Why You Should “Ruin” Your Weekend in an EV

Many of you may have heard about the cheeky Facebook group “I ruined the weekend“. For those that haven’t its a full of photos and reports on how Electric Vehicle owners have made use of their vehicles going on long outback trips, visiting a country Vineyard, towing a Boat, and generally going about business as usual whilst driving electric rather than petrol or diesel. The Facebook group was a clever idea by long time West Aussie EV owner Ant Day, who like myself and hundreds of owners across Australia are thoroughly sickened by the continual fear campaign aimed at EVs. Politicians Scott Morrison and Michaela Cash claiming that Electric Vehicles will ruin your weekend was an audacious slogan that needed countering.

So why should you “Ruin your weekend”?

On one side of the fence we have a small but vocal group of EV owners supporting the electric transition, on the other side are the naysayers who believe EVs are not the answer, in reality this second group are people who know the electric transition will be detrimental to their business. In the middle are the fence sitters, the vast majority of Australians that have an interest in Electric Vehicles but struggle to separate fact from opinion from all the mud being thrown around, these are the potential owners that need to be convinced. It’s far better to do this with facts rather than opinion.

The best way to achieve this is prove it can be done, get out for a weekender to the country, tow the boat down to the ramp, go camping at some secluded location, go for an interstate trip, but most importantly leave the petrol car at home. Taking your EV to a place it’s apparently not supposed to be is a great conversation starter, it gets fence sitters attention and the conversation around the BBQ gets changed in a positive way. It’s no longer opinion, it’s fact, pessimism has been replaced with optimism. This is something the naysayers will never have, they can never show it can’t be done but you can show it can.

A Charge of Teslas holidaying in Kalbarri, Western Australia

Why AC Charging is Still Vital

When most people refer to electric vehicle charging they discuss the DC variant, and without doubt DC only charging is useful in three EV charging scenarios.

  • DC charging of at least 100kw power output is critical on highways between Australian towns and cities, the vast majority of non EV owners firmly believe fast charging times that are closer to petrol refill times are essential if they’re going to purchase an EV, these future new owners will soon realise that a 15 minute stop every 250kms is nowhere near the issue they expected.
  • There’s a small percentage of car owners that live in multi story buildings with no electricity outlet near their allocated parking spot, when these residents purchase an EV they’ll rely on public charging, for many DC charging will be the preferred choice.
  • The third EV charging scenario is the Taxi industry, to make the day to day operation as smooth as possible they’ll need the easy access to reliable DC charging.

So why is AC charging still so vital?

Despite what the EV naysayers would like to portray, the vast majority of Australian car owners have the ability to charge an EV at home or work. It doesn’t need to be 3 phase power, 10, 15 or even 32amp single phase is more than sufficient to replace the average days driving.

Compared to DC charging an AC charging set up is extremely cheap and fast to install. Public DC chargers are currently very expensive to install, sometimes expensive to maintain and often attract a lot of red tape that drags the build time out for months on end. At the moment there’s a very low number of electric vehicles on the road compared to the rest of the vehicle fleet so having EVs charging at their local DC charger is handy advertising, as the transition to plug in electric drivetrains rapidly increase this may very well cause issues if the DC charging infrastructure in built up areas can’t keep up with demand.

Those EV drivers mentioned earlier in the scenarios above will heavily rely on local DC charging, so getting as many owners as possible with the ability to charge at home or work from AC charging is vital to making the nationwide EV transition as smooth as possible.

Model 3 USA build v China build

Energy efficiency and charging speed comparison

This test was scheduled to compare the different supercharging speeds between a USA and China built model 3 standard range, we also took the opportunity to test the energy efficiency of both cars. The energy efficiency test produced some unexpected results but nothing that would make one car far superior to the other over its whole life.

Conditions for the day were fine and dry, with the outside air temperature starting at 19C and creeping up to 26C over the next 4 hours, the roads had light to moderate traffic allowing for both cars to stay visible to each other, there was no tailgating each other or drafting larger vehicles.

