The verdict after a year of electric vehicle travel

We cannot believe that we have owned our Renault Zoe R90 for a year. Well almost a year, there is still a few weeks before the anniversary rolls over.

Zoe gets her first taste of power from our new (second hand) 7kw dedicated charger at home. The charger was acquired from an accommodation provider who has jumped into offering EV charging only to find that it was a bit of a false start.

So what is the verdict?

Have our expectations been met? Do we expect to see everyone driving around in electric vehicles anytime soon? In short; yes to the first, no to the second.

Here are our thoughts and observations after a year of charging up:

  • Cost – Rather than looking at a payback period (Which I calculated at around 10 years) we viewed our purchase relative to what the savings in fuel and maintainence would represent as an annual return on the cost of the vehicle – compared to say the return a term deposit in the bank. We are outperforming those expectations, primarily because most of our public charging has been free.
    • Why free charging? Well the Zoe can only use AC charging. The only charging network in NZ (Chargenet) provides DC charging only. We cannot use this DC ( you pay by kilowatt & time spent on the charger) network. There is a (very slowly growing) network of AC chargers that are designed for those who want to top up while shopping (or having a coffee) and are located in shopping centre carparks or public car parks. For the latter, you will usually pay normal parking building fees. While these deliver a slower charge, they have one or two Type 2 (pretty much the standard) sockets and provided you have a cable with a type 2 connector – you can charge on these. For the Zoe, this cable is a standard and we can generally fully top up our battery during a road trip in the time it takes to have a coffee, browse or a short walk. Most EV’s in New Zealand are Nissan Leafs – they do not have a standard type 2 cable and are reliant on the Chargenet ‘fast’ chargers or slower chargers that have a tethered cable that suites the Leaf. This is good for us, we avoid the busier charge points and usually find the Type 2 sockets deserted. The downside, is that in some parts of the country these (type 2 socket) outets are ‘thin on the ground’.
  • Range: Range anxiety is considered a big negative with electric vehicles. If you are time poor this is a valid concern as you don’t want to be spending 30-45 minutes waiting for the car to charge. The primary use of our vehicle is for longer distance travel so range was a primary consideration for us. That is why we chose a vehicle that could deliver close to a 300km range on a single charge. Despite not being able to use the Chargenet network, the vehicle range and the charging options (albeit limited) available have worked as we hoped. We are acheiving close to 275km per charge at higher speeds and around 320km at lower speeds. When planning our trips, we allow for charging time (if we know we will need to top up) for the longer distances. As we rarely travel more than 400km in a day, range has not been an issue. You do need to plan your route to ensure that you have ‘faster’ charging options available en-route.
  • The other factors:
    • How a vehicle handles or drives has never been a big deal for us – as long as it got us from A to B. This has, however, been a big plus. The car is quiet and smooth to drive. Ruth, who is not a good car traveller, now raves about how great she feels even after 3 or 4 hours on the road.
    • We get to feel a little less guilty about our car usage. Our carbon emissions over the last year have fallen by 3.9 tonnes as a result of our switch to an EV.
    • In hindsight, the level of information that was supplied to us by the importer pre-purchase was inadequate. At the time, this wasn’t obvious to us. Post purchase, we have been frustrated by their lack of response to repeated requests for information related to the suppliers of the portable charger that came with the car (it would not work – I was finally able to resolve it after a couple of weeks). I suspect the sellers approach is that the provision of too much information could be detrimental to achieving a sale. The lack of response to our post sales inquiries simply means that we do not recommend them to others.
  • Charging options: 12 months ago I expected to see far greater development of the EV charging infrastructure. There has been very little change to it. The Chargenet DC network improved their coverage but the AC network, that you would expect to see developing in urban areas, is not eventuating as it needs too. Auckland is slowly improving, Christchurch looks ok but the rest of the country is either poorly served or not served at all. On the positive side, it is better than Australia but then, at the end of 2018, they had around 6,000 plugin vehicles while NZ had around 12,000. To put the NZ number into perspective, that is 12,000 out of a total of 3.4 million light vehicles (excluding motorcycles)
Zoe gets a top-up at The Warehouse in TeKuiti en-route to New Plymouth. THe Warehouse AC 22kw network has been a godsend for us. Thank you The Warehouse – you are a regular shopping stop for us.

Here are a few general observations that we have made from the perspective of being the driver of an electric vehicle:

  • Most EVs in NZ are Nissan Leafs which are ideal for the around town running / commuting. As a result, the EV tends to be a second or third car for a household and longer trips are still done via an ICE vehicle. We tend to be an exception with the Zoe being our only vehicle.
  • The status quo lends itself towards home charging which is reflected in the slow development of urban charging infrastructure.
  • Most people we talk to have not considered an EV – knowledge is poor and often ill informed.
  • Little has changed sinece we went electric twelve months ago. EVs are still a novelty and the range of options available to a potential purchaser is still very limited.
  • Despite the hype, costs have not reduced. I read plenty about manufacturers and countries setting deadlines for phasing out ICE vehicles but this is yet to materialise into any noticeable changes at the ‘coal face’.
  • I don’t expect to see too many changes in the next 12 months – I suspect when we do our big road trip in 2020 it will be every bit as challenging as I expect.
  • Under ‘business as usual’ conditions fossil fuel vehicles will still make up the bulk of our vehiucle fleet over at least the next 10 years.
We pre-check with accommodation providers to ensure that our 8 metre portable charging cable can be used and that they are happy for us to use it.

While I would like to be an EVangelist, unless we see some significant changes to price, infrastructure and range of vehicles available, the EV struggles to become a practical primary vehicle option for most NZ households or businesses. But then, who knows where the price of oil based fuels may go. Having said that, should petrol prices rapidly soar above the already eye watering levels, the lack of supply of EVs and EV infrastructure would still constrain any EV uptake. We won’t even deal with whether or not the grid could handle it.

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