battery

Keeping your EV battery healthy

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In the first of a series, Bryce Gaton looks at the core part of the EV, its battery pack, and how to give it the longest possible life. In later articles, he will explain the options for testing and monitoring the battery pack in your EV.

WE ARE all familiar with the ways to prolong the life of an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle—regular service, monitor the oil, etc—but EVs are a whole new ball game. What do they need to maintain them in tip-top working order? And how can we test them to know if things are going wrong?


While in general EVs need less maintenance than conventional cars, there are some considerations which will help keep the car performing well for longer and reduce maintenance costs. The battery pack is the component that is both the costliest to replace and the most within our control to keep healthy.

For example, for an ICE vehicle converted to battery electric, replacing the battery pack can cost from $110 to $300 per lithium cell with the battery pack size ranging from 30 to 100 cells—at a cost of $3300 to $33,000. For a Nissan Leaf, replacing the 24 kWh battery is around $6500 fitted (AU$ equivalent to US$ replacement cost—Leaf replacement batteries are not necessarily available here).

What is an EV battery pack made of?

All the pure EVs and hybrids on the market now use variations of a lithium ion chemistry. A common one is lithium iron phosphate, commonly written as LiFePO4. Lithium offers many advantages over previous battery technologies. In particular, it allows for much lighter batteries than lead-acid, which is what EV batteries used to be made from.

Lithium batteries can also be more deeply discharged, down to 20% capacity, giving more available energy to take you further; they hold a stable voltage through most of their discharge range (see graph); they can take high charge and discharge rates, allowing for hard acceleration and fast charging; and they are largely maintenance-free.

They should also have a long life, if looked after, with 70% to 80% capacity remaining in the battery after eight to ten years. And even after that, lithium EV battery packs are still usable in less demanding applications, such as home storage

Lithium cells have some features that need to be taken into account in the design of the car and charging systems. If they are overcharged or discharged (below 2.5V or above 4V), they will likely be destroyed (although LiFePO4 are more abuse resistant and may be recoverable). And, in some formulations, they can catch fire. This is particularly a problem for the super light, very energy dense ones in phones and the like: think Samsung Note 7. EV batteries are now made with formulations that are more resistant to starting or maintaining a fire.

To allow for these issues, modern EVs and hybrids include a battery management system (BMS). The BMS is a complex set of electronics that manages the charging of each cell, as well as controlling the current available to drive as the battery discharges.

Read the full article in ReNew 139.

Shanghai maglev train

The future of long-distance travel

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We regularly look at the future of shorter range personal transport options, but what about long-range and public transport options? Lance Turner takes a look at where long-distance and public travel is headed.

TRAVELLING locally is already becoming more environmentally friendly, with the introduction of electric cars and public transport running from renewables. But what about long-range transport: what’s happening there? There is a global push towards reducing emissions in long-range transport options, be they rail, air transport or shipping, but there are significant challenges. Let’s look at what’s happening around the world, and how we may be getting around in the not too distant future.



According to the European Environment Agency (, emissions from all passenger rail (with an average of 156 passengers per train) in Europe are around 14 g of CO2 per passenger kilometre. Compare that to a large car (four passengers) of 55 g, a regular bus (12.7 passengers) of 68 g and aircraft (88 passengers) of 285 g. These figures will vary depending on the type of trains, cars and buses, as well as the source of generation for the electricity used (Europe has lots of renewables and nuclear compared to other regions such as the USA and Australia), but the indicators are clear—we need fewer planes and more trains.