We attempted to drive a combination of suburban and highway routes although a significant section of the journey was at 110kmh on a fairly coarse road surface that has a negative effect on range, I’ve driven the same Forest highway dozens of times in a model S in the past 6 years and it’s certainly chews up the energy as much as any West Australian road I can think of.

To make the test as tidy as possible both cars had the same cold tyre pressures (45psi) using the same brand and size tyres, both climate controls set to 22C throughout the full test when driving, 2 occupants each. Both cars preheated their batteries on approach to the supercharger. We had the good fortune to have the Eaton V2 Superchargers to ourselves avoiding shared cabinets.

The Supercharging Speed Test

Not really a groundbreaking surprise here but more of a reminder that the USA installed NCA batteries have a slightly different charging profile to the China installed LFP batteries, the good news is both cars had a reasonable good charging speed between 20% and 90% on a V2 Supercharger capped at 135kw, USA build taking 33 minutes, the China build taking 32 minutes.

Note: 97Kw figure at 40% was double checked and is correct.

The Efficiency Test

The Trip A south in temperatures between 19C and 22C was a total distance of 129kms  via a detour through Pinjarra, this produced a small surprise that we initially put down to a margin of error, the USA car had a trip average of 153Wh/km against the China car of 157Wh/km, I didn’t expect the China car to have any advantage on such a mild day, a cold day would have certainly given it a win.

The Trip B north was a more direct 103kms with temperatures between 23C and 26C, this did throw up an interesting result, the USA car averaged 145Wh/km, the China car 158Wh/km, that sort of gap wasn’t expected.

So why such difference? It wasn’t driver behaviour, we swapped passengers at the supercharger so I spent time with both drivers, there wasn’t any significant difference in accelerating or braking. As the cars had been matched as close as possible the only difference was the age of the tyres, although the China model 3 had 1200kms on its tyres it appears they need some more age and distance before the tyres produce their best efficiency.

Many thanks to Nigel and Alex for giving up their Saturday morning to conduct this test.

Rob.

Comparing the Eaton Supercharger with the Treendale DC charger

These two sets of chargers are 5kms apart not far from the Forrest highway 160kms south of Perth, they’re are both excellent charging facilities that provide a welcome link for drivers heading to the south west corner of the state.

Treendale consists of 2 charging outlets with a maximum charge rate of 350kw, although currently there are no electric vehicles in Australia that can accept that power output. As of today (28/12/2020) the cost is 40 cents per kWh with no connection fee via the Chargefox network. In addition to the reasonable cost per unit the ability for 2019 onward Tesla’s to charge at rates as high as 190kw makes the Treendale charger an attractive alternative.

Treendale 350 kW fast chargers

The Eaton Superchargers are part of the Tesla network, the bank of 6 charging outlets have a maximum charge rate of 135kw, for those without access to free supercharging credits the 52 cents per kWh cost can appear excessive compared to charging at home but is acceptable for a top up every few weeks.

Eaton Superchargers

The clear advantage of the Tesla supercharger is the convenience of the set up, firstly you can detour into Eaton with the surety that at least one of the 6 charging bays will be available to use, having the ability to check via the Tesla app how many chargers are occupied before arrival is an added bonus, but best of all the “plug in and walk off” set up is so much better than opening a phone app and waiting for a connection as often occurs with most other non Tesla chargers.

In summary, if you have a newer Tesla with the ability to charge at higher rates the Treendale chargers are the better alternative, the downside is you run the risk that eventually both charge bays will be occupied on arrival. If your not concerned about saving a few minutes and a few dollars the Eaton superchargers are the best option, park up, plug in, walk off completely hassle free.

Why Kojonup is the most critical DC charger in Western Australia.

If you think that’s an overblown headline it’s best you read on, the fact is I doubt there will ever be an electric vehicle charger installed in WA that will have a bigger impact. It may only be a 50kw charger but it’s going to power up more than just electric vehicles.

Kojonjup DC charger

Perception

Most of the EV driving I’ve done has been in country areas, especially locations with limited charging options across every state and territory of Australia. Charging downtime using AC power provides a unique opportunity to discuss electric vehicles with the general public, many can’t tell the difference between an EV and a traditional vehicle until they see you plugging in to a power source, it then doesn’t take long for a conversation to start. No matter what some media outlets attempt to portray the general public are intrigued by electric vehicles, they may not know much about the technology but many Australian drivers are keen for their next vehicle to be electric, their biggest concern is almost always charging speeds on long journeys.

