Forget fast electric car chargers, the trickle-up effect is the answer


The highly charged debate about the Labor party’s post-election electric car ambitions – which turned out to be very similar to the Coalition’s pre-election electric car proposals – seems to have died away.

Even so, there was some rumbling about how apartment blocks would have to install charging stations inside their parking garages, at huge expense and disruption to the owners’ corporations.

However, regular readers of the Flat Chat website will know that not only are in-block charging stations not necessary, they aren’t particularly desirable.

Instead, while we are at home asleep, our cars could be plugged into a trickle charger, ready in the morning for another day’s whizzing around at very little expense.

The public perception of electric cars seems to be more a case of back to the future than “shock of the new”. Even some charging connections appear to have been designed to look as similar to petrol pumps as possible, presumably so as not to scare people too much with their new-fangledness.

More significantly, there’s the deeply old-fashioned idea that you must be able to “fill up” as and when necessary, with your apartment block obliged to provide charging stations for the exponentially growing number of battery powered vehicles expected to be whispering along our streets over the next few decades.

One of the Flat Chat’s regular “stratagurus”, who offers advice under the nom-de-keyboard Sir Humphrey, has been driving his own electric car conversion for years, scoffs at the idea of charging stations in apartment blocks.

For a start, he says, it would be inconvenient, as queuing is likely and it would lead to frustration and anger if someone left their vehicle blocking the charging space.

Overnight charging at your own car space makes sense for many reasons, not least because guaranteed access to your own charging outlet provides maximum convenience and adequate charge rates at modest cost.

Charging at about 3kW for less than four hours is sufficient to replenish the battery of a car that travels 50km a day. A full overnight charge will take you a lot further and routine, slow charging extends battery life.

You can fully recharge the car using a standard 15 Amp power point, and if you do it overnight, using much cheaper off-peak electricity, the cost is a fraction of petrol prices.

Smart and forward-looking blocks will have solar panels on the roof, potentially making this even more financially viable.

For longer, cross-country distances or if fast charging is needed, residents can use public charging stations. They’ll soon be dotted along our highway like the old stagecoach post houses.

To be clear, the technology for rapid DC charging stations of 50kW exists; you can already install the three-phase power required to give your car the 15-minute charge-up that the fossil-minded may imagine is the only way to put energy into a vehicle.

But they make very little sense for apartment blocks.  They are expensive to install and, in a unit block, one out-of-service fault in a shared charging station would affect multiple owners.

However, you could run a cable from your own electrical meter (this really only applies to townhouses with connected garages), or have the owners corp put locked or coded meters on the common property power points in the car park, so they can charge you for their electricity.

With no more trips to the petrol pumps, it would feel like you were running your car on air. You can read more about electric car charging from Sir Humphrey on the Flat Chat website. And there’s already more information here on the Forum.

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

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