By Robert Hickson 08/09/2017

Where to with electric vehicles?

Christchurch is introducing a fleet of electric cars, for business and public use. That’s adding about 100 new electric vehicles (“EV”) cars to the existing 3,000 in NZ. That’s less than 0.1% of the over 3.5 million light vehicles registered here.

Source: NZ Transport Agency


The more significant point with the Christchurch cars, though, is that they are intended to be shared.



It seems reasonable to assume that prices for electric vehicles will decline, and that their range will increase over the coming years. so more people are likely to buy, lease, or share them.

The NZ government is encouraging electric vehicles to some extent, through policy and investment in some charging infrastructure, as well as not applying road user charges for a while. Along with a strange decision to let electric vehicles use “special vehicle lanes” on Auckland motorways for the next year.

Other countries are pledging to ban petrol and diesel vehicles in the next few decades.


Electric issues

It seems reasonable to assume that prices for electric vehicles will decline as more manufacturers make them, and as the technologies improve. Their range will also increase over the coming years. so more people are likely to buy, lease, or share them. And regulations will likely encourage them.

But do we have enough power? Some NZ research from 2012 suggests that electricity demands from electric vehicles could be managed if charging occurred at “off peak” times.

But, I found a recent report from the UK’s National Grid a useful read.  They note that if electric car owners want to charge their vehicles more quickly, rather than overnight, then the current maximum of about 100 amps for a main switchboard fuse would mean that you may not be able to boil your kettle, wash your dishes, use the oven or a heater at the same time.

That, and the fact that possibly over 40% of car owners in the UK don’t have off street parking (in 2008 at least), means that home charging of electric vehicles, particularly rapid charging, may not be possible for many there.

In NZ, around 85% of car owners have off-street parking, so that is less of a limitation. I’m not sure of NZ’s home switchboard max amperage, but I assume it is about 100 amps too, with individual switchboard fuses between 10 and 32 amps. So no quick home charging at the moment.

The National Grid suggests that supermarkets may be a good place to install a network of public rapid charging stations. They note that many UK supermarkets already provide petrol stations, so this is an evolution, as well as being convenient to the electric vehicle owners (if they can get by on one charge a week), it would be a new revenue stream, and/or a market advantage for the supermarkets (or shopping malls, if we still prefer to shop and socialise offline.)

But if we shift to high demand for rapid vehicle charging during the daytime, that could make managing the energy supply more difficult. We haven’t had that type of discussion here as far as I can tell. It is something that we need to start considering now.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation, & Employment have modelled future energy demand and generation scenarios. They seem to assume that electric vehicle recharging will largely occur at off peak times (expecting owners to prefer cheaper rates than the convenience of rapid charging). Maybe that needs reconsidering.

Wireless charging is already becoming possible, but that doesn’t address electricity supply. However, longer term charge-as-you-drive may become feasible, and solve that challenge.


The bigger electric picture

Electric cars may be an attractive option for some, but they are really a relatively minor issue when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas production. Switching to electric trucks and ships will have a much bigger environmental benefit since they produce more pollutants.

So it was good to see, though less well heralded that the cars, that Christchurch also recently brought in an electric rubbish truck.

New Zealand has a link to electric trucks via Ian Wright, whose US company Wrightspeed is an important player.

Electric-powered freight ships are being developed too. Pressure is likely to come on the booming cruise ship sector to go electric too.

Electric planes are taking flight as well.


Sustainable transport, not  just electric transport

All less harmful than their gasoline equivalents in some respects. But not what we should be aiming for in terms of much better sustainability. The current reliance on rare minerals for vehicle batteries is contributing to environmental and social problems elsewhere.

Driving an electric car may make a nice personal statement, but we need to still think and work toward more fully inclusive and sustainable transport options. So one day our ancestors will, hopefully, look back at our transport and think “how quaint”.


Featured image of 1887 electric dog cart courtesy of Cartalk