We drove our trusty short-range electric vehicle slowly over the dusty Hay plains. Along the long stretches where the radio crackles, the weeds tumble and the trucks roar past impatiently, we started doing the mathematics. We formulated a coping strategy to monitor our use and enable long range driving in our modest electric vehicle.
Our short-range electric vehicle did extreme range driving 3000kms in the countryside. We expected few surprises. After all, it was going to be just more of the same. We have driven interstate from Brisbane to Melbourne along the coast with little to tell. But in those journeys it was from one town to another, never across open countryside. As a result, this trip was nail biting. And when it wasn’t stressful it was…..rather dull. [And here’s a quick shout out to Waikerie hotel for accommodating us with a standard power point off their garden maintenance shed.]
Welcome to Range Anxiety
Recently, at a busy charging station in South Australia we met a lovely couple on a romantic escape. They had flown over from Western Australia, hired a car, and were looking forward to exploring the exclusive wineries for the weekend. But, when they went to pick up the car they accepted the offer of an upgrade to an electric car as potentially exciting. With very little instruction, they zoomed off. Suddenly, their fuel dial started dropping. When they got to their destination winery, the charger was broken. They didn’t know where other chargers were, or how to find them.
We’ve been driving our electric car for 2 years now. So, how did we get caught out?
The Best Coping Strategy for Range Anxiety
When your electric car is full of charge it displays an estimate. Let’s say it estimates 250kms. For extreme range driving outback, be sceptical. Simply halve that estimate. The estimate is about right if you plan to travel at 60kms/hr, on a flat road. As soon as you travel uphill, at speeds over 80kms or use air-conditioning, headlights, hazard lights or the windscreen wipers (depending on the type of vehicle), the estimate drops. Rapidly.
To feel secure, start the journey at a modest speed [80km/hr] until you are 100 kms from the next destination. Then keep the watching the estimate and only drive faster if you can keep the efficiency and maintain an estimate that is double of the distance to go.
Never assume the next charging station is going to work for you. Everything breaks when someone is using it. It could be your turn. So, we only book accommodation after getting our final charge. And we carry bedding and a tent, just in case everywhere is booked out. But don’t assume you will be welcome to charge. For example, Yass caravan park doesn’t have a policy to enable charging even if you pay for a powered site. Call before booking to get permission to charge.
The main advantage of the electric vehicle is that it runs on a fuel that is nearly everywhere. Wherever people are, there is usually a power-point. Whereas diesel, petrol or indeed hydrogen isn’t everywhere, and mostly imported. An electric car can be charged overnight with a simple wall power point.
Every Community Benefits
Best of all, the main community benefit from electric cars is huge. An electric car saves money from leaving the country. Every drop of electric is generated in your own region/state whereas most countries import fossil fuels. According to Saul Griffiths, the money spent on charging an electric car is more likely to be spent locally than money spent on fossil fuels.
By rewiring our energy use, we save money as well as taking pressure of the environment.
The Short Term Downside
Short range electric vehicles have adequate range for urban living. When you turn ours on it claims to give you 280kms. But drive it with the air-conditioning running, and on rainy nights, that range estimate begins to drop, rapidly.
So for long distances you slow down to conserve energy. But, as you slow down to save energy, you begin to realise a timing issue. Because you can’t afford to arrive so late that you need headlights and heating. The trick for driving electric cars in a time of slowly emerging infrastructure is planning and flexibility.
The traffic behind you is doing a minimum of 110kms/hr, and you are slowing to 80kms an hour. You begin to feel vulnerable. Especially, as the sun is blaring across the horizon. You are crawling and the traffic behind can hardly see you in front of them. In the countryside there are no slow lanes.
The first time we rolled into the charging station with just 6% charge left, we started to question our expectations. Had we known then that our backup plan (see below) would not be fail-safe, we might have parked the car and caught the train.
The other downside currently, is we needed to take a longer route, in order to reach the next charger. The chargers are not yet there to serve the long distance short range driver. They are well positioned for locals, who do short trips out of major cities. And they are not being commissioned as quickly as the number of electric cars are being sold. You learn to sit and wait. A trip that normally takes 2 hours by petrol car, can take 4 or more by electric car. Allow time to queue for others to charge as well as time for your own charge.
Driving Slowly Is Tiring
It can be more tiring to drive slowly. You watch the meter drop and grip the steering wheel as the trucks swerve past. At night, you can’t rest until you have charged again. For this journey from Wollongong to Adelaide Hills we had to charge the car 4 times each day over 3 days. And each charge takes a minimum of 40 mins. Sometimes a charge takes a couple of hours on slow chargers.
You are always better off to ‘top up’ the charge than to pass a charger in the blind hope that the next charge will be available and working. Also, occasionally people plug in their car and walk off for dinner. You get to wait in the cold and dark until their belly is full.
The Failed Backup Plan
Our backup plan was, and has been on previous trips, to carry a simple cable, plug into a powered site at a caravan park. It takes about 10hours to charge as we sleep overnight in our tent, a cabin or motel within walking distance. On the final night of our journey, the caravan park was full, as were all the motels, and the powered sites.
Most places received us with interest and support. A few told us they are waiting on charging stations to be installed. Many chargers only charge Tesla cars, yet Tesla cars often use the chargers that we need because they are cheaper. This inequity is slowly being addressed by government subsidies [a lot less than fossil fuel subsidies] and simple economic forces. For example, the NRMA will soon have an app that charges users.
Surprisingly, some hotel and caravan park managers eyed the car with suspicion. Some hosts are apprehensive because the price of the electric car is high. Yet the price of a short range electric car and charging is equal to about 8 years of fossil fuel. Some managers see the electric car as capable of guzzling electricity. And to be fair, electricity prices right now are high. So, we try to cut costs by not using air-conditioning in our room or cabin and always offer to pay extra for the use of electricity. In fact, the cost of a charge overnight is about $7. Some hotels happily take the offered bonus, some don’t charge.
Hotels and Caravan parks need to develop a charging policy and
determine a reasonable fee for the service.
Education about how electric cars work and use electricity is the challenge. On a previous journey, our host accused the car of causing her microwave to burn out! So, we can’t assume everyone supports electric cars. Indeed, for some rural towns, it is only a few generations since their first light pole. This is a time of rapid change.
Your Turn to Drive
Driving an electric car is one of the few ways an individual can act to reject fossil fuels. Domestic demand for electric cars embarrass governments and force them to plan a cleaner future. “New research shows fossil fuel subsidies over the forward estimates have increased to a record breaking $57.1b, up from the $55.3b forecast in 2022.” In fact, our defence force could easily become world leaders in Electric vehicle technology.
Once again, we find brave families car pooling, going the slow road, and daring to make the switch. Individuals are driving change. Plan now to make your next car an electric car and help pioneer a better future.