The Albany highway between Perth and Albany is possibly the busiest WA country road outside of the Perth to Margaret River corridor, at 415kms, most petrol or diesel vehicle drivers knock the trip off in 4 to 5 hours.  Up until now an electric vehicle needed 450kms of real range to cover the same journey in a 4 to 5 hour time frame, the Albany highway is a fairly harsh surface that increases energy use, it’s also not a road that can be driven slowly.  For the most part the highway contains 110kmh zones with insufficient overtaking lanes, anyone driving at less than 90kmh during the day will become a nuisance to other road users. For those adventurous types a 2 hour AC top up at Williams or Kojonup has been part of the bigger picture, for those looking at a transition from petrol to electric a two hour delay on a 4 hour trip is not acceptable and never will be, DC charging is the only solution. For the thousands of passenger vehicles that drive the Albany highway every week DC charging will bring a positive change in thinking.

Competition

I would confidentially guess that less than 10% of Western Australia’s electric vehicle drivers have even considered driving to Albany, this is mostly due to the lack of DC charging. Now that Kojonup DC is in place even a car with 350kms range will only require a 20-30 minute top up, expect to see many more electric vehicles travel the Albany highway during the Summer of 2020-21.  This will eventually provide an incentive for other towns and businesses along the highway to install DC charging, very few like to take the lead but none wish to miss out.

I have no doubt that multiple locations along the Albany highway will have banks of DC chargers far more powerful than 50kw within the next 5 years, Kojonup DC will be the one that kick started it all.

Footnote: The Chargepod DC installed at Arthur River in mid 2019 was the instigator to getting the first grid connected DC charger along this major Perth to Albany route, thanks to the efforts of a community minded individual for making it possible.

Installing DC fast chargers across the Nullarbor

When people discuss driving from coast to coast in Australia they often say we’re driving the Nullarbor. Before the road was completely sealed in the mid 1970s it was at best a challenging experience, at worst a mighty test of patience for those who didn’t plan for tyre and suspension issues along the way. These days the road is fairly good, the biggest challenges are rapid temperature changes, the often relentless wind and the flies.

As a matter of reference the Nullarbor Plain is an area located between the towns of Norseman and Ceduna, these two towns are 1200kms apart by road although the true treeless part (that still has a random small tree along the way) is mostly between the West Australian border and the Nullarbor roadhouse in South Australia, for this exercise an across the Nullarbor drive is between Perth and Adelaide via the shortest route of 2724kms.

Nullarbor Plain

The first time I drove across the Nullarbor was in 1992, in the past 3 years we’ve driven it 3 times in an electric vehicle. It’s an interesting adventure charging from 3 phase outlets and answering questions from curious tourists, the journey is not difficult at all, it just takes planning and patience. Driving these long distance trips with charging downtime also provides plenty of opportunity to think of the possibilities of where to install DC chargers and what charging speeds would be best. The installation of equipment that reduce charging time from multiple hours down to 15-20 minutes is now essential, EV owners are no longer just the early adopters who enjoy a challenge, EVs are now being purchased by Australians that require the best possible experience from day one.

So where to place the chargers with regards to spacing? By good fortune this is fairly easy if all the locations get on board EV charging, the average distance between charge locations is 182kms with largest gap being 241kms on the Balladonia-Cocklebiddy leg a road that is reasonably flat and easy on driving range. Of the 14 most versatile charging locations only 4 are privately operated off grid sites, the remaining 10 are gazetted towns, the amount of electricity available at each site is a relevant but separate issue that you can read about here, chargers need to be placed where there are toilets, water and shelter.

There are two obvious exclusions from this list, one is the mid-sized coastal town of Ceduna, on that section of road Penong and Poochera have more useful spacing, no doubt Ceduna will get DC charging as some stage. The second location is Border Village 12kms from Eucla, despite being more active with tourists Border Village has a privately operated and at this stage very weak electricity supply compared to Eucla. I wouldn’t rule Border Village out as eventually competition will see both locations having DC chargers. You will note I have included both Mundrabilla RH and Eucla, which only has a gap of 65kms. Unfortunately this is only alternative without having a gap of at least 262kms, it’s also the section of road that has consistently strong winds.