High speed rail (HSR), where trains run at speeds above 200 km/h (for existing lines, or 250 km/h for new lines) between major population centres without stopping, is common in countries such as China (which has some 22,000 km of HSR network) and Japan, and throughout much of Europe. However, Australia has never managed to get a high speed rail network off the ground, despite many concepts and plans being put forward. One problem here has been a lack of political will for such long-term projects. Another problem, specific to Australia, is the huge distances between cities and our smaller population. In short, the cost per taxpayer for a high speed rail network is much higher in Australia than in most other countries, making it a difficult sell (see

Central to the lower environmental cost in HSR systems is the use of electric trains. Being able to derive power from renewable energy sources rather than on-board diesel engines means that high speed rail becomes an even cleaner transport option as the percentage of renewables in the grid mix increases—just like any EV. Further, the cost of transport is no longer tied to that of fossil fuels so, as renewables become cheaper, the cost per kilometre travelled can fall.

The majority of high speed rail networks still use steel wheels on steel rails, but some of the fastest HSR projects use a more recent technology—maglev, or magnetic levitation, where strong magnets are used to lift the train just above the track, eliminating most sources of friction and allowing for higher speeds. Indeed, the fastest HSR train in regular service is the Shanghai Maglev Train, which runs on a 30.5 km track from Shanghai Pudong International Airport to the outskirts of central Pudong.

Read the full article in ReNew 139.


Tassie off-grid home

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Given their distance from the nearest power pole, it made sense financially as well as philosophically for this Sydney couple to go off-grid in their new home in Tasmania. Peter Tuft describes how they went about it.

As we approached retirement my wife Robyn and I knew we did not want to spend the rest of our lives in Sydney. Sydney’s natural environment is glorious but it is also much too busy, too hot and humid in summer, and our house was too cold and hard to heat in winter. We had loved Tasmania since bushwalking there extensively in the 1970s and it has a lovely cool climate, so it was an obvious choice.


We narrowed the selection to somewhere within one hour‘s drive of Hobart, then on a reconnaissance trip narrowed it further to the Channel region to the south. It has lush forests and scattered pasture with the sheltered d’Entrecasteaux Channel on one side and tall hills behind—just beautiful. And we were extraordinarily lucky to quickly find an 80 hectare lot which had all those elements plus extensive views over the Channel and Bruny Island to the Tasman Peninsula. It was a fraction of the cost of a Sydney suburban lot.

The decision to buy was in 2008 but building did not start until 2014 so we had plenty of time to think about what and how to build. We have always been interested in sustainability, and renewable energy in particular, even before they became so obviously necessary: my engineering undergraduate thesis in 1975 was on a solar heater and Robyn worked for many years on wastewater treatment and stream water quality. There was never any doubt that we would make maximum use of renewable energy and alternative waste disposal methods.

From the beginning we knew the house would be of passive solar thermal design. The house sits high on a hill (for the views!) and faces north-east. The main living room is entirely glass-fronted, about 11m long and up to 4m high with wide eaves. That allows huge solar input to the floor of polished concrete. A slight downside is that there is potential for it to be too warm in summer, but we’ve managed that with shade blinds and ventilation and so far it has not been a problem. All walls, floor and roof are well insulated, even the garage door, and all windows are double-glazed. Supplementary heating is via a wood heater set in a massive stone fireplace chosen partly for thermal mass and partly because it just looks awesome. Warm air from above the wood heater convects via ducts to the bathroom immediately behind the chimney, making it very cosy indeed.

Read the full article in ReNew 137.


Electric vehicles: the market in Australia and overseas

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Bryce Gaton reports on the evolution of government support and global carmakers’ production plans, which together are driving uptake of electric vehicles.

This year has seen a plane fuelled only by the sun travel around the world, a plethora of home electric storage systems come on the market, Australian households with solar PV systems pass the 1.5 million mark and a Tesla Model S travel from Sydney to Broome. Given 2016 is just past halfway through, what else is to come? Is 2016 to become the year that the hoped-for seismic shift in sustainable transport, energy sourcing and use truly begins?


The power to change things is more in our hands than ever before and I will offer examples from around the world that hopefully we can look back on in 20 to 30 years time to say, “We really did start the sustainable transition then!”

