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.

Discussing EV Charging with Local Government, what’s best? AC or DC charging

One of the best ways to progress electric vehicle charging is through local government, especially in regional areas, shires and councils are always looking to promote their green credentials but more so will listen intently when it’s pointed out that EVs can boost regional tourism.

So what is the best type of charging for shires and councils to install? Read on to get some ideas.

DC charging – obviously it would be preferable to have as many DC fast chargers as possible, it’s also obvious the total install cost makes this extremely difficult unless the charger is donated to the location or there’s a councillor or CEO who’s determined to see EVs progress no matter the cost, this has happened on occasions but is very rare, that’s where AC charging is a good foot in the door.
AC charging – the clear benefit of AC charging is the total installed cost per kW of charging power, to wire in a 3 phase plug would cost $500 at the most, a Tesla HPWC install cost is $1500 at the extreme end of the scale but generally $300 to $700 each, AC charging will provide up to 22kw of charging power to an early Tesla Model S or 11kw to a Model 3. Compared to a 50kw DC charger with a purchase price of $35,000 minimum and install costs between $5000 and $60,000, dependent on the existing electricity infrastructure, you can see the better value of an AC install. The not so known advantage of AC charging is the lack of red tape holding up the install, an electrician will attend the site, make a decision on the the available power supply and if it’s viable the AC charger is installed and operational within a week. DC chargers on the other hand incur a lot of red tape, once every bureaucrat has had their share of the pie the cost and install time frame has become less than reasonable, no doubt when service stations and fast food stores start installing DC chargers the red tape issue will reduce rapidly.
As much as we would all like to see a rapid roll out of DC chargers, promoting AC charging with shires and councils to get the conversation started is the best approach. Very often once a low cost AC charge point is installed and is getting regular use the possibility of a DC charger later in time gets discussed.

Rob Dean

Upcoming Events for September and the School Holidays

We have a few events in the pipeline.

For September, our scheduled casual meetup is at the Camfield:

1 Roger Mackay Drive, Burswood at 7:30pm on September 2nd in place of our usual AUA Zoom Meetup

We also have a number of events scheduled in the school holidays

Our October Casual Meetup will be at the annual Rotary Como Car Show at Wesley College, South Perth. If you’re interested in showing off your Tesla, get in touch.

This year the show is on Sunday October 4th, from 10am, Public entry $10 adult, $8 conc., gold coin under 18 – all proceeds to Rotary and Wesley charities.

Our other big event for October is our overnight drive to the wheatbelt town of Kulin, home of the famous waterslide, and right in the heart of wildflower country. We’re planning to stay overnight from October 10th to 11th.

We’ll be limiting the organised drivers to 20 for this drive with convoys taking a pair of routes. There is hotel, AirBnB and camping accomodation options.

More information is available at the booking page here

Batteries – Horses for Courses.

There’s never a shortage of comments about batteries whenever renewable energy is a topic of discussion. One battery that always gets a mention is the Tesla mega battery in Hornsdale South Australia, it’s held up as a shining light of success and the question is then always asked “why don’t other Australian states  commission a mega battery?” Without doubt politics plays a part but more importantly just because the mega battery is a success in SA doesn’t mean it will suit all other states or territories of Australia.

The Hornsdale Battery, South Australia

To keep it simple I’ll put batteries into 4 different categories and how they can be useful for one State but not necessarily for another.

Mega Packs such as the Hornsdale battery – The politicians and media who called this a White Elephant back in 2017 have been proved incorrect more than most could ever imagine. The battery’s ability to respond instantly to electricity demand, buying in power at extremely low prices and selling back high is a continual winner for its owners. No doubt this could almost be replicated in some other states with similar electricity production profiles to SA. One thing to remember though is the Hornsdale battery can be likened to the only Taxi in town, add more Taxis and the rewards are less.

