Sustainability

Electric Vehicles – Rick Molloy

By August 23, 2022September 21st, 2022No Comments

Our New Electric Car. 

Rick Molloy

The decision to buy

For four years or so our next car was going to be electric. In March 2020 we finally made the big decision and since then have been finding out about this new reality and how we feel about it.

To go back to the beginning. With a science background, I have always been a conservationist and never a “petrol head”, seeing cars as a necessary evil. Cars should be reliable and run as clean and as cheaply as possible. That said, I do enjoy driving, whether it be on the open road, negotiating mountain curves or as a taxi driver in my twenties.

Up to 10 years ago the most common electric cars in Australia were conversions, which did not attract my interest. However, when the Tesla models arrived in Australia it was a revelation. Suddenly a clean alternative was available. The starting price of $100k was completely out of our reach and there were many unanswered questions. But my attention had been taken. All I had to do was watch and wait. I started attending information sessions on electric cars, eventually volunteering as the Convenor of the Renew Melbourne Electric Vehicle Branch for a couple of years.

So, returning to 2020, having agreed to be Secretary of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association and not owning an EV of any sort myself, I felt somewhat out on a limb. Also, our financial position had improved. With the mortgage paid off, cash in the bank and the ability to save money once retired, our cash flow was able to cope with a capital outlay of about $70k. Importantly, our son had just moved his family, including our four young grandchildren, to Sydney. With Covid-19 making plane travel a no-no, we needed a reliable and comfortable car to drive to Sydney and back.

We chose to buy a Hyundai Kona Electric Car which cost $60k and an 8.3 kW PV system with micro inverters which cost about $11k after government subsidies. This decision was not quick or easy. But we felt reasonably well informed of the choices and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Everyone is different and must choose according to their needs and priorities. I will attempt to take you through our decision-making process and what impact it has had on our driving experiences. Hopefully, it will provide you with some insight.

Solar Panels were an obvious inclusion. The financial advantage of having solar panels and using the electricity, when the sun is shining, to run an all-electric house were clear. Electric cars, reverse cycle air conditioners and heat pump hot water systems are much more efficient than the older technologies anyway, but when combined with free and clean solar electricity produced on site it becomes a beautiful solution. The reason for micro inverters is that a large neighbor’s tree to the northwest shades many of the panels in the afternoon.

It did take time to obtain quotes and then persevere with a difficult installation made even more difficult by covid and old terra cotta tiles. It was worth the trouble.

We owned a 2005 Honda Jazz and a 2006 low mileage diesel van. We could go down to one, change both to electric or a combination. We could have a cheaper fully electric car with a smaller range for city driving and then hire a petrol car for longer trips. A plug-in hybrid would use electricity around town and petrol for longer trips. We could lash out and buy a clean fully electric car with a battery big enough to comfortably do a trip of three or four hundred kilometers.

We chose to keep my builder’s van as it is useful to store my tools and I could still do construction projects. It is also handy as a second vehicle.

We could afford a fully electric with a range of 420km. Paying almost double the price of the equivalent petrol model was justified for us on environmental grounds alone. However, we anticipated that, over time, the use of solar panels to charge the car and the greatly reduced running and maintenance costs would mostly compensate for the higher purchase price. This works well with our retirement plan by reducing outgoings once we are on a fixed income. We anticipate that this is possibly the last car we will buy and drive. We understood that planning ahead would be required for trips over 350-400km. As a numbers person I would enjoy this challenge. Once retired, possible delays caused by charging issues would not be an insurmountable problem.

Having arrived at this point, our decision became easier. Within our budget, there were two models with a range of above 400km. The Tesla Model 3 and the Hyundai Kona electric. We chose the Kona because it is an SUV and more suitable for our camping holidays. The Model 3 was $6,000 more expensive and is a sedan.


The experience of driving an electric car

So, are we happy and how has our life changed? Put simply we have no regrets. The car is quiet, responsive, clean and a joy to drive. We have driven to Sydney and back 5 times.

Clean and silent driving is a positive, but it is the instant acceleration and regenerative braking that I enjoy every time I drive. Taking my foot off the accelerator is like gently applying the conventional brake. Also, as electric motors do not need to build up revs to produce maximum power, there is instant power. Gently depressing the accelerator about 3cm gives quite an astonishing result. I describe the car as “responsive”, with small movements of the accelerator controlling the speed of the vehicle as required.  My driving style was quickly modified so that the conventional foot brake is rarely used.

