There are set to be almost 42,000 electric vehicles set to take to the roads this summer.
That may not sound like a lot, but it’s an additional 15,000 EVs since last year. More than double the rate of zero-emission cars registered just the year before.
When you take into account the fact that there are only 340 public charging stations across the whole of the country, up just 20 from the year before, the uptake in electric cars is far outpacing charging ports.
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Some are predicting that the promise of cheap, emission-free transport might come with the unexpected cost of pinch points and parts of the country where it’s hard to find a free charging port.
Added to this is the issue of slow charge times at the plug. With half-an-hour waits to recharge 100km of range, even at high speed charging ports, there could be long queues around the country.
When asked what’s down the road for Electric Vehicle owners, Meridian Energy’s head of energy solutions doesn’t detour around the problems.
“You have to acknowledge it’s going to be a huge change. There are bound to be a few bumps along the way,” says Ryan Kuggeleijn.
Meridian were recently appointed by the government’s Low Emissions Transport Fund to plug some of the bigger gaps in the South Island’s network.
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Kuggeleijn says that part of the reason for the massive uptick in EV ownership has been the cost of petrol.
“With prices what they are at the pump, EVs have attracted a lot of interest.”
The average cost of a 100km drive is $2.79 compared to $20.72 to do the same journey running on 91 Unleaded.
There are parts of the country which have yet to catch up with this interest. Especially in the more remote and rugged corners of New Zealand, the distance between charging ports can be uncomfortably far.
There are currently five stubborn gaps in the State Highway network which put them out of reach of the government’s current target of 75km between chargers. Four of these are in the South Island, where winter temperatures and topography are an extra drain on battery performance.
The largest hole in the North Island’s connectivity is on the road between Taumarunui and Taranaki. Fittingly dubbed the “Forgotten Highway”, there is currently a 180km stretch between plugs along State Highway 43. You may find yourself coasting to the coast, before you find a charge.
In Te Waipounamu the terrain is even more of an energy gap.
The most high profile of these might be the tourist route to Milford Sound. State Highway 94 is often ranked as one of the most scenic drives in the world. It’s also a bracing, 236km round trip without a charger.
It doesn’t look like there will be one any time soon. SH94 was left off the latest round of funding from the EECA. As some brave EV motorists have tested, it is doable in an electric car. Just.
Given the current masterplan for Milford / Piopiotahi, a charge port doesn’t tie in with plans to reduce the number of public vehicles heading to the sounds - zero emission or otherwise.
The largest gap in the network across both islands is at the furthest point of State Highway Six, where the West Coaster reaches Haast. It’s a 284km gauntlet from Franz Josef to Wānaka, before you get to another public plug.
There is however a lifeline thrown to Tesla drivers in Haast in the form of a Tesla Supercharger at the Heartland Hotel. The hotel says it’s been a big success with guests planning trips in EVs. While the fast charger fits only a specific model of car, visitors are welcome to plug their EVs in conventional power outlets overnight.
While New Zealand sorts out its fast charging network, EV drivers are getting pretty used to begging, borrowing or - sometimes - stealing a charge to get where they are going.
EV etiquette, where and when to charge your car
A lot has been made of public chargers, but with even a “fast” charge taking 20-30 minutes most drivers will be plugging in overnight.
Nine out of ten times electric car owners will be charging at home, or someone else’s.
According to ChargeNet, one of the country’s largest suppliers of charging stations, drivers rarely stop for a top up.
82 per cent of all recharges come straight from the mains, they say.
“It’s understandable that EV drivers, whether they are driving their own vehicle or have rented an EV for their trip, would want to continue this at their holiday accommodation.”
But you might want to ask first, says Martin Miles COO of Charge Net.
A poll in the Herald recently revealed that 55 per cent of readers thought BnBs should not be picking up the fuel tab for guests in EVs. A fifth of respondents said it was bad manners to plug in at holiday rental, without asking the hosts first.
However, Miles said with a busy summer of EV road trips ahead many hotels and motels were installing charge ports for guests as a way to bring in more custom.
“Booking services are recognising the growing number of EV travellers, and are adding ‘EV charging’ as a filter within their accommodation search function.”
It’s something guests are searching for when researching holiday accommodation and trips. With a record number of EVs on the road this summer, Charge Net are telling travellers to do their homework.
“We encourage EV drivers to pre-plan their route, avoid peak hour travel, and follow basic EV charging etiquette.”
Strategic overnight stops and detours for charges are part of the course for Electric road trips.
While it might only cost a couple of dollars to top up, before you run your power adapter through the window of your rental bach, it’s worth asking first.
As for the thousand or so motels and hotels which have already installed destination chargers, the advice is fill your boots.
New Zealand’s EV blackspots
Taumaranui to Hawera
Franz Josef to Wānaka
Te Anau to Milford, return
Hanmer to Reefton
Murchison to Blenheim
- NZ Herald