9 minute read

My life with an Electric Vehicle

Rohan Smith
08 October 2018

Electric Vehicles (EVs) may seem new today, but they were originally invented back in the 1830s. In fact, William Morrison built the first successful rechargeable electric automobile in the United States in 1891, powered by lead-acid batteries. (Ouch!)

This little history lesson does prompt questions like, why did we adopt Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles that consume petrol and diesel (& LPG)? And more importantly, why are we now heading back towards electric mobility in 2018?

Well, a lot has happened since 1832, so I’ll let those interested deep dive on the past via Wikipedia, and I’ll keep my story about the present, and more so where I think EVs may be headed in the future.

The future is electric

And “the future is electric”, as quoted by the Queensland government with their Electric Vehicle Strategy – who recently announced the world’s longest electric super highway in a single state. This $3m network of fast chargers from Cairns to Brisbane/Toowoomba, will also be 100% carbon-neutral (via green energy credits/offsets).

But what is it like owning an electric vehicle today?

Well, in January this year we decided to find out…

My wife and I purchased a small EV, it has a 33kWh battery (94Ah), which can travel approx. 200kms per charge, plus another 100kms from a petrol backup Range Extender (REX). Based on my experience this year, I’ve pulled together my ‘Top 5’ list of EV perks.

My Top 5 EV perks

In no particular order…

1. Farewell petrol stations, hello home charging.

In the past nine months, we’ve only visited a petrol station once to fill up the 9-litre REX tank, after driving down the Mornington Peninsula for a wedding. This means no more petrol station fumes and no more candy-bar angst at the petrol station counter.

2. Going green with zero exhaust emissions

There are many great debates regarding the CO2 emissions from the generation of electricity, which powers Electric Vehicles. However, the reality is that there are no exhaust emissions from driving a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV). For cities, where population density is at its highest, increased EV adoption will likely improve ambient air quality.

When it comes to charging up, if you have solar panels on your roof, you will be powering your house and car with green energy. Otherwise, if you rely on the Grid you can offset your electricity usage with green credits if you want to.

3. Way cheaper to run

Generally, EVs are between a third to a quarter of the cost (per km) to run vs. an equivalent petrol/diesel car. Our old diesel car cost between $20-25 per 100kms (whereas the EV only costs about $5 to charge, from the grid (even less if we charge it from solar).

Furthermore, when it comes to servicing, petrol cars have (on average) 2,000 different parts to make the wheels turn. Conversely, EVs have only 20 parts to drive the car. So, in addition to no more oil changes, there are less parts to maintain.

4. Smooth, silent, and fast

One of the things we’ve noticed with our EV is that you can’t hear the engine running or feel any engine vibrations. In fact, when we first got our car, I did have to check – is the car actually on?

Each EV has a different way to indicate that ‘yes the engine is actually on’. In our case, it’s a blue light on the gear selector (forward/reverse). In a Renault Zoe, the car says “Ready” on the dash behind the steering wheel to indicate the same.

Either way, once the car is on and you start to squeeze the right pedal, you’re generally pleasantly surprised. The power delivery is instant, as electric motors have 100% torque at zero RPM. They also don’t have a gearbox, meaning a smooth power delivery right up to 100kms on the freeway. All this happens with very little noise from the electric motor.

5. Space, more space

Remember those 2,000 parts I mentioned earlier that usually get crammed under the front hood (engine), and down the centre through the cabin (transmission)?

Well, with an EV, consider them gone.

The main large component of an EV is the battery pack, which is usually placed under the entire floor of the cabin, creating a flat floor with a lower centre of gravity, which from my perspective, makes the car easier to handle.

This layout has created a new space called the ‘Frunk’ (Front Trunk). Many EVs now have storage space in the back and the front, as the electric motors are usually mounted near the wheels. So not only is the cabin more spacious, but you often get more storage space as well.

Batteries are positive and negative, so let’s talk about the negatives…

While in my view there are many benefits to EVs, there are still a few key challenges here in Australia. Three notable, but likely short term, barriers to mass market EV adoption include:

  • Choice, there are only around 20 EVs to choose from in Australia.
  • Cost, they are generally more expensive than their ICE equivalent.
  • Need for EV supported parking given 80-90% of charging occurs at home, you need off-street parking, or you’ll have to wait for the public charging infrastructure to catch up.

What might tip the balance?

It is expected that we will see more competition as new EVs enter the Australian market, and at a lower cost. And when this happens, it’s likely the adoption rate will go through the (sun) roof and by consequence, more supportive infrastructure for charging, will become the norm.