Disclaimer: I am a retired businessman with no interest in selling cars, charging networks, power or anything at all. I just passionately believe that to counter climate change, we all need to change the behaviour patterns that have got us here. By writing about my experiences, I hope that I can convince a few more people to change to EVs. So, having taken delivery of a shiny new EV and driving it for 7,000km over a few months, this article shares some of my experience.
Choosing the car
We wanted an EV that would be suitable for both local running about the Bay and for longer trips around the country. We concluded that a car with a 100-150km range would be great for the former but not very practical for the latter. A range of about 400km felt about right and whilst even longer-range models are available, extra range comes at a substantial price premium and you need to consider carefully what you need.
An aspiration is one thing, reality is another. At the time of looking, we found that EVs in the 400km range bracket were a lot more expensive than our budget would allow. An inheritance plus the Government EV rebate made it possible.
Silky smooth and amazingly quiet with instant acceleration at any speed. Electric motors provide full acceleration instantly, which is great for overtaking. The relative silence and swift acceleration mean that a close eye has to be kept on the speedo for a week or two as the lack of noise cues makes judging speed tricky. Other than that, it’s just another car.
One pedal driving
EVs all have regenerative braking. This is where the drive motor is used to create a braking effect which puts energy back into the battery (in principle, rather like the old dynamo on a bike to power the lights). This greatly increases the efficiency of EVs in urban driving.
How strong the regenerative braking effect is and how it is triggered/ adjusted varies from one make of EV to another. In the case of the car I bought, for normal driving, one pedal does it all – easing the accelerator pedal slowly up brings the car to a very smooth and controlled stop (brake lights are activated by the regenerative braking). The brake pedal only needs to be used if something unexpected happens or you are driving aggressively.
And if say a child runs out, whilst you are transferring your foot from the accelerator to brake pedal, the car has already started to slow rapidly. So far, I have only used the brake pedal to slow the car four times in 7,000km! Apart from making town driving more relaxed, I really like the smooth transition from acceleration to deceleration when driving along a twisty, up and down road through the hills. I think this is one of the best features and it’s amazing that car companies have never tried to do one pedal driving before.
Missing in an EV are hundreds, if not a few thousand moving and wearing parts that make up an internal combustion engine drivetrain. The obvious upside of all this stuff missing is that there is very little to go wrong in an EV. Our car has no scheduled servicing (this may differ slightly from make to make). In fact, the brakes as noted above are used so infrequently, they should last the life of the car. So, a significant money saving in scheduled maintenance.
However, the mechanical simplicity of EVs has major implications for dealer service revenue and those employed in manufacturing or servicing petrol/diesel engines and transmissions.
Charging at home
Now we’re getting to it!
We charge at home and leave with a full ‘tank’. This is one of the key concepts of EV ownership and was a huge ‘aha’ moment for me when I first started reading up about the practicalities of EVs. Even if all cars on the road were EVs, we would need fewer fast chargers than the current number of fossil fuel service stations, since 80-90% of charging is done at home. Plus, slow charging at home is the preferred way to maximise battery longevity.
Lots of people are ‘EV curious’ and the first question is generally, “How long does charging take?” The answer is that for 90% of my driving, it takes no time at all as it happens overnight at home and I leave home with a full tank. I’ll get to charging away from home on road trips shortly.
All EVs, I believe, can be charged by plugging into a standard household wall socket and for smaller cars (with a small battery), this is all that is needed.
But for cars with a larger battery, the rate of charge is probably too slow for most. For my car, which has a 54 kWh battery, 10 hours on charge via the standard wall socket would add only about 100km of range. So, we purchased a dedicated charger (type 2 plug) from the car maker which has been installed in the garage (could also be outside for driveway parking) with a separate supply cable from the main circuit breaker panel. This has a 16-amp connection and a 10 hour overnight charge adds about 250km, which is fine for our use. Using a 32-amp connection would double the rate of charging and 3-phase would speed up the charge rate an extra 50%. With some larger, high performance cars having batteries of about 100kWh, the speed of charging vs what is possible using the local domestic power supply will need careful consideration.
Charger costs vary from maker to maker and ease or complexity of running a dedicated cable from the circuit breaker panel to the charger will vary from house to house. One point to note is that the Building Code requires that a special circuit breaker (approx. $600) must be included in the installation.
A key point about home charging is getting a good deal from your power retailer.
