Electric cars get a REV up



With Global warming, carbon trading, and record-high petrol prices on the daily news, it becomes clear to most people that we need to find an environmentally sustainable and socially acceptable solution for individual transportation using renewable energy sources.

While cars powered by hydrogen fuel-cells have been the favored solution for the last decade, most automakers agree now that electric cars are the future. While the first electric cars are already on our roads, almost all major car manufacturers in Europe, North America and Asia have announced battery-electric cars for the year 2013, so in Australia we should have a fairly good selection to choose from by 2014. Electric cars are by no means a new concept – they have been around – on and off – for over 100 years since the very first cars have been built. But it is now with the improved Lithium-Ion battery technology, enabled by the market power of mobile phones and laptop computers, that electric cars can be built with a suitable driving range, so they are a viable alternative to petrol and diesel cars.

Electric cars have a large number of advantages:

    • Emission-free if charged from renewable energy sources
    • Very little driving noise at low speeds
    • Very little service requirements as compared to a petrol/diesel car
    • Much cheaper running costs compared to a petrol/diesel car
    • Independence from imported oil
    • No initial infrastructure required – EV owners can recharge their cars at home
    and one disadvantage:
    • A limited driving range (typically 120-150km) in combination with a relatively long recharging time (2-3hours on a level-2 charging station)

It is this disadvantage that needs to be addressed in order to increase the environmentally desirable up-take of electric cars. One approach is to look only at a fraction of the market: Many families have two cars, with one being a smaller city commuter car, which easily could be an electric car with a limited range. The other approach is to add (optional) “range-extenders” to electric cars, which are small petrol or diesel generators, which will kick in after the initial pure battery-electric range (of e.g. 150km) has been used up, so the car can drive a much longer distance, but will lose its environmental friendliness when going over the electric-only range.

Western Australia is the first Australian state that conducts an Electric Vehicle Trial – actually two trials, one on the vehicle side and one on the recharging side, both launched in early 2010. This is remarkable, as there is no automotive industry in the West. The trials are an extension of the University of Western Australia’s REV Project (Renewable Energy Vehicle), which so far has converted a Hyundai Getz (the sensible commuter solution) and a Lotus Elise (the exclusive sport performance car) to road-licensed battery-electric cars, as well as built a Formula SAE-Electric race car.

We are at the brink of the largest revolution in automotive history with long reaching effects on the power industry, so complacency is really not the way to go. Electric vehicle trials are essential now in order to identify and solve EV problems before larger numbers of cars will hit our roads in 2013. The goals of the two WA EV trials are:

    • See how EVs fare in an everyday fleet situation
    • Establish guidelines for EV roadside assistance (high voltage safety, etc.)
    • Establish guidelines for EV service, including safety procedures
    • Is special driver training required for EVs?
    • Collect data from both the trial EVs as well as the trial charging stations about when, where and how much energy is being recharged
    • Once larger numbers of EVs are on our roads, they will be one of the most significant power customers. It is essential to try to use incentives such as day-time dependent tariff structures to shift EV charging times away from the existing afternoon/evening peak to the night and morning hours, where power generators have sufficient reserves.
    • Provide feedback on requirements for “smart meters” for the home than can do load shifting or staggering of EV charging to avoid the creation of a new electricity usage peak.
    • How much infrastructure will really be required when most cars will be electric? Will people predominantly charge their EVs at home (e.g. from their solar panels) or at work? How many charging stations will be required at public parking lots, shopping centers, service stations, etc.?

For the WA Electric Vehicle Trial, we decided not to purchase EVs, but to build EVs with local industry through conversions. We selected Ford Focus Sedans as base cars, which have been converted by Perth-based company EV Works, in cooperation with UWA. Road tests have established the range of the Electric Focus at over 130km, which will be sufficient for their daily usage as fleet vehicles. 11 Ford Focus will be converted, of which 3 are already on the road, with the remaining ones to follow by the end of April 2011. The trial is being funded by 11 partners from government departments and local industry, each taking one EV into their fleet.


The EV Charging Trial is funded through an ARC Linkage project by the Commonwealth and three partner organizations. This trial looks especially at charging station issues, monitoring charging activities and using day-time dependent tariff structures as an incentive to shift charging times away from peak energy usage times. We decided to use “Level-2” fast-charging stations as the lowest entry level for EV charging infrastructure, which is either three-phase (415V) or single-phase (240V) power at 32A. Since Australia has not yet adopted one of the two competing world standards for EV charging (IEC-62196 in Europe versus SAE-J1772 in the US and Japan), we had to make a choice for the trials. As Australia like Europe does have three-phase mains power (which does not exist in the US or Japan), it was an obvious choice to adopt the European standard, since it allows us to reduce charging times. So far one charging station has been installed in West Perth, with 10 more to follow during April 2011.

In the mean time, other Australian states have announced their EV trials, in some cases with significantly higher funding levels, which is great. We hope that results from the various trials can be shared and that Australian power generators and network operators will start to take an active role in these developments. There will be electric cars in larger numbers on Australian roads and on charge in Australian homes from 2013/14 on – now is the time to get prepared for our electric motoring future.