Looking back at technology transitions, you get the impression they happen in the blink of an eye. Think of the transition from the horse and cart to the internal combustion engine (ICE) car, or more recently, from the landline phone to mobile.
When you’re in the middle of that transition (like we are for the move from the ICE car to electric), the incremental steps between the start and the future end point are all that you see. It’s like living in the house during a major renovation, nothing seems to happen from one day to the next and the whole process feels like it is moving slower than a Greenland glacier.
Sometimes though, something happens to make you realise things really have moved a long way. One of those happened to me this week as I drove from Melbourne to Sydney for the Fully Charged Live event on there this weekend.
As I drove up, I kept thinking about when I first did that trip by EV in 2019. Back then, DC chargers were in short supply and the only two sites on the Hume highway before the border were so new that Chargefox was still offering free charging. (In 2019 there were only four or five DC charging sites in the whole of Victoria, and more seemed an eternity away).
At that time, I charged to 80% at Euroa and went in search of the Albury rubbish tip charger only 9 km over the border in NSW … and situated in open countryside 8 km from the town centre. (I then skipped the Barnawartha North charging site as (a) I could neither spell nor find ‘Barnawartha North’ and (b) it didn’t fit into the charging plan).
At this point you may be asking why I was I stopping at the Albury tip which was in the ‘middle of nowhere’ with no facilities within cooee of the place. Well, it was the last charger on the route before Mittagong (close to Sydney) or Canberra. From the tip it was nearly 450 km to the next charger at Mittagong, or 340 km to the ones in Canberra.
As Canberra was both safer for range and a good stopping point to catch up with friends/stop for the night, it made sense to detour via Canberra to get to Sydney – but I still needed a full charge to do so.
As a result of needing that full battery to safely make it to Canberra, at the tip I also had to do the worst possible thing you can do at a DC charger: wait till I got to 100%. This is both bad charging etiquette, as well being very slow – and these are down to the same reason. DC chargers work fastest from around 10% to 80% and they significantly slow down after that.
Getting from 80% to 100% can take around as long as the 10% to 80% charging time. As EVs have proliferated, this has become to be considered as ‘hogging’ the charger – as well as being very personally frustrating to wait for when there are no facilities to shop/eat etc. (Like at the Albury tip).
It was lucky I did that 100% charge though, as at 110 km/h and running the heater (it was late winter) the range dropped faster than I expected to only 370 km and I made it to Canberra with only 37 km range left.
(I had just stepped from a 2011 Leaf to the Kona Electric, so anything more than 3.7 km seemed heaps!). The following day was easy though, with the Mittagong charger 180 km away and Sydney barely another 100 km past that.
The return trip was the same. Two days with a careful hop from Canberra to the Albury tip. That tip stop this time though being much faster as I only needed a half charge to get to Barnawartha North (or Euroa if I couldn’t find Barnawartha) and home.
2019 to 2023, a big change
Fast-forward to now … and what a change! 100% charge at home and the Barnawartha North site makes the best first charging stop.
Even if there was a problem at Barnawartha (unlikely as there are four units there) there is now an option in Albury itself … as well as the tip still if really desperate. (I did have to pay for the electrons this time). All-up, now there seven DC charger sites between Melbourne and the Albury tip. (Plus another two soon to be commissioned with more still on the drawing board!).
As for the section after Albury: there are now 14 DC charging sites between Albury and Liverpool and too many to count within Sydney itself.
You can now easily pick and choose between chargers: at the moment though, ‘charge early, charge often’ is still a good mantra in this intervening period where single charger sites may be down (many of those sites are still single units) but you can still skip several before stopping.
In fact, you can time your charger stops around the break times that suit you. As for me – only two charges were actually needed (Barnawartha and Gundagai – although I did go to 90% at Gundagai to allow a sensible 100km buffer for my destination) with a top-up at Holbrook purely because I wanted a toilet/coffee break … and the electrons there are still free there 😉
In Europe, I should mention, they don’t build charging sites with one charger any longer: it’s been found there that sites with less than three or four chargers are poorly used as drivers don’t trust they won’t be broken or crowded when they arrive. Hopefully, as the EV transition here continues apace, that lesson will be applied here too.
So this time I easily arrived in Sydney in one day (just like people in ICE cars insist if they can, they should also do in an EV) and without any charge anxiety whatever.
It is also a good indication that my occasionally feeling like the ‘third Leyland Brother’ on trips into the DC bad-lands like past Adelaide on the way to Perth, will end sometime soon too. Altogether, this trip has assured me that we have indeed moved well down the EV transition path after all, even if we aren’t ‘there’ quite yet.
Bryce Gaton is an expert on electric vehicles and contributor for The Driven and Renew Economy. He has been working in the EV sector since 2008 and is currently working as EV electrical safety trainer/supervisor for the University of Melbourne. He also provides support for the EV Transition to business, government and the public through his EV Transition consultancy EVchoice.