Forbes Advocate

Electric vehicle charging: ins and outs

About 55 per cent of Australia's electric vehicles have been imported in the past 12 months. Picture Shutterstock
About 55 per cent of Australia's electric vehicles have been imported in the past 12 months. Picture Shutterstock

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The number of electric vehicles (EVs) purchased by Australian drivers has risen exponentially over the past few years.

There are now more than 180,000 EVs among Australia's traffic landscape. More than 98,000 (or about 55 percent) of them were bought within the past 12 months.

That's a huge growth rate which is likely to carry over into the next 12 months, and the 12 after that, and so on.

All to the good. But with an immense uptick in EV purchases comes an equally immense uptick in the demand for EV charging infrastructure. The government is doing what it can to meet this demand in order to avoid a charging infrastructure deficit.

This becomes even more critical when you consider that many businesses with large vehicle fleets (e.g. couriers) are beginning to transition to EVs.

It's no exaggeration to say that going forward, aspects of the economy will be dependent upon sufficient charging infrastructure.

EV types

Before continuing, let's clarify a thing or two about electric vehicles. These days, people use the term to mean any vehicle which does not rely fully on petrol or diesel fuel. So not all electric vehicles are fully electric; nor are they all battery powered. Many of them still emit small amounts of CO2 (less than 75 g per kilometre, to be exact).

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are a type of EV which do not contain a rechargeable battery and must be refueled on a regular basis using-you guessed it-hydrogen. There are also hybrid vehicles, which use petrol alongside an electric battery. Some hybrids (plug-in hybrids) can be recharged with a cable while others cannot.

The following sections apply only to battery powered electric vehicles, including plug-in hybrids.

What is charging infrastructure?

'Charging infrastructure' is a collective term which refers to the network of EV charging stations that exist within a city, state, region, or nation. As the government and its private sector partners introduce additional charging stations throughout the country, Australia's charging infrastructure expands, and it becomes easier and more convenient for EV owners to recharge their vehicles on the road.

The number of charging points in Australia is projected to more or less double in 2024, sustaining the momentum from 2023 during which the number of charging locations rose by 90 percent. Experts forecast that by the end of 2024, Australia will be host to over 1600 EV charging sites.

Companies with electric vehicle fleets often develop their own charging infrastructure to ensure minimal downtime for their vehicles. Modern technologies like vehicle management software help businesses optimise their charging networks to keep their fleets running smoothly and consistently.

The various levels of EV charging

When it comes to recharging electric vehicles, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Let's consider the different types-or levels-of EV charging. There are three.

Level 1 (Mode 2)

Level 1 (aka Mode 2) charging is easy and affordable, but it's also very slow. It can take up to 24 hours to fully recharge an EV using Level 1. That being the case, Level 1 charging is restricted to individuals with smaller EVs who like to recharge their cars overnight. They are typically installed in private garages. Level 1 charging is not suitable for commercial vehicle fleets.

Level 2 (Mode 3)

Level 2 (aka Mode 3) is much more efficient than Level 1 and produces enough power to fully recharge most types of EVs. The rate of speed is vehicle dependent, but it is generally about five times faster than Level 1. With Level 2, you get up to 45 km per hour of charging.

Many public charging stations (e.g. at shopping malls) are Level 2. Cost varies by network; the standard range is 1-5 dollars per hour. A lot of EV owners elect to have a Level 2 charging point installed at their homes, as they can easily deliver a full recharge overnight.

Level 3 (Mode 4)

Level 3 (aka Mode 4) stations are direct current fast chargers. They provide a full recharge very quickly but at a premium price. Companies with EV fleets typically install Level 3 stations on their premises to ensure rapid, reliable charging on site. Utilising car fleet management software, they also design their routes to take advantage of roadside Level 3 charging sites.

Depending on the power level (there are several different strengths), a Level 3 station can fully recharge some EVs in 30 minutes or less. As to cost, the average is about $15 per hour.