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Electric vehicles

Photo by: University of Delaware/Evan Krape

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Just a few years ago, the desire to buy a road-going electric vehicle (other than an e-bike) was just wishful thinking. However, as the global EV market ramps up, more models are becoming available to the general public-even in Australia!

Ten years ago, electric vehicles were not considered a realistic product by most major car manufacturers, but with the advent of more advanced lithium batteries, with steadily decreasing battery prices, many manufacturers are taking a much closer look.

Indeed, most of the major car manufacturers have either production models available or are promising to have so soon. Some manufacturers are even stating that they are now planning to change all of their vehicles to electric power within the next decade or so, completely eliminating internal combustion engine vehicles from their range. So, if you want an electric vehicle, you now have a greater range to choose from than even just a few months ago, with more options appearing on the market (if not in Australia yet) almost monthly.

Ross and Vivienne with their Nissan Leaf EV featured in Renew magazine issue 131. It gets charged on sunny days, from the off-grid system powered by 10.5 kW of solar PV panels on the garage roof.
Why would you choose an EV?

EVs have many advantages over internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. They are quieter, cleaner and produce lower greenhouse gas emissions (see Understanding EV emissions in Renew 143). They are also cheaper to run, and require virtually no servicing, except for non-engine maintenance such as tyres and brake pads. Even brake pads last the life of the car due to most braking being done by the EV’s regenerative braking, where the car is slowed by using the motor as a generator to recharge the batteries.

And despite common belief to the contrary, EVs are better accelerating and more responsive than ICE vehicles due to the high output torque of electric vehicles over the entire motor rev range.

Plus, there is the ability to fill up at home overnight instead of having to detour to the service station, and the fact that you avoid having to handle toxic, carcinogenic petroleum liquids. EVs have many advantages, some obvious, some less so.

What compromises are required to own an EV?

One of the biggest perceived issues with EVs is that of limited range, and the possibility of running out of charge before you get to a charging point. While it is possible to do this, the same can be said for an internal combustion engine vehicle as well, after all, you don’t travel further than a tank full of petrol will take you without filling up.

 

For general weekday commuting and shopping trips, there should never be any chance of you running out of charge, unless you forgot to plug your EV in the night before. This is simply avoided by plugging in your car every time you get home in the evening, so that it charges overnight, or while you are at work during the day, if a chargepoint is available.

 

Provided you follow a couple of simple rules – charge when available and make sure you have adequate charge until you reach your next charge point – you don’t need to compromise at all.

 

For longer trips, you may need to do a bit of planning, seeking out charging points along the way, through websites such as www.plugshare.com, which tell you which type of charge points are available, and where.

How fast does an EV charge?

This depends on the EV, as well as the charging point’s capabilities. Many EVs with smaller batteries are fine charging overnight on a standard 10 or 15 amp circuit. For EVs with longer range and hence larger batteries, you will need a faster charge point. Most homes will be limited to 32A charging, which should give you a full charge in a few hours.

 

Commercial charge points, often found at shopping centres and other commercial premises which have large capacity electrical connections, can charge an EV much faster, in as little as an hour. New high speed charging systems are now being introduced that can charge even large capacity EVs in less than half an hour, and the ultimate goal of the industry is to be able to charge to 80 per cent of full charge in as little as five minutes, although most existing EVs are not capable of taking a charge at this rate.

 

Different charging rate capabilities also require different charger plugs, although there are adaptor cables to allow charging at non-compatible charging stations. See Plug wars in Renew magazine for more information.

 

So, it depends on both the EV and charger. If you need your EV to be able to charge quickly, make sure you choose a model with this capability.

What happens if I run out of charge?

Like an ICE, if you run out of ‘fuel’ before you get to a charging station, there are a couple of options. Sitting for 10-15 minutes can allow the batteries to recover slightly, possibly giving a bit of extra travel, however this is less likely with a lithium battery-based vehicle as the battery protection electronics will protect the battery at all costs.

However, if you do find that you have misjudged your travel range and end up stuck on the side of the road, the simplest option is to call the local roadside assistance service. They will arrange to tow your vehicle to a charging point, or may have a portable generator, such as the mobile EVSE from Gelco Services that can put some charge back into your vehicle’s battery.

