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.

TOCWA returns to the Drive-ins – 1st December

On the back of the great success of last year’s events at the Galaxy Drive-in, we are returning to watch Misbehaviour starring Keira Knightly and Greg Kinnear.

Next Tuesday 1st December, TOCWA will be at the Galaxy Drive-In Theatre in Kingsley – Perth’s very last Drive-in.

Come and join us in reliving our 20th Century childhoods watching a movie in the back of our 21st Century cars!

Gates open at 6:15 and the movie starts at 7:30pm.

The Tuesday entrance fee is $22 per car. The circa 1974 Cafeteria sells cool drinks, freshly cooked Burgers, Hot Chips and a few other items. BYO stronger drinks.

We will be gathering at Moolanda park opposite 6 Harness Street Kingsley from 6:00pm, before driving in convoy around the corner to the Drive-In at 157 Goollelal Drive Kingsley 6026 at about 6:45pm.

All members and friends are most welcome to join us in celebrating our cars and reviving fond memories.

Tesla Destination Charger Problem Solving

On occasions you’ll plug into a destination charger that doesn’t appear to work, a small number of these public chargers are becoming unreliable mostly due to the cable getting mistreated, to add some confusion the same charger will not work for one car and then work first time for the following car on the same day, the Williams Woolshed destination charger is a great example.

To make the Tesla experience a bit easier here are the steps to work through that will hopefully get a Tesla destination unit to charge:

If there’s no Green or Red light strip light on the front check that power is switched on at the meter box, some premises keep it switched off for various reason, this will be often noted on the Plugshare app.

If you’ve established that the unit is powered up but a Red light is showing check that the cable is not twisted or stretched in any form, also check the cable is not pulled out from the bottom of the charging unit, that is you can see each individual colored cable rather than the black insulation.

Once the above steps are done locate the Red reset button on the side of the unit, using your thumb press it in and hold until all lights go off and wait until the Red/Orange light on the front turns Green, this will take between 5 and 30 seconds, if all goes to plan the Green light will start moving and the car will charge. If it doesn’t work the first time give it another go, also try unplugging and plugging back in before attempting a third reset, once again make sure the cable is not unduly stressed. If the charging doesn’t start after 4 resets the chances of it working at all on your car are very low.

If you do get charging started don’t rush off, hang around for a minute until the cars charging at full amps, if the unit has a fault it is likely to trip off within the first minute, if it does trip off it’s best to no longer attempt charging and report the issue. If you have no other choice and desperately need to charge try dropping the amps down via the cars touchscreen, keep in mind this is an absolute last resort. As an extra precaution if you walk away from the car to visit the shops or cafe check the phone app after 15 minutes, it’s very likely charging is still okay but there’s no harm making sure.

December Kalbarri Trip

Following the success of our inaugural overnight road trip to Kulin in October, TOCWA is pleased to announce an extended long weekend road trip to Kalbarri between Friday 4th and Monday 7th December 2020.

To make the trip a more pleasurable experience, we will be deploying TOCWA’s “Shark-fin” 50kW Tritium fast DC charger in Geraldton so that all participants can rapidly charge their cars there as well as the existing fast DC charger in Jurien Bay.

In order to provide maximum flexibility for all owners interested in participating, we are providing a smorgasbord of six arrival and departure dates from Friday through to Monday. This means that participants can drive to and stay at Kalbarri for one, two or three nights.

Bookings are needed for each car travelling regardless of how many people are travelling in each car – so please only make one booking per car. Our Trybooking site is hopefully self-explanatory in the way it provides for any one of six travel options to be selected. When booking, please provide desired travel times there and back so we can develop an effective charging roster at Jurien Bay and Geraldton.

Members should have received a booking link – please get in touch if you still need it.

At this stage, we are aiming to limit car numbers to about 12, but this may change depending on how many cars intend to travel on each outbound and returning day combination.

Please email Harald with any queries or join our Ask Us Anything Zoom session each Wednesday evening at https://www.tocwa.org.au/ask-us-anything/

November Casual Meetup – Floreat

Our next casual meetup is Wednesday, 4th November at 6:30pm at:

The Floreat Hotel – Howtree Place – Floreat 6014

There currently are no EV chargers at the Floreat Forum which encompasses the Floreat Hotel, although this precinct is an ideal location for the Town of Cambridge to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to the proliferation of EV charging infrastructure.

Casual meetups are open to everyone including those who have never seen a Tesla before.

It’s an ideal opportunity to meet club members and to also see the cars in the flesh which we are all passionate about.

We hope to see you there and look forward to chatting about all things Tesla.

Full Self Driving Testing

Tesla has begun rolling out FSD betas to specific testers from the official owners club community.

John Stringer from Tesla Owners Silicon Valley is one of the first and posted a couple of short videos on Twitter

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.

Australian Tesla Online Shop

After some wait, and a few intital hiccups with payments, the Australian Tesla Online Shop is now open for business.

You can now buy cables, apparel and other accessories in Australia

Highlights include the Model 3 fob, not previously available here, as well as a full complement of floormats for all models.

Go check it out at https://shop.tesla.com/en_au/

You can also still buy TOCWA merchandise at our shop

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.