Electric cars around the world

Right now, pure EVs with a 300+km range—the ‘Bolt’—are rolling off the Chevrolet production line to arrive in US showrooms in the last quarter of this year.

Similarly, Mercedes, Volvo, Renault, Nissan, BMW, Kia and many other Chinese makers already offer pure EVs in their lineups, and most of these have announced plans to match the 300+km range of the Bolt and Tesla Model 3. Mercedes is releasing plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and even Jaguar is rumoured to be well down the track in developing an electric sedan and SUV to match the belatedly perceived threat to their core market from Tesla’s Models S and X.

And VW, as part of its mea culpa for the dieselgate emissions scandal, has recently announced plans to heavily move into electric vehicle design and production.

Overall, the trend towards less polluting vehicles continues, with global uptake of EVs and PHEVs climbing at an increasing rate, growing from 45,000 EVs sold in 2011 to more than 300,000 in 2014 (see Figure 1). EVs represent more than 1% of total new car sales in the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the USA (closer to 20% for Norway). And in China, 2014 saw 230 million e-bikes, 83,000 electric cars and 36,500 e-buses hit the road.

Read the full article in ReNew 137.

Chris's off-grid wind and solar system powers his home and electric vehicle.

Off-grid wind and solar

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It’s a windy place near Canberra, and Chris Kelman is taking good advantage of that! He describes the evolution of his impressive off-grid wind and solar system — and the avid meter-watching that goes with it.

In a quest to demonstrate the possibility of living a fossil-fuel-free life, I have now made a couple of attempts at setting up my house to run on ‘home-grown’ energy.


My first project, back in 1987, used home-made solar hot water panels, a ‘massive’ 90 watts of PV plus a 1 kW Dunlite wind generator (pictured on the cover of Soft Technology 32–33, October 1989; Soft Technology was the original name of ReNew). At this stage, renewable energy technology was in its infancy and everything was DIY, including building an 18 m tripod tower for the turbine (overcoming a fear of heights was a personal fringe benefit). On this basic system I did manage to run lights, computer, TV and stereo, but there were thin times, of course.

These days, home energy systems are more like Lego — you just plug and play. So with a move back to the bush near Canberra a few years ago, I decided to do it all again, but this time with sufficient capacity to run a standard 230 V AC all-electric house, workshop, water pumps—and an electric vehicle.
The house I purchased had been set up pretty well as a passive-solar home, though it was connected to the grid at the time. It has a north-facing aspect, good insulation and a lot of (double-glazed) windows allowing winter sun to maintain a cosy slate floor. The result is a very stable environment for most of the year.

Energy production—phase 1
In phase one of my new project,in 2012, I installed 3 kW of PV with a Sunny Island off-grid inverter and 40 kWh of VRLA (valve-regulated lead-acid) batteries. Initially, hedging my bets, I configured it as a grid-connected system, with the grid acting as a backup ‘generator’ when required.

After a few months I realised that I rarely needed to use the grid and, as I owned a small antiquated petrol generator from my previous project, I decided it was time to cut the umbilical cord. This turned out to be a rather amusing process. My local energy provider didn’t seem to have an appropriate form for ‘removal of service’ and was bemused about why I would ask them to take the meters away. It was all a bit much for them. Even after the process was completed, I would still occasionally discover lost-looking meter readers around the back of the house!

The weather in this region is well known for its reliable solar insolation, apart from some lean months in mid-winter. Fortunately we are well supplied with wind power as well, as indicated by the Capital wind farm only a few kilometres away.

To confirm the wind resource, I set up a Davis weather station on a 12 m mast at my proposed turbine site and undertook a six-month wind survey. The results from this were compared with historical records from the area and a good correlation was found. This was enough evidence to convince me that wind power backup, particularly to cover the lean winter months, was the best option for my system.

Read the full article about Chris’s impressive off-grid setup in ReNew 134.