I had seen adverts from Mercury in particular for ‘EV power plans’ with cheap overnight tariff for car charging. A bit of digging revealed that Meridian and Genesis also have EV plans. Overnight rates are typically from 9pm till 7am. As usual, they don’t make it easy to compare apples with apples. I had to set up a spreadsheet, working out likely car charging usage and apportioning our household power consumption between day and night, as the two tariffs differ substantially.
I was disappointed to find that the EV plans worked out more expensive over a full year than a regular power plan from Mercury with the same cost/kWh at all times. Maybe it is because we are a heavy power user in winter but it is definitely worth looking into for your particular circumstances because the overnight rates are much lower. And your charging can be scheduled to run only during the lower tariff times.
Charging away from home
The big worry some have!
The key issue is that you need to think ahead a bit more and plan where you are going to charge – and preferably use this time for coffee, stretching the legs, a meal or shopping break. For charging away from home, there are fast, even faster and slow options.
NZ currently offers two main networks of fast chargers. Chargenet has 275 fast (50 kW) chargers around the country. And according to their website, they will be adding 36 more stations throughout New Zealand over the next three years. Each Chargenet charging station has two plugs, CCS-2 and CHAdeMO (but can charge only one car at a time). CHAdeMO is for Japanese cars and CCS-2 covers all other current EV models – a situation reminiscent of the old video tape standards. However, I have read that the latest Nissan Ariya and Honda e use CCS-2 only, so it will be interesting to see which type Toyota decides to adopt, as and when it launches an EV.
Additionally, Chargenet has just started to roll out some Hyper chargers which at 300 kW are up to six times faster than the existing network of 50 kW units. They’re also capable of charging up to six vehicles at a site (CCS-2 only). Most current EVs can’t charge so fast, but for some new models just arriving or coming soon to NZ – which are capable of being charged at 300kW – up to 400km of range could be added in 15 minutes.
At the Chargenet charger, plug in, activate either via their phone app or a RFID tag which can be purchased from Chargenet. By default, it will stop at 80% charge, but there is an override button which will take it to 95%. Alternatively, dial up how much charge percentage you want either via the car/car’s app (depending upon model). Once charging is complete, a text is received from Chargenet. Apart from stating that charging is complete, it details before and after battery charge percentage, kWh put in, time on charge and cost.
Super easy. I can monitor charge progress via my car’s phone app so I can know when to return to the car to avoid occupying the charger once charging is complete.
Tesla has installed a network of Superchargers (CCS-2 plugs) at strategic locations around the country. So far, these are exclusively for Tesla cars but the company has announced that they will be opening up their charging network globally to all EVs.
Rated at 120 kW, these are over twice as fast as the Chargenet’s 50kW units. There are currently 12 charging stations, each with 4-6 chargers and a further three stations planned or under construction. The latest installation, in Hastings, is 250kW. The ‘plug and charge’ Superchargers recognise the Tesla-registered car when it is plugged in and no activation is required. The owner is billed via their Tesla account with details accessible online.
Slow charging options are numerous.
Scores of accommodation businesses have installed Tesla Destination chargers to attract EV car owners (using Type 2 plugs) to stay there. These have a similar charging speed to home chargers so effectively, they are overnight options. It’s worth noting that some venues such as restaurants have installed these but the amount of charge that they can usefully put into a car during say an hour-long lunch is hardly worth bothering with.
Alternatively, an overnight top-up whilst on the road, as per using a standard mains socket at home, can be available if staying at a bach or when camping by using a powered site (using a suitable adaptor).But if staying in a rented bach, it would be unfair to do so without agreement from the owner. I calculate that an overnight charge would add about the cost of a cup of coffee to the power bill, while adding maybe 100km or so in range to a medium sized EV.
We found that the car park at Zealandia in Wellington was equipped with about a dozen slowish chargers (type 2 plugs), free to use for visitors to the attraction. So during our half-day there, we were able to get a useful top-up.
Trip planning & finding chargers
www.plugshare.com (also a phone app) is a global map site for all EV chargers and also includes a useful trip planning tool. Filters can be set to show the type(s) of charger.
https://charge.net.nz (also a phone app) details on a map all of Chargenet’s fast chargers. You need to open an account with them to use the chargers.
Both of these apps show whether a charger is currently in use or not, which is really handy.
