While just a few years ago it seemed more like a futuristic fantasy than a realistic possibility, the era of the electric Big Lap is edging noticeably closer to becoming a here-and-now reality.
Any grey nomad driving around Australia’s bigger metropolitain centres will find it hard to miss the fact that electric vehicles (EVs) are very much in evidence.
Teslas have seamlessly moved from being something of a novelty to an everyday presence.
It’s something of a different story though when you get beyond the city limits of the likes of Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane.
The answer, of course, is infrastructure.
Last year, the federal government spent $25 million to co-invest in charging infrastructure in regional Australia … but the money mostly went to the country’s coastal fringe.
And anyone hopping behind the wheel to drive in remote areas really has to be 100% confident that they are going to be able to find a charging station when they want one … and that they are going to be able to charge their vehicle in are reasonable timeframe.
At the Stuarts Well Roadhouse south of Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway, owner Peter ‘Spud’ Murphy told the ABC that he installed a small three-phase power point there a few years ago because he believed it was ‘the way of the future’.
However, at Stuarts Well, it would take EV users about five hours to get 400 kilometres of driving range, a time frame few travellers would be willing to put up with. The fastest chargers in big cities can give the equivalent charge in about 20 minutes.
The roadhouse, like most remote service stations, currently creates its own power using diesel generators,
Spud told the ABC that installing a fast-charge system and the solar panel and battery system that could offer the power cost would more than $650,000.
He insisted that there was ‘definitely a market’ for fast chargers in the Outback but, at the moment, it was small.
“They’ve got to charge their car or they ain’t gonna go nowhere,” he said. “They can’t push it.”
While it may take a lot longer to roll out a reliable charging network in the Outback when compared to metropolitan centres, it is seemingly inevitable that it will ultimately get there.
In a statement to the ABC, Energy Minster Angus Taylor said it was ‘incorrect to claim regional and remote Australia is excluded from the Morrison Government’s plans for future fuels and vehicle technologies’.
“The government is addressing charging black spots with targeted co-investment with industry through the $250 million Future Fuels Fund and has committed to building 403 fast-charging stations, including in the Northern Territory,” he said.
Ultimately though it is going to be demand that is going to push along the ‘supply’ shortage in the bush.
The ABC reports that one of the largest employers in Alice Springs, the Central Land Council (CLC), is slowly buying a small number of EVs.
Their fleet of 120 vehicles covers the southern half of the Northern Territory, providing services and representation for First Nations people.
“The CLC has one electric vehicle in its fleet at the moment, but we’re also planning to have another two electric vehicles in the fleet within the next six months,” executive manager of policy and governance Francine McCarthy said.
She told the ABC that the CLC had installed a huge solar array on the roof of its Alice Springs headquarters, which would allow it to charge its EVs for free, which she said should offset the higher purchase price of the car.
“Over the long term of the use of the Tesla, we’ll break even,” she said.
Ms McCarthy said the organisation was currently using its EVs as ‘town cars’ but, if the charging infrastructure was placed in locations outside of Alice Springs, there was no reason why these electric vehicles couldn’t go further afield, ‘say up to Tennant Creek or down to Uluru’.
However, she said it was currently hard to imagine the vehicles going out to the most remote parts of the NT.