Who needs fossil fuels? Tricks and traps of solar car design

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In part 3 of our series on the SolarX car design, Swinburne University’s Clint Steele talks to product design engineer Davis Tolley about the challenges and the refinements made so far.


Over the past months, much work has gone into refining the body of the SolarX sports car. In fact, it could be argued that it has been much more than refining. Some dead ends have been encountered and the car now looks very different to what we showed you in previous issues.

So, in this third instalment, we talk with one of the engineers involved in the car’s design. Davis Tolley is a product design engineer, a discipline that combines mechanical engineering with industrial design. Such engineers, with an ability to make products that perform and look good, are ideal for this challenging task.

Davis has been on the team for over a year now and has proven his ability when it comes to designing highly refined engineering systems that still need to capture hearts and minds. I asked Davis about the challenges faced and what he can share with other EV enthusiasts interested in solar.

To read the full article in PDF format, click here.

ev delaware

Top five questions when buying an EV

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Kirsten Tanner spoke to Chris Jones from the Australian Electric Vehicle Association for the Ultimate Guide to Buying an Electric Vehicle. Here are her top five things to consider when buying an EV.

Electric cars, motorcycles and scooters are here to stay. Over the next 10 years, Australia’s vehicle fleet will get cleaner and quieter, as plug-in vehicles displace the incumbent internal combustion engine. Once considered a quirky novelty, electric mobility is now a genuine option for motorists. In the last year, the number of plug-in vehicles on the road has literally doubled, and more new models are being released this year.

How do electric cars work?


Electric vehicles (EVs) are cars or motorcycles which use an electric motor and a sizable battery pack to store energy. Pure EVs use only batteries, while plug-in hybrid EVs, or PHEVs, use a small petrol engine to extend the cars range. Most modestly-sized EVs have a 16 to 24kWh battery, while a full sized electric sedan like the Tesla Model S has a 60 or 85kWh battery. The bigger the battery, the further you can drive, but the more expensive it is.

Perhaps the best thing about EVs is their maintenance schedule – check the brakes once a year and rotate the tyres every 20,000 km. That’s about it! With just one moving part – the rotor – electric vehicles are particularly-simple and very robust. PHEVs have a more extensive and expensive service schedule as the onboard petrol engine needs oil and air filter changes.

How do you charge them?

Production electric cars typically come with two charging options – slow and fast. The slow charge option is the most commonly used, as you will no doubt plug in at work or at home. This takes a standard 240 volt AC, 15 amp supply and the vehicle’s on-board charger charges the battery. The rate of charge will depend on the on-board charger – 2.5kW to 7kW is typical. So at 2.5kW, a Nissan Leaf will be fully charged overnight. The fast charge option involves a publicly accessible ‘fast charger’ or ‘Supercharger’ which provides power directly to the battery. Fast chargers may put out anywhere from 25kW to 135kW, and can charge a depleted battery in under 30 minutes. Expect to see more of these around the country, typically located in towns so you can enjoy a coffee break. Converted electric cars typically come with a simple 15 amp plug, however there are now several automotive standard kits out there which allow you to use public charge points.

How far can I drive?

Depending on how you drive and what the conditions are like, your range will vary quite a bit. Long mountain climbs, sustained high speeds, strong headwinds, three passengers and luggage – all of these situations will see a reduction in economy and therefore range (exactly the same as in petrol vehicles). But the upshot is long descents and tailwinds will vastly improve your range. A full charge on a brand new Nissan Leaf will give you about 150km around town and about 110km on the highway. A Tesla Model S with the 85kWh battery can offer an astounding 470km around town, and 300km on the highway, but you will pay for it up front.

The ‘fuel’ economy of a battery electric car is typically quoted in watt-hours per kilometre, or Wh/km. Expect an average of 135Wh/km for a compact EV like the Mitsubishi i-MiEV or Nissan Leaf, and about 185Wh/km for the Tesla Model S. PHEVs will have a modest electric-only range of between 50 and 100km, before the petrol engine kicks in. Due to the added weight and complexity, the electric-only range of a PHEV will generally be worse than a pure EV, but still plenty for most daily needs.

