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Electric cars – just another strata power struggle

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The electric Hummer - 0 to 100 in 3 seconds.

When you think about it, we have been brainwashed by petrol pumps.  You roll up, unscrew the filler cap, stick the nozzle in, fill up, pay your money and leave.

Because of decades of doing that, it’s what we expect when we want to charge our electric vehicles (EVs); pull up, plug in, pay and drive away (albeit after 20 or 30 minutes rather than five).

However when the range of even the most efficient vehicles is confronted by the tyranny of Australian distances, that ritual is likely to be continued by early EV adopters.

So it’s good news that the government is going to invest $15m on 43 charging points on our main highways.   

But epic overland journeys aside, the main charging place for EVs will be in your own home and, in the case of apartment blocks, that presents a whole new set of challenges.

EVs can be slow-charged with an adaptor that plugs into any domestic power socket or they can supercharge via dedicated outlets wired to a three-phase power supply.

Many EV owners in houses are content with slow-charging overnight using cheaper off-peak power.

However, apartment residents, whose domestic meters may be several storeys distant, would have to find a way of paying the Owners Corporation for the power that they drew from the shared electricity supply in the communal garage.

With the strata committee’s approval, that’s as simple as adding a meter with a lockable socket to a nearby power supply.

Three-phase fast-charging is also possible in strata schemes, but for individuals, that would require connection, cabling and a charging point on common property, all of which would need some sort of by-law, with the whole shebang paid for by the EV owner.

But, hey, if you have just splashed $125,000 on a Tesla Model S, or a Jaguar i-Pace, that’s not going to worry you too much.

However, if you’ve spent under $50k for a Nissan Leaf or Renault Zoe, for your house-husband to do the school and deli runs, overnight charging on the regular power supply might be just fine.

In fact, you might be able to buy a Zoe new for $39,900 – $10k less than the normal price – until dwindling stocks last, as the French manufacturer is withdrawing the vehicle from the Australian market, citing lack of government support for electric vehicles. Ca va.

If it’s any consolation or small cars aren’t really your thing, from 2022 you may be able to buy an EV Hummer which creators GMC claim will go from 0 to 100 kmh in 3 seconds, have a range of 560 Km and take only 10 minutes to charge up 160 km worth of juice.

If this promo whets yout appetite, then importers and RHD convertors American Vehicle Sales would be your next call.

Back in Strataland, where monster trucks are a parking nightmare rather than a fashion essential, a third charging option for residents is communal stations accessed with a pin number, your security door swipe or a credit card.  This is available in an increasing number of new strata schemes, sometimes allied to solar power and batteries.

The benefits include that it’s fast and it’s there for everyone. The downside is that if you have let the battery on your car drain to zero and there are others using the outlets, you’re stuck waiting for a plug to come free. 

And if the charging station breaks down, everybody in the block with an EV will be scanning Google Maps for the nearest public alternative.

And there’s another consideration for EV owners in strata blocks, especially those living in “green” buildings. 

If your block was designed not to have air-conditioning, for instance, your electricity supply and infrastructure could have been intended for lower demands and it might not cope if too many environmentally responsible owners want to go electric at the same time.

One answer lies in a combination of renewables – probably solar and batteries –  plus smart energy-sharing systems that divert power away from the EV chargers at times of peak domestic demand, then channel it back as residents turn in for the night.

But all that requires proper assessment and planning, leading to a phased introduction of these facilities before the demand increases, as it surely will when more options become available.

It’s a brave new world, but only for those who have the courage to embrace change and plan for it. 

A version of this column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.

One Reply to “Electric cars – just another strata power struggle”

  1. Jimmy-T says:

    If you want to start a discussion or ask a question about this, log into the Flat Chat Forum (using the link above). More people will read it there and you can more easily keep track of responses.

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