Heading back across the paddock.

How powerful would the Chargers need to be? From a marketing exercise 350kw would appear to be the first choice, drivers looking to switch from petrol to electric often still have the mindset that 5 minute refills are essential, in theory a 350kw charger could provide 182kms of range in 6 minutes, in reality very few drivers will need it. Personally I see 150kw chargers as being the better choice for at least a few years, 150kw would provide 182kms of range in approximately 15 minutes, to me that’s a far better use of equipment while barely adding much time to the overall trip.

To summarize: installing DC chargers across the Nullarbor is nowhere near the impossible task many believe it to be, it’s certainly a challenge but nothing like the challenge that has gone into building the roads and oil based fueling infrastructure already in place across this isolated part of Australia. Up until now it hasn’t been necessary as very few electric vehicle owners need to make the trip, but as electric transportation rapidly becomes mainstream in the same countries that build Australia’s car it’s now become a matter of urgency to change the mind sets and car buying habits of many Australians.

Large scale off grid EV charging

It often gets asked on social media forums and at electric vehicle displays why off grid EV charging is not being built. The answer is: it will be eventually, it’s not technology holding it up, nor lack of renewable energy available, it’s frequency although not in terms of electricity but in terms of traffic flow.

Many EV drivers are already charging at home from off grid electricity systems, this is cost effective because of two important points; firstly they’re sharing the power generation equipment with general household usage thus sharing the equipment cost; also they are only using around 20% of the vehicles battery per day, 50% at most, this means they can delay charging until excess electricity is available.

With home charging it really isn’t that difficult to install a suitable off grid electricity system without too much overbuild, for a commercial site on a country road it’s vastly different. The random nature of traffic flow makes sizing a suitable generation system without massively overbuilding very difficult. On an average day in 2022 a regional roadhouse may get 4 electric vehicles stop to charge, that is zero to one car some days and 10 cars on other days, add in long weekends and school holidays and the EV traffic flow could be far higher. It’s not too difficult to install enough chargers for the busiest day but having enough electricity production and storage to charge those EVs would require a generation and storage system that would spend the best part of a week completely under utilized, it’s near impossible to make a business case from that.

Here is a very rough example to show why: On the busiest day 16 EVs stop to charge over a 24 hour period, if each EV consumes an average of 45kWh including charging losses, to provide 720kWh would require a minimum of 180kw of solar panels with the smallest battery set up of approximately 600kWh, and there sits the first issue. Batteries are currently too expensive to be only partly used 5 or 6 days per week, solar is cheap but having such a large solar array that’s producing vast amounts of unused power for most of the week is a waste of resources.

Mundrabilla Roadhouse – Nullabor Plain

So this is what needs to happen over the next few years;

  • 1. Battery prices need to fall significantly: this is not as big an ask as it seems as off grid batteries don’t have to be Lithium based, off grid locations have no shortage of room, energy density is not important, the best battery is one that provides the best cost per kWh over its guaranteed lifetime in an often harsh environment.
  • 2. One electricity generation system for everything: a shared off grid system is better value for money, but not only a shared system but a smart system where power consumption is carefully managed during busy time periods, water desalination and hot water systems can operate at times of low demand.
  • 3. Charging cost: EV owners will openly say they have no problem paying 45 cents a kWh in country areas but make it 60 cents at peak times and 30 cents when excess power is available and charging habits will change, most Australian drivers are already accustomed to being fleeced by fuel companies on long weekends at least this way they have a chance at cheaper energy.
  • 4. More electric vehicles need to be purchased in Australia: the bigger the flow of traffic in country areas the better the business case for building off grid charging facilities.

What is the short term solution?