Are they more expensive than a petrol car?

Most automakers are not currently tooled up to manufacture large numbers of electric cars, so the low production runs are more expensive. Also, most automakers rely on finance arrangements and regular service schedules for revenue. With a substantially reduced maintenance regime, you can expect a higher upfront cost. A new Nissan Leaf is about $39,000, and a new Tesla Model S (P85) is about $150,000. But bear in mind you will be driving around at less than 3 cents per kilometre, while a similarly sized petrol car might cost you about 12 or 14 cents per kilometre. If you drive an average of 14,000 km a year for six years, you will have spent as much overall on your electric car as if you’d been driving on petrol. You’ll also break even sooner if you charge off-peak or charge from roof-top solar.

What about converting cars to electric?

Up until very recently, if you wanted an electric car or motorbike, you had to build it yourself. The technical challenge of removing the petrol engine and replacing it with a motor, controller and battery has kept many backyard workshops lit up at night. It’s also a great way of preserving an old or unique car for which replacement parts are hard to find. However it will be difficult to come up with a vehicle as refined as a production model, and certainly not at the same price point. It’s always best to start with a quality donor vehicle you are comfortable with, as it will only ever be this good. Get in touch with your local Australian Electric Vehicle Association (AEVA) branch for more advice on the conversion process, or head along to a branch meeting of the Alternative Technology Association EV groups. The Geelong EV Branch and Melbourne EV Branch meet regularly to discuss EV ownership and conversions.

Find out more about electric vehicles in ReNew 131, the Electric Vehicle Special, or search the ReNew archives for electric car conversion articles.

two evs

A tale of two EVs: Blade and Holden Volt

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Nearly seven years ago Richard Keech got his first EV. Recently he got his second. This is his experience and reflections on electric cars generally.

EV number 1: Blade Electron

Back in 2007 I became convinced that this society of ours quickly needed to cease using fossil fuels and that electric cars were a necessary part of that change. At the time there were no commercial EVs available in Australia. In late 2007 an audacious start-up called Blade Electric Vehicles set up in Castlemaine, Victoria, and demonstrated a converted Hyundai Getz EV. I had a test drive and was immediately impressed. They called it, initially, the Blade Runner but subsequently changed the name to the Electron.


EV conversions have been around for years. But the Electron wasn’t a custom conversion. Instead it was a standard-order short-run factory conversion. By my reckoning this made it the first commercially available electric car in Australia. Mine was one of the first batch built, what would become known as the Electron Mark 1.

Hopefully, in time, the Blade Electron will achieve the recognition it deserves in Australian motoring history for courageously introducing a commercially available all-electric car alternative well before the major manufacturers. Blade is no longer a going concern but all due credit goes to Ross Blade for his early courage and vision for EV manufacturing in Australia.

I took delivery of my converted Getz in June 2008. Since then it’s given me mostly trouble-free driving for over 36,000 km in suburban Melbourne.

EV number 2: Holden Volt

In December 2014 I bought a second-hand Holden Volt which replaced my 2007 VW Jetta TDI. So now both the family’s cars can be operated around town without the need for any fuel.

GM released the Chevrolet Volt in the USA in late 2010 and in Australia as the Holden Volt in late 2012. It’s a plug-in hybrid, which qualifies as an EV (unlike a Prius) because it’s practical to operate without any petrol. There’s a lot to like about the Volt. As a total package it’s a great all-round car giving the best of both worlds—it works as a pure-electric car around town, and also gives the capacity to drive long distance on petrol when needed.

No going back

Since making the jump to EVs I’ve had a lot of fun and had a fascinating lived experience of the future of private motor vehicles. I think I’ve shown that families can slash their fuel use without seriously affecting their personal transport utility. I know that the next oil shock, when it inevitably comes, will be much less shocking for those of us with EVs. I also think that plug-in hybrids will have an important role to play in the transition to all-electric transportation.