For longer journeys, a very good route planning tool is https://abetterrouteplanner.com (also a phone app) which shows chargers (but not if they are in use or not), can be set up for your exact model of EV, shows how long each charging stop will need to be, even takes hills into account etc.
Additionally, Google maps knows where all of the fast chargers are located but does not show if they are in use or not.
Fast chargers in New Zealand that we have come across are mostly located in a remote corner of a supermarket car park. We have a way to go here till we get to the charging stations being built in Europe with 20 or so chargers under cover with toilets, a cafe, etc.
We recently did two road trips totaling about 3,000km, one to Wellington and then on to Taranaki, the other to the Coromandel. The latter included dirt roads and lots of steep hills, all easily handled by our EV. Both trips meant charging a number of times at public fast chargers. We took a cautious approach, typically re-charging when the battery was down to 40-50%, which always left a safety buffer in case the next planned charger was unavailable (didn’t happen). Our charging sessions were a mix of planned and opportunistic stops, utilising the time for coffee, meals, toilet/stretching the legs or shopping.
So back to the frequently asked question, “How long does charging take?”
For our road trips, the average stop at the (50 kW) Chargenet chargers was 27 minutes. Another factor is that the speed of charging slows significantly as the battery fills, especially for the last 20%. So, two shorter stops, topping up to say 70% can add more range in less time than one longer charging session.
We had no real issues with charger availability. The exception was New Plymouth, which despite a population of about 80,000 has only one fast charger which meant that it was not always available. Especially on one occasion when a blue MG EV was parked there for most of the afternoon, long after its charging had completed. On the upside, Tesla plans to install a Supercharger there.
Are there enough public chargers? So far, the answer is yes but clearly, as the EV fleet grows, the fast charger network will need to grow with it.
Is the claimed range realistic?
Yes and no. EV manufacturers’ generally use the internationally agreed WLTP (World harmonised light vehicle test procedure) which involves a mix of urban, suburban, rural and highway driving. The WLTP range quoted for my car of 440km is realistic for local driving around the Bay – mostly town, rural at 80km/h and some expressway at 100km/h. I do not need 400km or so of such local driving in one day and I can charge every night at home, so it is a meaningless number.
Much more important is the range when undertaking longer road trips. And here’s the catch. Whilst EVs are at their most efficient when driving around town, partly due to the energy recovered when braking, efficiency starts to drop off with higher speed. So, for sustained State Highway driving, the actual range will be significantly less than the claimed WLTP.
On a trip such as Hastings to Wellington, I have found that the realistic range drops to about 75% of the claimed WLTP number. Whilst we found that this was perfectly adequate for our road trips, it is a trait of all EVs that the manufacturers do not publicise. The website https://ev-database.org gives a good estimate of real world versus claimed range for current EVs.
So claimed range (as per WLTP) is a great way of comparing cars but be aware that the WLTP cycle is heavily skewed towards urban driving. So, you cannot expect that the claimed range will be achievable when driving on State highways.
It is also worth noting that for most EVs, charging to 100% on a daily basis is not recommended. To maximise the life of the battery, charging to max 80% and not letting the charge drop below 20% plus using slow charging at home are recommended.
Another frequent question from the EV curious. Like every car, the faster you go and the harder you accelerate, the more juice you will use and EVs are no exception. And the efficiency measured in Wh/km varies from make to make.
My car provides detailed information about total kWh used, km travelled and Wh/km since last charge. Best consumption is local driving around town. I have calculated the cost of charging at home to be $3.21 per 100km (at $0.26/kWh). On road trips where there was a high proportion of faster state highway driving, plus using public chargers where the unit power cost is higher, I calculated that the cost rose to $8.50/100km. In comparison, a similar sized petrol-fueled car consuming, say, 8L/100km at the current price of $2.48/L results in a cost of $19.84 /100km.
The net result: our power bill is up about a quarter of what we used to spend on petrol.
It’s worth noting that presently EVs are exempt from Road User Charges (RUC). These are included in the price of petrol and diesel users need to buy their RUCs directly. The RUC exemption lasts until 31st March 2024 and it will be interesting to see how the Government handles this whilst encouraging EV uptake.
Summing up my experience …
Are EVs a practical car for NZ, even in rural areas? Emphatically, Yes.
Does owning an EV mean spending hours at public charging stations? No.
Does it make sense to drive a zero emissions car? Absolutely!