Charging on with electric cars
Australia has committed to reducing carbon emissions, but traffic is congesting our major cities and pumping out greenhouse gases. Are electric cars the answer? Britta Jorgensen reports.
More than 700 000 cars travel through Sydney city every day, and if the government gets its way, many of those could soon be electric. Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore officially opened Australia’s first on-street electric vehicle charging station in the city’s inner west early this week.
“This is historic, this is a beginning, this is a trial,” she said.
“We don’t have electric vehicles operating in Australia yet, so this… will enable us to assess the usage here and the take up, and when electric vehicles start arriving in Australia in the next 12 to 18 months we’ll be ready. Certainly the city is investigating the purchase of electric vehicles for our fleet.”
Sydney is one of six countries around the world taking part in a program to fast track the introduction of electric vehicles. Clover Moore committed to the program at the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit last year.
“The other thing the city will be doing over the next 18 months is purchasing 50 electric vehicles for use in the city, and of course we’ll be wanting to see the roll out of other charging stations. This trial will enable us to assess how this one goes, so then we can see them being provided throughout our cities.”
Chargepoint is the company managing Sydney’s charging station, which can charge a plug-in hybrid Toyota Prius in three hours. Its Chief Executive Officer Luke Grana says they have plans to conduct similar programs in Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide later this year.
“We’ve got plans for a pile of programs in each state of Australia happening later this year and next year as it becomes a model. The next charging station installation will actually be in Canberra next month,” he says.
“We know that most major automakers are releasing their electric vehicle models in the next two to three years. Mitsubishi is releasing later this year, I believe Tesla as well are releasing this year- but if you look at all the major automakers, they’ve got electric vehicles in development and they plan to release them in 2012.”
So far, Chargepoint has been dealing with local councils and fleets who have adopted the early electric vehicles.
“We provide an infrastructure for home and for business and on-street use, but as more of electric vehicles come into the market then we plan to roll out more of an infrastructure to support the uptake of electric vehicles over time.”
Listen to this story on the Wire:
But there are some doubts about the possibility of a mass production of electric cars in the near future. In a submission to last year’s Copenhagen Summit, the Society of Automotive Engineers suggested it was 20 years away and that government money would be better spent in making traffic flow more efficiently.
There have also been some safety concerns.
“There’s obviously safety aspects to the charging stations, so any alerts or faults we get alerted straight away and we can send someone here to make sure the charging station is in operation,” says Mr Grana.
“There’s an RCD [safety switch] in the charging station, so it trips at 20 milliamp seconds. It’s very quick, so if there is any issue the whole station will be de-energised very quickly.”
The Sydney trial station will provide usage data that will be used to determine whether or not Australia should invest more in the electric car infrastructure.
“We’re very excited about his and we’ll be assessing it and we’ll be looking at how we’ll roll it out,” said Clover Moore on Monday.
“I have made a commitment together with other city leaders in Copenhagen last December, and we’re really committed to this project but we’re learning. It’s historic and it’s a first, and it’s a learning experience for us all.”
Britta Jorgensen is a producer for The Wire .