Sparks fly in debate over electric car charger demand

Australia needs to be more plugged in.

That’s the message from some electric vehicle experts, who say the country will need another 28,000 public chargers to be deployed over the next seven years to meet demand for zero-emissions transport.

But others in the automotive industry say the figure is overstated and while additional charging points are required, particularly in regional areas, most drivers will power up in their garage or apartment building.

They argue the focus on public chargers could be driving people away from the technology unnecessarily, before they have considered how an electric car could help them unlock the “petrol bowser at home”.

More than 43,000 electric vehicles were sold in the first six months of 2023, according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.

The Electric Vehicle Council says more than 120,000 electric cars are now circulating on Australian roads – a figure outpacing government forecasts.

Jolt Charge chief executive Doug McNamee says the sales surge is fueling higher demand on the company’s chargers.

But the charger rollout is not keeping pace, particularly as Tesla’s Model Y sets new records and less expensive models from BYD and MG win over first-time electric car drivers.

“The charging behaviour indicates that people are buying cars who don’t have access to parking at home,” he said.

“We’re making that assumption because they stay longer and they come more frequently – rather than coming twice a month, they might come four to eight times a month.”

He believes charging firms will have to ramp up their efforts if Australia is to achieve cutting carbon emissions by 43 per cent in 2030 and state-based targets for electric vehicles to account for half of new car sales.

“The goal is 30,000 DC fast-chargers by 2030 … it’s a crazy level of infrastructure that’s required daily to meet our 2030 goal,” Mr McNamee said.

“There are not enough, there’s not enough pace, and it’s got to increase drastically.”

But Chargefox marketing head Rob Asselman said the focus on reaching a high public charging target could confuse potential electric car buyers.

“I often ask people, ‘how often would you go to the petrol station if you had a petrol bowser at home?’” he said.

“If you’re lucky enough to have off-street parking or a location where you can plug in your car, it is less likely that you will go to a public charger.

“The majority of charging is being done and will continue to be done at home.”

Mr Asselman said anxiety about electric vehicle charging and range quickly disappeared when owners realised they could meet most of their needs by plugging the car into a standard power point.

Charging a Tesla Model 3 in this way, for example, will deliver up to 15 kilometres of range each hour.

Public infrastructure will be important to help drivers fully recharge vehicles with large batteries and to top up cars during extended road trips.

But he argues it should not be a determining factor for potential buyers with access to a charging outlet at home.

“There needs to be more public chargers in Australia – I would never argue we’ve got enough chargers because we don’t,” he said.

“But it’s not an ‘if you build it, they will come’ scenario, it’s an ‘as they come, it needs to be built’ case.”

Chargefox has 1600 public charging points listed on its platform and aims to reach 5000 by 2025.

Australia had 4943 public car-charging points in December 2022 according to the EV Council, across 2392 locations.

Australian Electric Vehicle Association national president Chris Jones said the number of drivers who rely entirely on these charging points was small, “although we do need to see more chargers installed in apartment complexes”.

“You don’t need public chargers for EVs to be viable for most people,” he said.

“Charging EVs during the middle of the day, in homes, is going to be a brilliant way to soak up solar energy and not overload the grid.”

Australia’s priority for public vehicle charging should be in regional and rural locations to enable longer trips and to eliminate charging queues that emerge during long weekends and busy holiday periods, Dr Jones said.


Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson
(Australian Associated Press)


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