To help you avoid such situations, apps and websites are available to let you plan your EV trip. Examples include www.evtripplanner.com and www.evtripping.com

Which EV will suit my needs best?

This depends on both your need to carry and the required range, as well as the charging speed required. Once you have decided on your budget, you can then look at vehicles that fit that figure and meet your other criteria.

Things to consider include:

  • How many people will I need to carry?
  • How much cargo (such as shopping) do I need to carry?
  • How far do I need to travel without being required to recharge?
  • How fast do I want my car to be able to charge? This may need to be considered with the above point, if there are no vehicles with the desired range available in your budget.

With the limited range of EVs currently on offer in Australia, you may need to compromise on one or more of these considerations, so you will have to prioritise them. Alternatively, you may want to defer an EV purchase altogether until the variety of available vehicles has improved, or you might consider leasing a more expensive EV that better suits your needs until the ideal vehicle becomes available.

Alternatively, consider a used EV. They are becoming more common now as owners upgrade to new models, with some real bargains to be had.

You can see which cars are currently available at My Electric Car.

How do I make my home EV ready?

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.

At one end of the spectrum, you might just need a 15A 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, you must look at what your chosen EV needs if you intend to charge it as fast as you can at home. 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.

You will need to consider how much your EV will draw when charging, as well as the existing loads in the home, and determine if your existing wiring and grid connection is suitable or needs upgrading. Depending on the outcome of this analysis, there are a number of ways forward, including using slow charging within the current wiring, faster charging with a simple wiring upgrade, or even faster charging with a grid connection upgrade.

See The EVs are coming! But is your home EV-ready? in Renew magazine for a full analysis methodology.

How do I reduce electricity costs when charging my EV?

There are several ways to minimise your EV charging costs. Firstly, if you have a solar power system, charge in the middle of the day so that the EV gets some or all of its charge from the solar generated electricity. This can be optimised using special EVSEs which can be set to only charge the EV with excess power that is generated, or to prioritise that power into the EV. The Zappi EVSE is a good example of such a unit.

 

If you have off-peak tariffs available at home, then it makes sense to charge your EV using this lower cost electricity. This works well for many people, as off-peak tariffs usually occur overnight, when the car can be sitting in the garage charging while you sleep. See EV charging and tariff choices in Renew magazine for more information.

 

A third way of reducing charging costs is opportunity charging while you are out and about. Some businesses, such as shopping centres, supply free charging for EVs while you use their services. You can add a lot of charge in a two-hour shopping trip when using a fast charger. Available public charge points can be found using websites such as www.plugshare.com.

Will I need to upgrade my grid connection?

This depends on your existing electrical connection and how fast you want the car to charge. For low speed charging, the most you are likely to do is to have a dedicated 15A circuit installed for the EVSE, but for a 32A EVSE you may need some other wiring upgrades. This needs to be assessed by the EVSE installing electrician. See The EVs are coming! But is your home EV-ready? in Renew magazine for more information.

Should I lease or buy an EV?

If you are happy with what is available on the market, have the appropriate budget, and don’t regularly upgrade your car, then buying may be the best option. However, if you prefer to stay near the front of the technological curve and regularly upgrade your vehicle, leasing is a better option in many cases.

Like any purchase, do the numbers to compare the two options, and shop around.

Will an EV really reduce my greenhouse emissions?

In Australia, despite the prevalence of coal-fired electricity, in almost all cases, and EV will be the more environmentally friendly option on a purely greenhouse gas basis. How much better an EV will be compared to an ICE depends on which state you live in, in particular, how much fossil fuel generation there is compared to renewable generation, which energy company you buy your electricity from, and whether you buy partial or full GreenPower. See Understanding EV emissions in Renew magazine for a breakdown of EV emissions compared to ICE vehicles, and how to minimise your emissions.

Where can I find out more about electric vehicles?

There are many sources of information on EVs, including the websites My Electric Car and the Electric Vehicle Council. You can also talk to the Australian Electric Vehicle Association or check out Renew’s EV Expo.

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