Much has been said about electric cars of late. If you believe the main argument, they’re going to save the world by stopping all those nasty exhaust fumes going into the atmosphere. And, you know, we Australians are a slack mob. Take-up of electric cars here is only about 2%, as compared to places like the UK (7%) and Norway.
I don’t have a problem with electric cars. They’re clean, quiet, and cheap to maintain. But let’s not kid ourselves. Australia is a huge country with a small population. Although EVs are completely feasible in the big cities, people tend to be wary about traveling the long distances you’ll find in the outback. Or not even that far. We live about 300km from Brisbane. Even the expensive Tesla models (see below) wouldn’t get us home without a recharge if we wanted to use the air conditioner. Yes, that runs off the battery, too.
“At a third of the price of a Tesla, the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 have ranges of between 170km and 200km when they are fully charged, and are primarily designed for city commutes. For consumers willing to spend upwards of $100,000, the Tesla models can go distances more like 350km and 613km when they are fully charged.” [source]
And here’s a story from the UK to think about. “A couple from Kent have described how it took them more than nine hours to drive 130 miles home from Bournemouth as they struggled to find a working charger capable of producing enough power to [recharge] their electric car.” [source]
And out in the never-never it’s the recharge that’s the thing. With our diesel 4WD the furthest we travelled on one tank of fuel was just over 1,000km – and we still had 11 litres in the tank. When we did need to fill up, we would stop at a servo, grab a coffee, fill the tank, and carry on. If the servo has a fast charging station, that would work, too. A battery would fill in fifteen minutes or so. Otherwise, you would have to plug into a power point for hours to top up. So, as a few people have proved, long distance travel can be done in an EV – even across the Nullarbor – if you plan your trip carefully. Here’s the story of how one woman drove around Australia in her EV.
Although you can drive around Australia on the bitumen, I can’t see an EV take on the Gibb River Road across the Kimberley, or the Old Telegraph Track up to Cape York any time soon. Or tow one of those caravans best pulled by a Land Cruiser V8.
While they may be the way of the future, at the moment EVs are expensive to buy (see above). In Europe they are heavily subsidized so the poorer people are helping richer people to afford them.
Then there are the hidden costs. We’ll need a vast expansion of the network of recharging stations right across the country. A couple of fast charging points at a big roadhouse won’t be enough. Can you imagine the queues building up over Christmas and Easter? And then we need to think about where all that electricity is going to come from. (Hopefully nuclear power plants, but that’s another story.)
Then there’s that battery. A lithium-ion battery lasts for about ten years, which isn’t bad. But are we going to run out of the materials needed to make them? Yes – yes we are. The amount of lithium on Earth is finite. Some estimates suggest we could run short as early as 2040, as stated in this article from Motor Biscuit. And when their life is over, what then? This article explains the difficulties in properly disposing of lithium-ion batteries. Quite a few manufacturers are developing recycling regimes as explained in this BBC article, but there’s a very, very long way to go.
Our next car will be a hybrid, a petrol engine with a battery that is charged when the vehicle brakes. We won’t have to plug it in. Fuel economy in a hybrid is much better than you’ll get from a petrol/diesel only. But if we run out of petrol we can walk to the nearest petrol station with a jerry can. For an EV I suppose you have to hope the RAC turns up with a generator.
And now for some pretties.