Lastly, I think that once drivers become familiar with the way that EVs drive they won’t want to go back.

Read detailed reviews of both cars’ performance in ReNew 131.

ev owners

Resources for electric vehicle enthusiasts

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Find out more about electric vehicles with this list of web resources and organisations. 


Electric vehicles are evolving at a rapid pace and look set to displace fossil fuel vehicles in the not-too-distant future.

There are a growing number of organisations and websites dedicated to electric vehicles. Check out this list to find out more about EV ownership or building your own EV, and take a look at the many ReNew articles on the EV theme.

The Australian Electric Vehicle Association

The Australian Electric Vehicle Association Inc. (AEVA) is a non-profit organisation founded in 1973, comprising of individuals and organisations with an interest in Electric Vehicles (EVs) and electric vehicle technology.

Our purpose is to provide a forum for social and technical communication in the EV field, to create greater awareness of EVs and encourage their use, to foster further research and development in EV technology, and to be an official source of information on EVs in Australia.

My Electric Car

My Electric Car is a community information resource for electric cars and vehicles in Australia. The website highlights the various developments that are accelerating worldwide in the electric vehicle market. Although Australian oriented, MEC sees value in giving visitors a global perspective in this rapidly evolving space and hopes to stimulate interest, discussion and the uptake of EV transport.

EV World

EVWorld is one of the Internet’s longest running publications devoted to electric vehicle technology. Launched in 1998, historically we have covered a board range of EV types from bikes to buses to boats and beyond. Located in Omaha, Nebraska, we now are focusing our resources on promoting a more active mobility lifestyle through both EVWorld and ePEDALER.

EV Obsession

EV Obsession is an electric vehicle site for the EV obsessed. Pure EVs, plug-in hybrids and even some hybrids. EV charging stations, apps, market research, policy and more.

For more on conversions:

EV Album

This is an unofficial photo album for members of the EV Discussion List, an email based forum on electric vehicles. Take a look at all the wonderful EV projects on this website.

EV TV Motor Verks

EV TV Motor Verks is a website with videos dedicated to EV conversions. There are over 272 feature length videos at the site.

ATA EV branches

The ATA has two branches dedicated to electric vehicles:

Geelong EV Branch

The Geelong EV branch provides a forum for anyone interested in Electric Vehicles such as bicycles, cars and other forms of transport in Geelong, the Surfcoast and the Western District.

Meetings are held on the 1st Friday of each month: 7pm at the South Barwon Community Centre, 33 Mt. Pleasant Rd, Belmont VIC. A gold coin donation is collected to cover refreshments.

Melbourne EV branch

This branch provides a forum for anyone interested in Electric Vehicles such as bicycles, cars and other forms of transport.

Meetings are held on the last Wednesday of each month at 7pm in the Engineering Faculty, Swinburne University, Hawthorn campus (entry via the EN building).

ReNew magazine articles

Take a look at Know Your Renewables in ReNew 131 to find out more about electric vehicles including how an EV works, driving an EV, why buy an EV, battery lifespan, cost and materials, charging and more. ReNew 131 contains many more articles on the electric vehicles theme and is available at the ATA Webshop.

EV van conversion: ReNew 125

EV conversion safety: ReNew 122

Three-day EV conversion: ReNew 107

Volvo conversion: ReNew 117



ReNew Editor, Robyn Deed

ReNew 131 Editorial – Electric avenues to more sustainable transport

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Planning this issue started with many conversations about electric vehicles (EVs).  “I saw an ad for one the other day,” someone said, “but I can’t remember what it was called.” Someone else said, “Are there any available in Australia?” Several someones asked, “Do you mean the Prius?” Full marks to Toyota for good marketing of the Prius (even though it’s a hybrid rather than an EV), but Australia now has several electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) to choose from.


