isten to some media reports and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d struggle to get around Melbourne and Sydney in an electric vehicle, let alone traverse the Northern Territory and outback Queensland without the luxury of fossil fuel flowing from a bowser.
But having once driven from Darwin to Bondi via some of Australia’s most remote outback towns, I’m confident you can drive an EV pretty much anywhere in the country.
Here’s some tips on how to take your EV off the beaten track.
Even the smallest of outback towns has electricity – the key is figuring out how to access it.
A good first stop is PlugShare, an app and website that logs charging locations globally. Think of it as the TripAdvisor for EV-ers, right down to user ratings, pictures and tips from the community.
The holy grail is a proper EV charger, which often supply 50-100kW of power – or sometimes up to 350kW.
The more power the charger can supply, the faster an EV can theoretically charge (although there are other factors).
Once you get off the main coastal highways, though, there are still swathes without a dedicated charger.
The next best option are three-phase power plugs.
Three-phase is used for industrial equipment, commercial fridges and machinery – anything that requires a lot of power. Factories, supermarkets, fast-food outlets and caravan parks may have them, as do some sports fields and hotels.
A three-phase plug is chunkier than a regular household point and can pump out up to 22kW – almost 10 times more than a regular wall outlet. That can mean being able to add around 100km of driving range for every hour it’s plugged in.
With a bit of planning you can be enjoying a pub lunch while your ride replenishes.
Utilising three-phase power does require extra hardware. You need a portable charger with different “tails”, or adapter plugs, to accommodate the three subtly different plug types (each producing different power outputs). Juice Booster and Giger are two options that allow you to use any three-phase outlet.
Also make sure you take a three-phase extension cord because a power outlet may not be near where you can get a car.
Adjust your need for speed
How fast you travel can make a huge difference to how far you’ll travel in an electric vehicle.
Electric cars do their best work around town where regenerative braking can capture energy to reuse later.
They’re less at home at higher speeds where aerodynamics have their say. Higher speed limits in the Northern Territory add to the challenge.
Travelling at 130km/h can see your range dip significantly – up to 36% on my recent trip, compared with if I was driving at 70km/h.
But 70km/h on seemingly endless and eerily straight roads isn’t much fun.
Essentially your speed will often be dictated by your next plug-in opportunity. Stopping to charge more frequently may actually save you time in the long run.
Know when to pull the plug
Just because a power outlet can supply a certain amount of power doesn’t mean you can – or should – take it.
It’s a lesson I learned at the Larrimah Pink Panther Hotel. Alongside the giant pink panther and (live) crocodile is a caravan park with a three-phase outlet.
But minutes after plugging in I’d tripped the power to every traveller within shouting distance. Not a good way to make friends with the local grey nomads.
In that case, I made the call to cancel the charging given there was easy access to more down the road. Worst-case scenario is to slow the charge from a regular powerpoint, which if you were staying overnight would be a viable solution.
It’s a reminder to grab electricity where you can. Just because somewhere has a three-phase option doesn’t always mean you’ll be able to use it.
Plan ahead – and offer to pay
PlugShare doesn’t have everything, so if you want to get really remote – say driving from Mount Isa to Birdsville, like I did – you’ll need to do some homework in advance.
Google Maps comes in handy for sniffing out businesses that may have three-phase power.
Hit the phone to hone in on charging options that can range from roadhouses to workshops – even outback cattle stations. Caravan parks are handy because they have powered sites.
I’d always offer to pay for their electricity – and pay more than it would cost the business. Even at double the average electricity price it was still costing about half as much to keep an EV roaming the outback when compared with a petrol car.
Taking an EV into the Australian outback shouldn’t be underestimated. It takes some planning – I had a spreadsheet going well before a steering wheel was turned – and at some points it takes time to charge on slower power outlets.
But time isn’t a bad thing if your aim is to soak up the sights and explore parts of the country that most know little about.
Extracted in full from: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/dec/16/best-ev-electric-vehicles-road-trip-distance