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Why this part of the electric car debate needs to simmer down. It will only take time for electric car charging to spread across Australia | Opinion

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EV charging needs to grow, but time suggests it will (Image: Tom White)
EV charging needs to grow, but time suggests it will (Image: Tom White)

The idea that electric cars are about to take over the world is confronting to many. And one of the biggest criticisms anti-EV advocates like to target is the current lack of charging infrastructure.

But I recently stumbled upon an old photograph that made me rethink the debate on the EV charging rollout. The photo was of my great-grandfather’s engineering business on what is now known as Victoria Road in Sydney, underneath was a caption that said it had “the first kerbside petrol pump in New South Wales” - the photo was dated 1915-16.

So, just over 100 years ago there was the sum total of one petrol pump by the side of the road in Sydney. If we had social media back then, these would be some of the comments. 

“These horseless carriages will never replace horses. I can’t feed my automobile hay and grass!” 

“Are they really going to put highly combustible liquid into these new contraptions?! Absurd, sir!”

“How do they think they will get enough of these new fangled petrol bowsers around the country, it’s too big. They can’t have 100s or 1000s of these pumps all around the place. The steam train is the only way to travel long distances in Australia.”

H&H Drummoyne, 1915-1916
H&H Drummoyne, 1915-1916

Sure, that’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but the underlying point is this - Australia’s nationwide network of petrol pumps started with a single unit. As the automobile became more popular, so the number of service stations grew to ensure they could stay fueled up.

The same is likely to be true for the EV charging network in this country, but, in theory, it should be even easier. That’s because, instead of having to create tanks for fuel reserves and each service station like they needed to for petrol, there is already a national electricity grid. So, as the EV infrastructure is progressively rolled out, suppliers will only need to tap into that supply.

The interesting part will be seeing how other companies take advantage of this change. Naturally the service station industry aren’t fans because charging an EV isn’t something it can easily transition to. Nobody really wants to spend more than five minutes at the servo, so instead we’re seeing places like shopping centres, retail strips and hotels harbour charging points. This is the ideal opportunity for people to take their electric car and top up the batteries while they go about their business.

Evie Networks charger
Evie Networks charger

Critics will say there currently aren’t enough and demand for public EV chargers is out-stripping supply leading to regular long waiting times. That very well may be true. At one of my local shopping centres there are only six EV charging spots in a car park of approximately 2400 spaces - only 0.25 per cent of available space.

This particular shopping centre is surrounded by apartments, so it isn’t entirely surprising that every time I try to charge an EV I’m testing there are half a dozen Teslas lined-up (strangely with the owners sitting inside watching their phones) sucking in the free juice.

This is just one example and I’m sure there are alternative options and solutions. One huge advantage EVs have over internal combustion engine vehicles is you can install a recharging outlet in your house - personally, I haven’t seen too many houses with a petrol bowser in the garage.

Hyundai Kona (Image: Matt Campbell)
Hyundai Kona (Image: Matt Campbell)

I write all this not to suggest EV critics have no basis to find fault with EVs, because there clearly are some issues - from price and supply to the so-far-unproven long-term impact on the climate. But they also aren’t going anywhere and will inevitably just get more and more prominent, so it makes sense to accept that idea and do our best to prepare for that future.

Clearly there is a problem with the current state of EV charging in this country, but as my recent photographic discovery indicates, even our current petrol-powered network started with a single pump.

Stephen Ottley
Contributing Journalist
Steve has been obsessed with all things automotive for as long as he can remember. Literally, his earliest memory is of a car. Having amassed an enviable Hot Wheels and Matchbox collection as a kid he moved into the world of real cars with an Alfa Romeo Alfasud. Despite that questionable history he carved a successful career for himself, firstly covering motorsport for Auto Action magazine before eventually moving into the automotive publishing world with CarsGuide in 2008. Since then he's worked for every major outlet, having work published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age,, Street Machine, V8X and F1 Racing. These days he still loves cars as much as he did as a kid and has an Alfa Romeo Alfasud in the garage (but not the same one as before... that's a long story).
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