Ray Middleton appreciates the irony of embracing a battery-powered lifestyle after spending more than 30 years working in the fossil fuel industry.

The retiree spent almost a decade at a coal-fired power station in Victoria before making the move to Karratha in Western Australia’s mineral-rich Pilbara region in 1989.

“I got a position here in the gas plant out on the Burrup and spent 27 years working there,” he said.

“Ironically, they are fossil fuel people and now I am not quite so fossil fuel.”

Later in his working life, Mr Middleton developed a keen interest in renewable energy.

“We all have to have a responsible look at the way we run our lives and what we can do, even at a personal level,” he said.

He now owns a battery-run car, which he charges through solar panels on his house throughout the day.

He has a battery-powered blower, whipper snipper, and lawnmower and has invested heavily in lithium mining — a key component for battery energy storage.

“Not like oil and gas, when petroleum is mined and it’s consumed in vehicles, that’s it, it just pollutes the air and you never see it again,” he said.

“You just have to keep mining more, whereas renewable stuff is a better option.”

‘Range anxiety’

While Mr Middleton is enamoured by his electric car, there are some practical challenges with driving electric vehicles (EVs) in remote areas, where towns are often several hundred kilometres from each other.

“I did have an occasion when I had to head up to Port Hedland to pick up someone from the hospital up there,” he said.

“I did have a little bit of ‘range anxiety’ on the way back simply because there are no charges whatsoever.

“So I had to stay overnight and use the mobile charger that I had, which is very slow … we made it back with a couple of kilometres to spare.”

There are more than 550 high-power public EV chargers across Australia according to the figures released by the Electric Vehicle Council in June.

Western Australia has 48 chargers, making up less than 9 per cent of the country’s total charging network.

The WA government has pledged $23 million to build a network of fast chargers across the state to increase EV uptake.

Earlier this year the federal government released its first electric vehicle strategy and outlined how it plans to remove barriers to buying EVs.

The three focus areas for the government are the supply of EVs, the systems and infrastructure needed to support uptake, and demand from drivers for them.

EV off-roaders a ‘few years away’

EV Central editor Toby Hagon says electric off-road cars are not available in Australia yet.

“We have a lot of all-wheel drive EVs, so cars with two motors that drive all four wheels, but you wouldn’t really call them off-road vehicles,” he said.

“They’re more about additional grip on the road, maybe some extra grip on gravel and on slippery surfaces, but not really for going adventurous off-roading.”

Mr Hagon says off-road EVs are being seen in the US market and expects these cars to hit Australian shores in 2027.

“We’re at least a few years away from having the vehicles, the second thing is getting people comfortable with it,” he said.

“When it’s mainstream, I would think we’re probably at least six or eight years away, possibly even into the next decade.”

Tesla recently made the first deliveries of its Cybertruck in the US.

The futuristic looking truck made of stainless steel has been met with a divisive response from consumers and is expected to cost between $92,000 and $150,000.

Fewer than 4 per cent of car sales in Australia in 2022 were EVs, compared to 9 per cent in the rest of the world.

Caravan Industry Association of Australia general manager Luke Chippindale said electric vehicles currently available in Australia were very “urban-centric”.

“You travel far greater distances in regional areas and you quite often have to carry a load,” he said.

“We know that EVs have a reasonable towing capacity, what they don’t have at this point in time is the range.”

However, Mr Chippindale says there is a high degree of opportunity for regional industry players around electric infrastructure.

“Caravan parks often act as a hub for regional rural areas,” he said.

“Outside boom gates, at the front of the property, there’s potentiality for fast charging networks.

“Ultimately, it keeps that localised economy going for us.”

‘I wouldn’t change over’

The dirt tracks and rough roads in the Pilbara mean Karratha resident Jasmine Magner wouldn’t consider going electric.

“The fact that we actually need four-wheel drives to live here, it would have to be the most advanced electrical car that was ever brought out,” she said.

“I don’t know if an electrical car could manage the territory around here … so at this stage, I wouldn’t change over.”

For others who treat four-wheel driving as a hobby, it can be hard to imagine giving up their beloved diesel cars.

“You want to get the same sound effects as you would do in a motor vehicle, so personally I wouldn’t change for that reason,” Karratha resident Joshua Katene said.

“A lot of the guys around here love the grunt of a lot of vehicles.”

Electric vehicle advocates have estimated EVs will reach price parity with the average petrol car by 2025 — although some critics suggest it will take longer before prices match the cheapest new petrol vehicles.

Mr Middleton believes more government incentives would help.

“At the time of purchasing it would have been nice to have some incentive to buy an EV, but I guess I was lucky I could afford it,” he said.

“Some countries overseas you get two years of free car registration, you get government incentives to purchase a vehicle.”

Living with sustainability at the forefront has become an important part of Mr Middleton’s life and he hopes others do the same.

“Like any sort of recycling, it’s always pretty good to adopt it if you can,” he said.

“I guess it was later in my working life that I realised that we’re better off to stick with renewables if we can and we can encourage our governments to think along that line.”

Extracted in full from:  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-12-27/electric-vehicles-wa-pilbara-remote-driving/103208782

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