Last weekend the West published the following article called OWNING AN ELECTRIC VEHICLE IN PERTH and used the new City of Fremantle Holden Volt as its case study. Enjoy!
Weekend West, Perth 13 Jul 2013 Motoring – page 1 – 1046 words
A new wave of electric cars can beat range anxiety and go the distance with petrol engine boosters, writes KARL PESKETT
AN empty parking space sits in the corner of a carpark on Barlee Street, Mt Lawley. The first hour of parking costs nothing and, even better, any resident of the City of Vincent who does park there is offered free “fuel”.
Yet, it remains completely desolate for most days of the year.
You’d think this opportunity would have been jumped at long ago. But as ever there’s a catch; the lettering on the ground explains the reason: Electric Vehicle Parking Only.
On paper, electric vehicles sound wonderful; they’re easy to drive, cheap to recharge and produce no tailpipe emissions at all. Best of all, because an EV’s maximum torque is available from zero rpm, they’re quite nippy, too.
Yet, according to a report by the University of WA compiled last year, driver perception of EVs isn’t overly positive.
Chief among the reasons is “range anxiety” a feeling of concern as to whether a driver will make it to their next charge point before the batteries run flat.
Electric vehicles, therefore, haven’t really taken off in Australia. A look through new car sales figures highlights how poor the uptake is: out of 118,758 vehicles sold in June, only 35 were EVs. Of the three EVs which can be bought off the showroom floor (Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Nissan Leaf and Holden Volt), only the Leaf and Volt notched up sales.
While the i-MiEV and the Leaf are pure electric cars, the Volt goes one step further and employs a range extender; a conventional petrol engine set up to act as a generator. It’s that difference which could actually be the saving grace for electric vehicles.
For decades we’ve been accustomed to filling up and hitting the road, being able to cover hundreds of kilometres without having to worry Long distances, however, seem to go against an EV’s raison d’etre to flit about in short hops without using a drop of dinosaur juice. But if you can do both, surely the EV’s major weakness has been overcome.
That was the thinking behind Brad Pettitt’s decision to buy a Holden Volt. The Mayor of Fremantle bought his car six months ago and appreciates the freedom a range extender brings.
“It takes the nervousness out of owning an electric vehicle,” Pettitt said. “While it’s very rare that the Volt’s batteries won’t last a whole day of short trips around Perth and Fremantle (you get about 70km per charge), it is nice to know that the little petrol generator will kick in if need be.
“It’s unnervingly quiet and smooth. But very quickly you get the sense this is the way all cars should be silent, no gears and great, seamless linear acceleration. Plus, the Volt is surprisingly quick in Sport mode.” Based on today’s electricity prices, an EV costs very little to run; about $2.50 per charge, and from a regular household powerpoint it takes about six hours. It’s this that Pettitt says he had to get his head around.
“You have to get in the habit everyday of plugging it in when you’re done driving for the day so it charges up overnight,” he said.
Certainly it’s no more difficult than plugging in a mobile phone, though the charging cord is a bit more robust. The real beauty of electricity, however, is its efficiency. A typical electric vehicle converts about 80 per cent of its energy into motion.
A fossil-fueled car? Anywhere from 15-25 per cent.
While Mr Pettitt charges his car a lot at work, some employers may not be as keen.
Public charging stations, therefore, are the answer. Like the aforementioned parking spot, free charging is available, with some councils also offering free parking. Incentives for EVs are increasing, with specially marked bays set aside.
More than that, the public chargers are usually quick-charge points, cutting the normal charging time almost in half Pettitt says electric vehicles should have all the help they can get.
“EV charging infrastructure in Perth is still developing, with only a limited amount of charge points,” he said. “That is one of the reasons the City of Fremantle has installed two free public charging stations in its Queensgate Car Park.” To help with EV uptake, UWA’s report recommends the installation of a city-wide level 3 (50kW) charging network in Perth.
It also calls for the implementation of a demonstration electric highway project with level 3 charging stations along a route linking Perth to major regional centres, such as Bunbury, Busselton and Margaret River.
Whether having the charging stations will encourage sales of dedicated EVs or whether increasing EV sales will encourage more charging stations is certainly a chicken-and-egg debate. But it’s the out-of-town instances which Mr Pettitt says make the range-extended Volt ideal for the majority of West Australians.
“I have dipped into petrol power,” he admitted, “but almost only on long trips out of the metro area or on the odd day when I have forgotten to plug it in.
“But it’s nice to have the range extender there as backup.” And perhaps that’s what we need to inspire confidence. If range is no longer a concern, the major barrier to owning an EV is simply the cost. Yes, the cars are more expensive than a comparatively sized small car. But once you factor in fuel costs and the money saved on maintenance (no oil changes, no filters), the value equation starts to add up.
Even brakes last longer as electric cars use their motors to brake, converting that energy to recharge the batteries.