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July 23, 2024

Electric Boogaloo on the Northern Rivers

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Electric car recharging. Photo Wikimedia

After several years of consideration, 2021 was the year that we got an electric car (EV). Six months later and with rising fuel prices we have no regrets. But what’s it like to own an electric car in Byron Shire?

Firstly, there are the things you expect: the quiet ride; the guilt free travel, but there are also some surprises. Our maiden journey, for example, was a trip to Tweed and we were so excited that we didn’t fully charge the car. On the way home we managed to limp back as far as Brunswick Heads where we made a surprise visit to a friend and enjoyed a bottle of wine while the car charged at the end of a chain of extension cords coming from the front of her house. 

We left Bruns after dinner feeling that our battery charging incompetence had only served to make a mundane trip into something that was much more fun.

It did take us a little while to move beyond charging the car at home to using the chargers that can be found ‘in the wild’. Charging locations can be found fairly simply by using either the Chargefox app or the Plugshare app. For us the closest option is in the car park of the offices of Byron Council but this comes at the cost of getting the car covered in pigeon shit while it is charging.

Range anxiety 

The phenomenon of ‘range anxiety’ is the fear your EV will run out of charge before you get to your destination. Sometimes the world conspires against you. On a recent trip to Kingscliff I was planning to charge the car while my eldest son played soccer, but the charging station in Kingscliff was not working. Through the Chargefox app I was able to call customer support for the charging station and after they rebooted the charging station the problem was not sreolved. 

I collected my lad and headed to Tropical Fruit World where there is another a charging station… and this one wasn’t working either. The customer support people were, again, lovely but in the end all they could suggest was that I get as close to home as I could, then call the NRMA to tow me the rest of the way. 

Luckily we made it to Ocean Shores where – déjà vu – we enjoyed a glass of scotch on the verandah with friends. The experience was a reminder that infrastructure can let you down.

It would be a shame if EV owners had to resort to carrying portable generators with them, so it is good to hear that the State government has pledged to spend $171m on more charging stations across the State. 

Owning an EV means you need to be mindful of the vehicle’s battery life, but for us that does not detract from the joy of having it. When you put your foot down it really moves (don’t forget to dodge the potholes) but as time has gone by the joy of going fast has been replaced with the pursuit of energy efficiency. 

It is fun to make full use of the regenerative braking and I find myself driving below the speed limit (very unlike me) to try and find the most efficient speed and feeling happier for it. Maybe the thing I don’t enjoy is seeing the projected range drop when I turn on the air conditioning, however, most of the time this is not a worry.

I really think that one day petrol will be something that is only found in museums of the 20th century where school children will wrinkle their noses when they get a foul whiff of authentic 20th century hydrocarbons. 

Owning an electric car feels like being part of that future.

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  1. Nice article promoting electric vehicles. A couple of things:
    How aware are EV owners of the source of the electricity that charges their car (is is coal fired electricity)? I don’t know but it would be good to investigate.; and
    I recently spent four weeks assisting with the wheat harvest in south western QLD. This process produces the wheat that is used in the “sourdough and croissants” (not to mention pasta, etc) that we consume daily. Each day our little contract team used over 5000 litres of diesel to run the headers and chaser bins. This is the fossil fuel issue to solve (need efficient power, lots of it and on tap – harvesting is time dependent)

  2. Gary,
    this is a fallacy about Coal to charge cars. Personally, most of my charging is done during the day with 100% rooftop solar. If I am on a trip, Chargefox uses 100% Green energy. So, yes, I do think about the source of my power.
    We have a Kona EV. It will travel 350 Km+ on a charge at highway speeds. It uses abt 14.5 Kw/100 Km energy, or abt $4.50/100 km at 32c/kwh. Compare that to the average equivalent Petrol car that runs 6l/100 Km, or over $10. Also my costs are relatively stable, where petrol is going up & up. By charging off Solar PV, my cost is abt $0.90 (at 6c/Kwh grid feed)
    The WA AEVA group did as test on a Tesla where they charged the Tesla with a Diesel powered 100 Kw stationary generator. (really efficient use of fuel). They found the Tesla was more economical for Diesel use than a directly Diesel powered ICE vehicle. They are considering Diesel Generators for remote Service stations as an interim measure.
    Lastly, a bit of info on the Grid: Consider the grid like a huge tank. Both Coal fired & alternative energy is dumped in the tank, then the energy is taken at various points. Due to the energy being a mix, you are not sure where your electrons come from, but as long as the right proportions of energy are input, any user is effectively using the power he purchases either Coal, alternative or a mix. This is really confusing for many to understand, particularly as my energy retailer might be buying Sustainable energy from SA, but I might use the energy in the Northern Rivers. AEMO controls the mix mostly, on 5 min contracts. Really, it just works!

    I agree that the Agriculture industry is a conundrum. My thouyghts are that currently we use huge machines, but if we had smaller, robot controlled machines it would be possible to power them with electricity. The electricity could be Solar PV, Wind or something like an Ammonia powered generator. (The ammonia could be made from a Solar PV ´farm´, over an extended period then stored to be used at harvest for instance. The EV tractors could run 24/7 because they are quiet, & automatically dock & charge. This option might seem to be expensive, but that 5000L /day costs about $7000/day (estimate). Once the local generation system is available, the costs would be low (basically split water which might even be contaminated?, then convert the h2 into CH3. Motors are being developed to burn Ammonia already for shipping. Excess Ammonia can be converted to Fertilizer, or bulk-sold. (So no need for a grid connection). The Revolution has yet to come!


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