Most charging is done at home at 15Amps AC (3.3kW) while the sun is shining. This is called “Trickle Charging”. We had an electrician install a dedicated 15Amp circuit for this purpose. When away from home a normal 10Amp AC (2.4kW) power point can also be used but takes longer.

On long trips where trickle charging is too slow, we charge at a 50kW DC fast charger, which takes on average about 30 minutes. When using a fast charger, it is normal practice to stop at 80% battery charge. This reduces damage caused by overheating the battery. The computer systems slow down the rate of charging once the battery reaches 75% capacity. Another tactic we use is to trickle charge overnight at a caravan park on one of their 15Amp power points.

The first time we drove to Sydney in November 2020, we drove to Canberra charging on the way at fast chargers in Euroa for morning tea and then at Holbrook for lunch. After charging overnight in Canberra we drove into Sydney in the morning. We paid $8 at the Euroa Chargefox. The NRMA fast charger at Holbrook was free. Although we stayed in a cabin, the Canberra caravan park allowed us to plug into a 15Amp power point at one of their powered sites. A total cost of $8 for the trip. We did the reverse on our return with a total cost of $11 at Euroa.

When the fourth Melbourne lockdown finished at midnight on Thursday 17th June 2021, we left at 5.30am the next morning to drive to Sydney. We stopped at fast chargers in Euroa, Barnawatha, Gundagai and Goulburn. They were all Chargefox and we paid $39 total. We were in a hurry so decided to use only service centres with multiple chargers. Traffic chaos coming into Sydney cost an hour, so the trip took 13 hours, but we still arrived in time for tea. On the return trip we stopped at the NRMA fast charger in Jugiong for lunch at the local café thus avoiding paying for a charge at Gundagai. The trip took 12 hours and cost a total of $31.

Planning a trip means knowing the distances involved and where to charge if the range of the car is insufficient. I use Plugshare and Chargefox apps to select possible charging locations. Each charging point is represented by an icon on the map. Information is obtained by double clicking on the icon of the charging point. For some charging locations attached to private businesses or community facilities, use can be restricted. This may mean that you need to ring ahead to confirm.

Driver’s plans will vary according to the range of the car (size of the battery) and the personal requirements of the occupants. As the range indicator is unreliable and consumption varies according to the journey and driving conditions, I allow a margin of 20%. For example, if the range indicator says 240km, I need to have a Plan B if the trip is more than say 190km. Plan B means knowing in advance where to charge somewhere along the route if necessary.

Usually once a particular trip has been negotiated successfully, it can be repeated with much less effort. Our knowledge has grown over time about the exact location of fast chargers and camping facilities that allow the use of a 15Amp power point.

Planning a very long trip requiring DC fast charging can be difficult. The nominal range of the Kona is 557km. However, it is commonly accepted to be 500km around town and 420km on the highway. For a long trip my rule of thumb is 350km when the battery is fully charged and 300km when the battery is 80% charged. You can see from our two trips to Sydney, that a different plan was required when we had time constraints.

Unfortunately, unlike the Hume highway, there are many major roads that do not have a choice of fast chargers along the route. This makes planning (and at times ringing) ahead a necessity. If there is simply no fast charger on a particular route, then either a different route must be chosen or an overnight stay must be included at a venue which allows trickle charging. My wife Jan would like to drive to Darwin via Uluru and Alice Springs. I anticipate this will be a planning challenge necessitating the limiting of a day’s trip to 300km-350km on occasions.

So, are we happy? The answer is overwhelmingly yes. There are some minor inconveniences planning a long trip. However, for us, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. The car is clean, cheap to run and maintain, and a joy to drive. It has many features to make driving easier and safer. Stopping on a long trip for half an hour to charge, every two hours or so, has been a positive for us. Planning regular breaks such as morning tea or lunch has in fact made the trip less tiring and more enjoyable. We are happy that we are helping the environment. Charging at home is definitely a positive.

Rick Molloy

August 2022

Australian Electric Vehicle Association (AEVA) Fact Sheets for Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) https://www.aeva.asn.au/battery-electric-vehicle-models-bevs/

Rick can be reached at his AEVA email address: secretary@vic.aeva.asn.au