It is early days, as the sales show (see our article on the EV market in Australia), but perhaps, just maybe, we are at a turning point. It’s happened in the USA, with sales of EVs and PHEVs accelerating since 2011. Our author suggests that perhaps 2015 will be the year things start to change here.

In the USA, and even on a small-scale here, the idea of smart charging (with the timing of EV charging controlled by the grid to avoid peak times) is moving from research to trials. Using your EV as storage is also getting attention, for providing emergency power or grid backup. Read about these in ‘Your EV’s Other Life’.

The latest in our ‘Know your renewables’ series focuses on EVs too, getting under the bonnet to explain how they work, behind the wheel to see how they drive, and discussing the nitty gritty of how to manage charging and maintenance (in answer to the latter—easily, with much less maintenance required than a standard ‘fossil’ car, and many EVs enabled for remote support via their internet connections).

We also talk to owners of electric cars, motorbikes and e-bikes to hear their stories of how they came to the world of EVs. Some have had the ‘EV grin’ forEVer, but others are new to the idea. For all of them, it’s part of a wish to reduce their transport-related emissions; for many, there’s also joy in the new technology (Tesla Model S owners put your hands up); for one, it’s been on his ‘bucket list’ for a while!
Of course, better public transport, better planning and bike-friendly roads can go a long way to reducing our emissions as well. We also look at electrifying some of these options, with electric buses, motorbikes and bikes. We even look at electrifying planes.

We don’t discuss in detail here the question of the difference in emissions between electric vehicles and petrol-powered cars, covered previously in ReNew 120. That equation rests on how dirty the electricity generation is, but the balance can be swung towards the green through solar PV and GreenPower, whereas petrol-power can never be made clean.

It’s not just about EVs this issue. We also cover a household living their off-grid dream with a bike shop, holiday rental and home in WA, examine solar financing, shine a light on the problems commonly found in energy assessments and cover three DIY projects, including the intriguing open-source Open Sprinkler water reticulation controller. Plus our buyers guide this issue is an update of our very popular guide on batteries for household renewable energy systems. Enjoy!

Robyn Deed
ReNew Editor


ATA CEO’s Report

One of the most rewarding aspects of working at the ATA is being able to make someone’s day. Like when we give advice to a person who’s doing something sustainable in their home.

Recently we received some lovely feedback from Lauren, an ATA member who was looking to install an off-grid solar system on her property in regional Victoria. She had spent months researching and getting quotes from installers but was unable to make a decision on the best option. After a one-hour consultation with one of our experts, she has gone ahead and bought a system. Lauren said: “You quite quickly helped me to crystallise my needs in just one hour, something I had been chipping away at for over four months. If I had my time again I would have signed up, become a member and made an appointment with you straight away.”

Empowering people with quality information so they can make informed choices is the ATA’s mission. We achieve it in a variety of ways including the ATA member and consultancy advice service, information in ReNew and Sanctuary magazines, e-books and other online resources such as the Tankulator ( and Sunulator ( There are also the face-to-face services we provide at our Speed Date a Sustainable Expert events, and our presence at home shows and other community events.

As existing sustainable technologies and solutions evolve and new ones emerge, the ATA will continue to play a key role as an independent voice helping people make sustainable choices.

Donna Luckman



The Australian electric vehicle market

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Bryce Gaton explores what’s available now and what may be added soon to the Australian electric vehicle offerings.

Around the world, electric vehicles are moving beyond the realm of frustrated early adopters building their own to showroom doorstoppers providing viable alternatives to the fossil (fuelled) vehicle. With products coming out of most of the major manufacturers’ factories, there are now almost too many options for the would-be electric vehicle buyer to select from!


Unless, that is, you live in Australia…so why are we waiting?

