The Morrison government has taken a major step towards curing Australians of electric vehicle “range anxiety” by funding the rollout of more than 400 public fast-charging stations around the country.
Targeting all capital cities as well as rural and regional areas, the network of charging stations – which will all run on clean energy – will be built and operated by five companies: Evie Networks, Ampol, Engie, Chargefox and Electric Highways Tasmania.
More charging stations are needed if the national electric car fleet is to expand.
According to Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor the chargers represent a seven-fold increase in available power points, and will each be capable of charging at least two vehicles simultaneously at 50 kilowatts or above.
“The government is focused on ensuring Australians can drive their preferred choice of vehicle, be that petrol, diesel, hydrogen or electric powered,” Mr Taylor said.
The announcement is sure to raise eyebrows in some quarters given Mr Taylor’s reputation as something of an electric vehicle sceptic.
As recently as May, Mr Taylor was asked by 3AW’s Neil Mitchell whether he drove an electric vehicle. He replied: “I’m not driving an electric car. I live in regional New South Wales and drive huge distances each year – 60,000 or 70,000 kilometres. So I need something that can handle the hard roads and distances.”
In his announcement late on Thursday, Mr Taylor made mention of the range issue.
“Projects funded under the Future Fuels Fund will significantly expand Australia’s fast-charging network, providing broader coverage, reducing range anxiety and minimising blackspots,” he said.
“As industry works to make electric vehicle technology more affordable, it is important we have the infrastructure in place that empowers consumers to switch to new fuel technologies with confidence.”
The funding pales by comparison to the Morrison government’s fuel security package – unveiled days after the May budget – that could see up as much as $2 billion in subsidies flow to Australia’s two remaining oil refiners to ensure they stay open for at least another six years.
Questions also remain about the availability of affordable electric vehicles, which the charging rollout cannot address.
While surveys and sales figures show Australians are keen early adopters of new technologies, many car makers – those operating in Europe in particular – are said to be reluctant about expanding into the Australian market because it lacks a CO2 emissions standard, unlike in Europe. That creates a costly disincentive for those EV car makers to ship models to Australia.
Almost $25 million will be distributed to the five companies from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s (ARENA) $71.9 million future fuels fund, which was announced last September.
NSW will get 127 of the fast-charging stations, across Sydney, Wollongong, the Central Coast and Newcastle.
Another 106 will be installed in Melbourne and Geelong, with 86 destined for Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Central Coast.
The remainder will appear in Perth (33), Adelaide (29), Hobart (10), Canberra (9) and Darwin (3).
ARENA chief executive Darren Miller said the increased funding pool would remove barriers to the uptake of EVs.
“As the costs of electric vehicles come down, more consumers and fleet users are looking to go electric,” he said.
“Expanding the fast-charging network will make it easier than ever to drive an EV in Australia.”