Spoiler alert: I completed my journey around south eastern Australia, got home safe before the lockdown, and learned a lot about driving an electric vehicle (EV). Did I get “range anxiety”? Yes definitely (see below or watch the video). Did I love the journey? Again, yes definitely (you really should watch the video). Would I do it again? Yes, inland. Around the coast, only if the EV charging infrastructure improves.
I mentioned this in the last article, but one of the biggest take-home messages is that “your displayed EV range is not necessarily your actual range”.
If the car is fully charged and could notionally drive 276 kilometres, that depends on how you drive it and what the terrain is like. If you want to motor above 110km/h, you’ll be drawing down energy faster. If much of your trip is uphill, you may not get the whole way on one charge, so you’d better start looking around for charging points along the route. Most EVs have a greater range than mine, and technology is improving, but don’t set out to drive super-long-distances if you want to drive super-fast, or if there are a lot of hills. Simples.
The Bloody Big Gap in South Eastern Australia
As explained in the video, coming back around the coast through Victoria and New South Wales exposed the “Bloody Big Gap” between the single, slow EV charge point at RACV in Bairnsdale, Victoria, and the free NRMA fast-charge point at Bega, NSW. That 329 km gap is a problem if your range is just 276km, and if you cannot find kind people to help you charge up from their power points along the way.
Jane at RACV Solar in Bairnsdale said that local car dealers had been “inundated with requests from locals for EV information and models” and that “there wasn’t yet enough information about how to connect or charge them”. RACV Solar would certainly “look to prioritise the gap between Orbost and Bega”, hopefully with something installed later in 2021. With many communities around the coast looking to recover from the bushfires and encourage domestic tourism, any boost would be appreciated.
Fortunately, Michael and the team at the wonderful Orbost Motel in Victoria answered my email questions and let me plug in directly outside my motel room door for an overnight trickle charge. Michael said they “haven’t yet had many EV visitors” but are “hoping that better EV services will mean more drivers visiting that part of the coast.” It really is a stunning part of Victoria, so let’s see how quickly we can get that Bloody Big Gap filled for EV drivers.
Is the needle pointing to “WALK”?
Once I’d recharged at The Orbost Motel, that left me with 236km to travel – which should have been OK with my car’s maximum range of 276km but didn’t quite allow for all the coastal hills along the way. I only made it over the NSW border and into Bega because the last few kilometres to the NRMA charging point are downhill. My range indicator had dropped from 20 to 10 and finally flat-lined, and I coasted down the final hill as slowly as possible, trying to recharge the battery as I went, whispering “please, please, please” under my breath. Success, but only just.
Great Dividing Range Anxiety
The drive from Bega, on the NSW Sapphire Coast, to Cooma, capital of the Snowy Mountains, was the point at which I had expected to have maximum “range anxiety’, but I’m glad to say that with the free NRMA fast-charge in Bega and the ultra-rapid Chargefox facility in Cooma, that 114 kilometres was just plain beautiful. Adding to that, the Cooma EV charging station comes out of the back of the Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre, so you can spend a happy half-hour finding out about Australia’s present and future hydroelectricity.
For all the other EV nerds out there, I had great delight in driving back down from the Great Dividing Range to the coast using the car’s Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) to travel 30 kilometres downhill but actually increase my range by 12 kilometres through recharging; very satisfying. Yes, I appreciate I’d used energy going up the hills in the first place – don’t @ me – but internal combustion engines use power going up AND down hills so allow me small moments of EV pleasure.
The amazing people you meet along the way (planes, brains and automobiles)
As well as meetings with NSW councils along the way to talk about Better Building Finance for building owners, it was good to speak with locals about innovation, environment, tourism and EV issues. Tim and team at The Seabird in Moruya have created amazing guest accommodation between the Moruya River and their seaplane hangars, powered by massive solar panels that also helped charge the car overnight.
They’re now hoping to install batteries alongside their enormous rainwater tanks before being virtually off-grid, so it’s encouraging to hear how local businesses like South Coast Seaplanes are focused on sustainability as a point of business success.
Regrowth and revitalisation
When I last travelled around this part of the VIC and NSW coast, in December 2020, the impacts of the devastating bushfires of June 2019 to May 2020 were evident; burnt trees, scorched hillsides, silent valleys and shocked communities. Now, the regrowth is more evident. Bird life, frogs and insects can be heard once more. Communities are cautiously rebuilding, especially where funding is trickling through and COVID-19 tourism is helping support businesses. Many gum trees have put out new shoots along their trunks and limbs; the epicormic sprouting that is caused when the crown of a tree is burnt or damaged and so stops generating the hormones which usually suppress such sprouts.
With eucalypt trees, the buds of these sprouts are often protected by heavy bark that helps them survive the intense heat of a bushfire; otherwise, new shoots erupt from swellings at the base of the tree called lignotubers. Due to this ability to re-sprout after fires, biological communities across Australia that are dominated by gum trees like these can be in a better position to act as “carbon banks” for carbon dioxide than other fire-renewing biomes such as grasslands. The key question is whether Australian forests can continue to recover from longer, more intense, more frequent bushfires with the onset of climate change. You can read more at https://www.bushfirefacts.org/the-project.html but we need to be be doing as much as possible to protect our extraordinary forests, and help them help us avoid future, catastrophic climate change.
I’m glad to be home safe and sound, and immensely grateful for the opportunity to have travelled from Sydney to Melbourne and back around the coast. There have been some interesting questions about EVs, about driving, range and impact, and about Australia’s transport hierarchy, so I look forward to answering those in future articles. But I’m not commenting on muppets like Angus Taylor and his misleading EV statements; it would be a waste of energy. Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll do my best!
Robin Mellon is CEO of Better Sydney, Project Manager for the Property Council of Australia’s Modern Slavery Working Group and Supplier Platform, and NSW Program Adviser for Better Building Finance. And now an EV nerd.