What’s available overseas

There are so many electric vehicle options available overseas that it’s necessary to list them by vehicle segment rather than by manufacturer. Table 1 (in ReNew 131) shows a selection of electric vehicle (EV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) models that are currently available around the world (with the exception of the Tesla Model X which is expected to be released this year). They’re grouped by Euro NCAP segment, a designation that defines the type of vehicle, such as mini, compact, mid-size, etc.

Australian EV/PHEV offerings

The bold vehicle names in Table 1 are those currently on offer, or able to be bought secondhand, here in Australia in 2015. It’s a bit sad really, given the plethora of offerings elsewhere. However, combining this data with Table 2, we can see that five of the world’s six top-selling EV/PHEVs are available here, with the sixth offering in Australia (the i-MiEV) still in the world top 20. So at least it can be said that Australia does get the top EV/PHEV offerings. On the other hand, the EV/PHEV sales figures for Australia (in Table 3) are far less encouraging.

With such low EV and PHEV sales in 2014 in Australia, it is not at all surprising that the major vehicle manufacturers are seemingly uninterested in bringing additional models to split the market further.

It could also be argued that the manufacturers have done very little to promote EVs in Australia; however, that appears to be changing in 2015. With recent advertising campaigns for the Leaf, Outlander PHEV and BMW i3, as well as some canny marketing by Tesla, this year may see a surprising result for EV sales in Australia.

Read the full article in ReNew 131.

know your evs

Know your renewables: All about EVs

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Electric vehicles are evolving at a rapid pace and look set to displace fossil fuel vehicles in the not-too-distant future. Lance Turner looks at some of the basic concepts and terms you might come across when discussing EVs.

For almost 100 years, the personal automotive industry has been dominated by internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, burning either petrol, diesel or LPG. As an alternative to ICE-powered vehicles, electric vehicles (EVs) have been nothing but a novelty to most people, purported to lack range and power, making them unsuitable for most people’s uses.


However, all that is changing, with EVs making steady inroads into the global car market, and even (slowly) here in Australia. The shift in thinking started with the introduction of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), such as the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight. With these vehicles, especially the Prius as it can run in all-electric mode at lower speeds, the general public started to experience some of the advantages of HEVs, such as reduced exhaust pipe emissions, almost silent driving and greatly increased efficiency.

But hybrids have a number of drawbacks. Firstly, as they have both an electric drivetrain and an internal combustion engine, they are more complex than either straight ICE vehicles or EVs. Secondly, although there is an electric drive component to their drivetrains, hybrids still gain all their motive power from fossil fuels (conventional hybrids can’t be charged from the mains grid, and they usually have quite small battery packs), so they are still an unsustainable form of transport, despite having lower emissions than equivalently sized ICE vehicles. The world’s oil reserves will last longer with hybrid vehicles, but will still eventually be exhausted.

As the public’s acceptance of hybrids grew, there was the desire for vehicles that had the advantages of EVs, without the limitations. Hence, the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) was born. These are similar to a hybrid but they differ in two important ways—they have larger battery packs that can be charged directly from mains power, rather than from the on-board ICE, and their electric motor is designed as the primary motor. This means that they can be driven as an EV until the battery is almost flat (or another battery level setpoint), at which time the ICE starts up and provides electricity to charge the battery and power the electric motor.

For owners who do many short trips, PHEVs can run purely on electric power and may never need to use the petrol backup at all. The Holden Volt is an example of such a vehicle, and the most recent incarnation of the Volt has an electric-only range of around 80 km, making it suitable for all-electric use most of the time.

However, there is a need to uncouple personal transport from fossil fuels completely to reduce emissions from this sector, and given that alternative fuels such as ethanol and hydrogen often produce as much CO2 in their production as they save, the only realistic way to achieve this currently is to make cars completely electric, removing the internal combustion engine option altogether.

Read the full article in ReNew 131, covering how an EV works, energy recovery from braking, driving an EV, why buy an EV, battery lifespan, cost and materials, charging and more!