Fairfax Tech Talk Column

Fairfax Tech Talk Column

12.4.2019 Fairfax Tech Column 141


Time for me to do my best impression of Adam Savage. I want to bust a few myths today. There seems to be so much discussion around the technology associated with electric cars at the moment – and I struggle to find data and facts in amongst the spin. I feel well qualified to add some common-sense to this debate. Apart from my thirty years in the technology industry and having studied Science at the University of Sydney instilling a discipline of utilising research and data rather than fanciful opinion, I also have a long history with electric vehicles. I bought my first hybrid fifteen years ago and I have used a total of seven fully electric or electric hybrid vehicles as my main vehicle in the ensuing period. On 18 August 2005, a former Fairfax editor, Linton Besser, wrote a story on my push to have Dubbo City Council use hybrid vehicles and I was the first Mayor in the nation to use an electric vehicle as the main Mayoral vehicle. I currently drive a Tesla which I purchased in March last year and it now has over 40,000km on the odometer.

So with that background, we should explore some of the wild statements being made by people either displaying ignorance or with vested interests.

Myth 1: Charge time. I have heard anywhere from 5 minutes to several days quoted. There are a variety of types of chargers and companies providing charging infrastructure. Tesla opened a Supercharger station this week in Dubbo and they are the best known with 12,888 Superchargers across the world. Tesla chargers will only charge Tesla cars but there are a variety of universal charger networks that will charge all electric vehicles (including Teslas) with appropriate adapters. You have different connectors – such as CHAdeMO and J1772 and Type 2 and Tesla – and different suppliers of the infrastructure – such as Tesla and NRMA (one to be opened in Dubbo shortly) and Chargefox and more. Some are free to charge and some charge a rate that is comparable to your home electricity costs. The all-important question though – how fast? Just like your mobile phone, the charging rate slows as it nears full capacity but my car will charge at a Supercharger at 600km/hour. I pay nothing to charge at a Supercharger. At home I charge at 80km/hour and I use solar panels to charge BUT if I was paying for electricity, it would cost about $15 to ‘fill up.’ New V3 Superchargers are being rolled out by Tesla which will charge at 1500km/hour.

Myth 2: Range. One of the issues with some of the early electric vehicles was range. An earlier electric car I drove had a range of 170km. Perfect for my job in attending to events in Dubbo but not great if I needed to drive to Sydney daily. A reduction in battery price and increased efficiency means that the range of electric vehicles is constantly improving. My current car has a range of 632km on a single charge – even further if I drive slowly. The average Australian drives 15,530km per year or just under 300km per week. Many reasonable priced new electric cars are coming out with a range of over 270km per charge. For most people they can then charge them once or twice a week. There are also many examples of people that have driven around Australia in electric vehicles. Charging stations are typically 200km apart. On a long trip you can drive for 2 hours and have a 20-minute break while topping up. There are currently about 6,400 petrol stations across this nation but only about 1,000 electric charging stations. It is early days and that ratio will change. I think you will start to see some of the petrol stations adding electric charging stations as it is a logical step for them. This lack of charging infrastructure is a current weakness but one that will be addressed over time.

Myth 3: Cost. Many people point to a Tesla Model S – with a starting price of $120K – as the prohibitive factor in purchasing an electric vehicle. There will be at least eight all electric cars available in Australia by the end of the year and some will start below $50,000. That may still seem expensive, but think of the total cost of ownership. Over a five-year period, the cost of owning a vehicle is the purchase price minus the resale price plus the ongoing fuel and maintenance and insurance/registration costs. At the average distance travelled by a vehicle with average fuel economy and average petrol prices with CPI built in and adding in regular maintenance, an internal combustion engine (ICE) car would cost almost $16,000 in ongoing costs excluding insurance and registration. There is more to wear out on an ICE car as well so the resale value of a car with almost 80,000km on the odometer would be less. An electric car, assuming similar insurance and registration costs, would reduce the $16,000 running costs dramatically and would lose fewer dollars in resale value. Suddenly the $50,000 electric vehicle stacks up quite well against a $30,000 ICE vehicle.

Myth 4: Utes and performance. I was once a hot-headed young twenty-something with my V8 253 Holden HZ Ute with a modified exhaust that probably damaged my hearing when I put my foot down. The Toyota Hilux ute has been quoted as the most popular vehicle in Australia and the accusation is that if we go to electric vehicles it will destroy modes of transport for tradies and for people who want to have weekend fun! How ridiculous. My old ute could do 0-100 in 9.1 seconds. The Toyota Hilux struggles to get below 10 seconds. One of my previous electric cars was a Nissan Leaf which was purchased for under $30,000 and it had 0-100 time of less than 8 seconds. The Tesla Model S can do 0-100 in 2.6 seconds. There are people in our nation right now who have done manual conversions of their Toyota Hilux from ICE to electric. The performance is fantastic and the range is only limited by the amount of battery power provided. Electric cars can have towbars and can be just as much fun as an ICE. This is probably one of the silliest arguments put forward so far.

Myth 5: Percentage of sales. I do some talks for different groups wearing the hat of a futurist. In those talks I predict that, regardless of government intervention, 20 per cent of new car sales across the world will be electric cars by 2025. In the current debate, there has been a target of 50 per cent of all new car sales to be electric by 2030. Both figures are eminently achievable. Across the world, new car sales for 2018 show fascinating results. Norway already sits at 49.1 percent. Iceland is at 19 per cent. Sweden and the Netherlands are at 8.2 and 6.5 per cent respectively. While the US is only at 2.1 per cent, California has specific incentives to reduce air pollution and, with a population of 40 million, sits at 7.8 per cent of new car sales. Australia, through a distinct lack of leadership, sits at 0.2 per cent. This is one of the lowest in the world. That will soon start to change.

Myth 6: The electrical network. The argument is that if everyone changed from ICE to electric cars, the network couldn’t handle the load. We need to look at the numbers. There are 1.1 million new cars sold in Australia each year. If 20 percent were electric, that would be 220,000 in one year. Electric cars use about 16kWh per 100km. At the average distance driven, 220,000 cars would add up to 3.4 billion kilometres driven. That is a total of 512GWh of electricity. In comparison to Australia’s total electricity consumption, that is in the vicinity of 0.22 per cent. Put another way, the 33 wind turbines at Bodangora produce 0.19 per cent of the electricity used in Australia. We have six years before 2025 when we will hit 20 per cent of new car sales and we will only need to add 0.22 per cent to total production of electricity of reach year we hit our 20 per cent. It will be some time before all 19.2 million cars on our roads are electric but even if every single car magically transformed to electric tomorrow, total electricity consumption would add less than 20 per cent to our current usage. Don’t forget that oil refineries use power as well so if all oil refineries stopped producing oil tomorrow, there would be more power available, which leads to my next myth.

Myth 7: It takes 7kWh to refine 5 litres of petrol for an ICE to travel 47km. An electric car can travel 44km on 7kWh. Stop refining petrol and the grid will have all the power you need. I have researched the data on this from many angles and, although the 7kWh for the refining of 5 litres of petrol is about right, the 7kWh does not all come from the grid. There is power used by a refinery that comes from the crude itself and transportation that is not from the grid and losses in energy efficiency so a more accurate figure might be 1kWh of actual electricity provided by the grid for 5 litres. A more accurate comparison might be the energy saved by not refining oil might translate to 6km of travel not 44km of travel. A saving nonetheless but not a complete replacement.

These are the most common myths that have been thrown around. Look on some EV forums or talk to some EV owners and find out the facts to satisfy yourself that an EV world is the world we will end up with – not necessarily through government intervention but by simple market demand.

Mathew Dickerson