Slow action on fast chargers could drain enthusiasm for electric vehicle uptake

A slow rollout of fast charging stations could hold Victorians back from shifting to electric vehicles, with some early adopters finding infrastructure has not kept pace with the growing fleet of battery-powered cars.

Electric vehicles sales doubled in Australia last year to represent almost 4 per cent of all new cars, according to the Electric Vehicle Council, but the nation still lags markets like Germany (18 per cent of new cars) and the UK (17 per cent).

Mark Balkin has found the DC Fast Charging network patchy and unreliable. Credit:Scott McNaughton

As the number of EVs on the road grows, so too does demand for public DC fast chargers which allow drivers to quickly fill up their batteries on the road and for apartment dwellers who cannot plug in at home.

Queues up to 90 minutes backed up at some charging sites around the country over the summer holidays, as many motorists embarked on battery power road trips for the first time.

Riz Akhtar, chief executive of the Melbourne-based EV industry data firm Carloop, said Victoria was not building enough DC fast charging stations to support the state government’s emissions reduction targets, which includes making half of all new cars sold here EVs by 2030.

“EV charging is one of the main barriers to EV adoption and people at the moment don’t have confidence they can charge their vehicles on road trips,” Akhtar said.

“People who don’t have a garage or don’t have parking or live in an apartment rely on this public charging infrastructure, and there are very few sites within the inner-city area.”

Carloop data shows Victoria trailing behind NSW, with 225 fast chargers currently installed across 99 sites, compared to 326 bays at 157 sites in NSW.

Victoria has a pipeline of 80 more fast charging bays which it is yet to install, out of a total of 141 being funded with the state government’s $5 million Destination Charging Across Victoria program.

But the NSW government is powering further ahead, committing $149 million to building a fast charging network and 388 new bays currently planned.

“NSW is thinking about the future and the growth to reach their zero emission targets, and we are just tinkering,” Akhtar said.

A growing number of companies, including petrol station chains BP and Ampol, are building commercial charging networks, but government-funded schemes are driving the rollout during the early stages of the EV shift.

Mark Balkin bought his Model S Tesla two years ago and often used public fast chargers but found them few and far between, before he set up a solar-powered home charging system.

“Unfortunately public charging is not always reliable and not always available,” the retired electricity industry specialist said.

The Brighton East resident frequently goes on long road trips in his EV around Victoria without any issue, because he carefully plans his route past multiple recharging stations, in case the first charger isn’t working.

But sadly for him, a multi-day trip based around Portland and Hamilton in Western Victoria, where he grew up, remains impractical because there are no DC fast chargers beyond Warrnambool.

“If there’s no DC charger, we don’t go there. And conversely, those places that have them – that’s where we’re going,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Andrews government said its $100 million EV road map was accelerating EV adoption through subsidies for people buying new cars and by backing new charging infrastructure.

“We’re currently rolling out 141 fast chargers across the state … ensuring drivers in any Victorian town will be just one hour away from a fast-charger,” the spokesperson said.

Most EV drivers plug in their cars at home overnight. It takes from six to 24 hours to fully recharge an empty battery on residential AC power, depending on the model of car and whether they use a wall plug or special charging box.

The most powerful DC fast chargers (350kW) can add 100 kilometres of range to an EV battery in around three minutes, while a 50kW unit would take around 24 minutes.

Victoria’s planned network rollout is mostly for 50kW chargers, which Akhtar said were already becoming obsolete in advanced EV markets like Norway.

Transport produces around a quarter of Victoria’s carbon emissions, and close to 90 per cent of that is from road vehicles.

The Climate Council’s head of advocacy, Jennifer Rayner, said that one in four households did not have off-street parking, making it vital that enough fast chargers were available.

“If we want to ramp up the number of EVs on Aussie roads, the availability of fast-charging infrastructure needs to keep pace,” she said.

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