Community battery

Community battery packs – At the time of writing Western Australia has 13 community battery packs averaging 460kwh capacity each. It would take approximately 400 community battery packs to equal the Hornsdale battery storage but that comparison is not really relevant as they’re performing slightly different tasks. Firstly the community batteries are soaking up local excess daytime solar energy then feeding it back into the grid at the busy dinner time period; secondly its a great marketing exercise from the State’s power providers. All those very visible community batteries are essentially a billboard, no doubt a few locals in each suburb will have the confidence to install their own home battery if the power providers are seen to be supporting the technology, from then on one or two home batteries in each street soon start a trend as prices fall.

Home batteries – For most West Australians these are seen as expensive, without doubt to make it cost effective the home has to be set up to make full use of a battery/solar combination. If your arithmetic still shows the return on investment is not sufficient then the value of having electricity available 24/7 when the grid fails is priceless.

Home Battery storage

The electric car battery – Although vehicle to grid (V2G) is being trialled in the ACT it’s not critical that this system is up and running immediately, in fact in Western Australia V2G will be far less useful than the Eastern states grid. The most pressing need for the Perth and South west grid is the ability to soak up excess daytime solar, the already high uptake of rooftop solar is increasing month on month. The State’s power grid generates power from Coal, Gas, multiple wind farms and rooftop solar, generation is cheap but matching varying demand with different generation profiles can be a costly exercise for the companies supplying the power. With smart power pricing in times of high solar generation and low consumer demand fleets of electricity vehicles are a great addition to the customer base.

In summary each Australian state will make use of each type of battery depending on their individual needs, for Western Australia the state owned grid operators need to seriously consider the benefits of electric vehicle batteries that are purchased by the vehicle owners but will have a positive impact on the power grid.

Targa South West 2020

This weekend was a milestone for Electric Vehicles with a Telsa Model 3 being the winner of the Targa 130 category in Pemberton on Saturday 8th August. The team of Jurgen and Helen Lunsmann ended the event well ahead of the rest of their field.

Over the years a number of EVs have entered the Targa events in Western Australia with an iMiev, Tesla Model S (non competitive) and BMW i3s enjoying participation. Over recent years Gemtek EV racing have entered the more competitive event with the original Tesla Roadster and now the Tesla Model 3 (thanks to Jon Edwards). With the Roadster the major hurdle was getting enough charge in quickly to stay competitive, this has involved some experimentation with AC charging via a generator.

Tesla Model 3

One of the main issues with using a generator was the use of diesel and the usual comments regarding charging an EV from fossil fuels, as well as needing a faster charge. A comparison of charging an EV via a diesel generator and powering a diesel vehicle can be found here. In order to find a faster way to charge has led to the invention of the ChargePod, a fast DC charger connected to a generator (ideal for remote outback charging) which is also able to be fuelled using waste cooking oil. This year at Targa the ChargePod idea was used which enabled not only the competitive Model 3 to complete all stages successfully, but also allowed the 5 Model 3s’ and the converted EV Proton Ute in the Targa Tour to charge. Another more exciting fast charging option this year was the EV to EV charger, a Kona Electric vehicle is able to divert energy from its battery pack via a DC charger attached to the rear cargo area to the Model 3.

The Targa event in Pemberton consisted of five different stages with multiple runs in each stage: Big Brook; Pump Hill; Northcliffe; Gloucester and Pemberton Town. After the first run the No: 24 Tesla Model 3 in the 130 category already had a 00:15 lead, with the gap lengthening over each run to finally finish with a 04:23 lead (that’s 4 minutes and 23 seconds), Jurgen and Helen were unbeatable by the time they had started the final run. For more details on the days results click here.

Targa Tour included Model 3s’ and an Electric Ute

The next Targa West event is scheduled from 22nd to 25th October with stages set in Ellenbrook, Kalamunda, Toodyay, Chittering, Bullsbrook and Malaga, culminating with the Perth City Sprint on the 25th.

Thanks to the enthusiasm of Florian Popp and the Gemtek team and supporters EV’s are making waves in Rally circles.