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No garage? Here’s how motorists keep their electric vehicles charged

·4-min read
Tesla chargers and Tesla plugged in outside Coles
What happens if you haven't got somewhere to plug in an electric vehicle at home? (Source: Getty)

Australians have been slow to embrace electric vehicles but the tide is turning.

Demand for electric cars is now outstripping supply, with people waiting months for Teslas and other EV models.

Take-up has been quicker than expected, with the Labor Government expecting almost 90 per cent of all new cars purchased to be electric by 2030.

But for people without a garage, the transition away from petrol cars raises concerns about keeping their car battery topped up without charging at home.

Peter Nixon, who lives in a flat in Lane Cove in Sydney with no power in the garage, keeps his 2020/21 MG ZS EV running by charging often at shopping centres that offer the service free.

He said these charges had become increasingly busy, which meant he wasn’t always able to secure a spot.

As a result, he’s started using more paid chargers in the area. When using a commercial rapid charger, he said this typically cost him around $5 for a half charge while he picked up groceries.

He said life without at-home charging wasn't usually a hassle, apart from once when he decided late in the evening to go for a long trip the next day and the battery was at 60 per cent. That meant he had to go out specifically and find a charger to top up that evening.

Otherwise, he was able to fit in charging around his usual activities without much trouble.

It helped that he didn’t drive that much, only racking up around 10,000km since he bought the car in January 2020.

Carola Jonas, founder and CEO of Everty, said the average motorist could get quite far using chargers at work and shopping centres because the average commute was about 40 kilometres, which equated to about an hour of charging on a standard charger to replenish it.

“But you don’t obviously have to do it every day,” Jonas said.

She said it was unlikely most people would need to take themselves to dedicated charging stations and wait for their vehicle to charge for 30 minutes every few days.

She said people were more likely to default to more convenient options, which included charging at work or other destinations where you'd leave your car parked for a long period of time, such as at a pool or shopping centre.

Jonas pointed to charging habits in Europe, where the EV transition was much more advanced.

In Europe, cars are charged at home around 84 per cent of the time. Around 5 per cent of charging takes place at work, and another 5 per cent at shopping centres and other destinations.

The remaining percentage is taken up by dedicated charging stations, which are usually only used on long trips.

“That’s because most people don't really want to go to a charging station to fill up for 15 minutes, because that’s unused time,” Jonas said.

She said it was much more convenient to plug in the car when parked somewhere.

“Then you do other things and the charging happens in the background as if this was your mobile phone,” she added.

However, she said people would still want to be able to access ultra-fast charging stations as a backup, especially because chargers at work and destinations tended to be quite slow.

She said this service needed to be there to give people confidence.

Fortunately, governments have been funnelling a lot of money into ultra-fast charging and more is expected to follow.

The NSW government has recently allocated an extra $38 million towards charging stations in high-density areas, as well as kerbside charge points for on-street charging in residential streets and charging infrastructure in apartment buildings.

That brings the state’s investment into EV charging and related initiatives to $633 million.

Charging in apartments

Compared to most European countries, Jonas said a lot of people in Australia actually lived in detached houses, where charging at home was fairly straightforward.

But Jonas said around 15 per cent of the population lived in apartments, which made charging a lot more complicated for those people.

At the moment, apartment complexes tend to make do with a couple of shared chargers that people can rotate through.

However, she said when there was a higher proportion of EVs on the roads, the shared system would likely no longer cut it and people would want their own charger to plug into.

This would be a more challenging retrofitting challenge, she said, but noted many new apartment buildings were being designed to accommodate chargers when required.

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