A hybrid system of renewables and Diesel: as much as I dislike Diesel being used in passenger cars and pretend 4 wheel drives that never leave the suburbs it still has its place in country areas for another decade. Having a Diesel back up that covers the very busy days but only produces 10-15% of the overall electricity is a far better solution than the one Australia currently has. Most off grid roadhouses are powered close to 100% by fossil fuel (some have a few dozen solar panels) fueling up 99% of the vehicles that stop in with fossil fuels, a step in the right direction is better than no step at all.

Avoid Extension Cords Where Possible

There are three reasons to use an extension cord:

1) to avoid driving across a manicured lawn or soft brick paving.

2) to avoid stretching out your charging cable and making it a tripping hazard.

3) the third reason is not so obvious until you arrive at a charging site, especially tourist parks and other accommodation, many 10 and 15amp single phase outlets are positioned in such a way that the gen 2 UMC plugs can’t fit in the outlet due to the pins being positioned at right angles to the cable, the first solution many drivers take is to add an extension cord with a standard inline plug, this solution often creates another problem.

The first option is to try and avoid using an extension cord, longer cords have a significant voltage drop when charging from single phase, on an overnight charge that could result in 15 to 20kms less range in the same charging time. This voltage drop also means unnecessary heat in the cable that could shorten it’s useful life. The other issue in using an extension cable is it’s highly likely to add another tripping hazard unless it’s used wisely. As much as possible avoid using a 25 metre cable to cover a less than 5 metre span.

So what is the best solution?

Plan A is to always get the car’s charge port as close to the charging outlet without causing damage or inconvenience to the property owners, also the less distance between the car and the outlet the less chance someone will walk through the gap and trip over the charging cord.

If parking close is not possible or the outlet needs an extension cord with an inline plug use the shortest extension cord possible, if it’s a 15amp outlet make sure you use a 15amp cord even if your only charging at 10amps or less, I carry a 10 metre 15amp extension cord that has always covered the task.

A few more tips:

If the outlet is accessible to the public make sure it can’t be accidentally knocked out by someone else using the same power board, especially with outlets that face downwards.

Keep the cord as flat and straight between the car and charging outlet but add a half coil at the base of each end, that way if someone catches the cord with their foot there’s a shock absorber at the car end but most importantly at the power point end.

If you’ve used the shortest cable possible and still have plenty of excess don’t leave in a pile on the floor, lay it out carefully along the edge of a wall or somewhere else where clumsy feet can’t get to it.

Happy motoring.

So, you want to drive to Esperance?

Now that the Lake Grace DC charger is installed and operational the Perth to Esperance drive has become so much easier. I’ve completed the 700km trip in a Model S three times since early 2017 using the slow but reliable 3 phase AC charging.

To make the journey as trouble free and relaxing as possible read on:

  • Perth to Esperance is 700kms via Williams and Ravensthorpe, the Perth to Lake Grace leg is 326kms, Lake Grace to Esperance 374kms.
  • On average you will lose 20 minutes of daylight driving East towards Esperance but gain an average 20 minutes on the return journey West, driving at dusk between Ravensthorpe and Esperance is not recommended so please take the above into consideration.
  • The Albany highway section of 168kms between Perth and Williams can get fairly busy, driving below 100kmh is not recommended or you’ll be very unpopular with the business people who use this road on a daily basis.
  • The Williams to Lake Grace section is flat and fairly good for range, take note if you’re driving into an easterly and factor that into the remaining range.
  • The 186km section between Lake Grace and Ravensthorpe is generally a low traffic road that can be driven a bit slower if needed. Be warned that at certain times of the year grain trucks are using this road, give them every opportunity to do their job as quickly and safely as possible.
  • The 188km section between Ravensthorpe and Esperance is not too busy but the traffic moves fast, it’s also a deceptive road, long sections of very good surface with random spots in need of repair from water damage, take note of the shire warning signs, it could very save you from tyre and rim damage.
  • Don’ be rigid in your trip plan, allow extra time for unexpected delays.
  • Spare tyre and jack, CARRY THESE ITEMS, although you are very unlikely to get a flat tyre, not having a spare when you need one will make it a very expensive and time consuming trip, not the type of memories you want while on holiday. Roadside repair kits are a plan C and are no substitute for a spare tyre in regional WA. Contact the TOCWA secretary regarding a loan spare and advice (free to TOWCA members).

When leaving from Perth I highly recommend you depart as early as possible; firstly there’s less traffic to deal with on the outskirts of town; secondly you have time up your sleeve to stop and take some photos; thirdly and most importantly it’s nice to arrive at your final destination, get the car on charge and relax with a drink before sunset.

How early? That’s up to you but sunrise is a great time to be on the road. If you don’t mind getting some driving done before breakfast the Williams Woolshed is a great first stop for a meal and a short top up charge using the Tesla HPWC, it may only be 11kw but as the saying goes “Always be charging”.

Lake Grace is your main charging stop and it’s likely that will take 50 to 80 minutes, if you’re a first time visitor it’s easy to use up that time going for a short walk and having some lunch. The DC charger is currently set to stop charging at 95%, this isn’t really an issue as by that stage the charge rate has likely dropped to a level where the Lake Grace DC charger has no advantage over the AC charging in Williams or Ravensthorpe.

Pro tip: There’s a good chance the moment you arrive a local will walk over and start asking about the car, make sure you plug in and confirm your car is charging before having a long conversation. Once again “Always be charging”.

Ravensthorpe is a small but lovely town that is well worth the stop even if you don’t need to charge, there’s an IGA supermarket on the hillside with a Cafe that provides a nice view. If you do need a top up charge Ravensthorpe’s Green Haven caravan park has a Tesla destination charger that cost the owners more to install than they’ll ever get back from the 50 cents per kWh charging fee. Back in 2017 when no one in Ravensthorpe had any interest in EV charging Claire at the caravan park stepped up. They also have some reasonable priced chalets if driving Perth to Esperance in one day is hard yakka.

Ravensthorpe IGA is a great spot to grab a coffee and check out the view.

Esperance is a great place to relax for a few days, there are two locations with Tesla destination chargers (Smith Street Holiday House and Comfort Inn Bay of Isles) plus the horizon power type 2 via the Chargefox app (BYO cable). There’s plenty to do within walking distance including the local museum which has much more to see than just the Skylab wreckage. If you have time to spare a 90km drive east to the Duke of Orleans Bay is worth the effort, as well as the beautiful white sand beaches there’s a gem of a pub in the village of Condingup that back in 2017 served a tasty lunch.

Duke of Orleans Bay.

For the return to Perth, if you want to be a bit more adventurous there are two options, via Jerramungup (Tesla HPWC) & Albany or North via Kalgoorlie. If you want alternate recommendations let me know.

Happy Travels, Rob

Why is Tesla battery day a huge deal? It may not be what you think.

If you’re a longer term Tesla follower cast your mind back to March 2016, Tesla were about to display the mass produced Model 3 for the first time and the small (by today’s standards) Tesla fan base were salivating at the thought of a reasonable cost electric vehicle with the style and potential performance of the Tesla Model S. Anyone who had been for a drive in a Tesla product were excited, Legacy auto were not, Tesla was just background noise while they continued building vehicles with 20th century technology. As far as Legacy auto was concerned Tesla was just a niche product purchased by fanatics, the customer base was small and would soon dry up. 48 hours after the Model 3 reveal Tesla had over 300,000 deposits for the model 3, a car many would not receive for over 3 years, that was the last time Legacy auto would underestimate Tesla.

Anything Tesla announce on battery day will gain the full attention of the worlds car makers and likely lead to massive investments in research and development in an attempt to keep up with Tesla, the winners out of this will be the worlds car buyers.

Tesla battery day could bring a battery with better energy density, a battery that will have a useful life of well over a million kilometres, possibly a battery that can be charged at a far faster rate than currently available. It could be none of the above and it still won’t matter, Tesla only need one breakthrough and in the eyes of the fence sitters waiting to buy an electric car a Tesla goes from almost as good as ICE to slightly better than an ICE in total cost of ownership, it doesn’t take much to tip the scales for good.

So what is the most likely announcement on battery day? Amongst many small advancements I think the important one will be faster battery production allowing more efficient use of the facilities and factory workers that will lead to lower costs per kWh of batteries. This reduction in cost may only be 15 to 20% but that’s enough to create the tipping point necessary to assign the internal combustion engine to history.