Charger Problem Solving in Oz

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You still have to plan well and use charger problem solving skills when undertaking a long trip in Australia due to incomplete charging networks, as we have previously written about here and here.

Arthur and Laurel Hunt recently made a return trip from Yeppoon in Central Queensland to southern Tasmania in their three-year old Tesla Model 3 SR+, stopping off to see family and friends along the way. Their ultimate destination was Nicholls Rivulet, south of Hobart. They took their car across Bass Strait on the Spirit of Tasmania ferry. They travelled 7,002 km, consuming 1,022 kWh of electricity at an average of 14.6 khj/100 km.

This is their story.

Insects love the white Tesla. Photo courtesy of Arthur Hunt.

By Arthur Hunt, as told to David Waterworth

The first day from Yeppoon to Brisbane down the Bruce Highway, with a detour through Gladstone, was our longest, covering 706 km with charging at Miriam Vale (where we queued for 10 minutes), Gin Gin, and Gympie. Since we were passing through Brisbane, we booked a service for the car the next day — the second service in three years. It was booked at the Tesla service centre at Mt Gravatt. The wiper blades were changed and the brake fluid was checked — no top-up required. The cable to the rear camera was replaced under warranty as a precaution even though it had not malfunctioned. The battery was partly charged during the service and the total cost was only $125.

As we were staying overnight at the Gold Coast, we made use of the new 75 kW Chargefox charger at the Miami Aquatic Centre to top up the battery — a big improvement over the older 50 kW Chargefox installations elsewhere.

We continued down the Pacific Motorway towards Sydney, enjoying the freedom of an open road. We charged at the Knockrow Supercharger before staying overnight with friends at Grafton and using our first free NRMA charger there. We continued the next day, using the Tesla Superchargers at Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie before another overnight stop with friends at Bonny Hills. The next day was not our best. We had left ourselves short of charge to reach the next Supercharger at Heatherbrae, near Newcastle, so we decided to try the new fast Evie chargers at South Taree. Alas, we had not read the fine print on the PlugShare app. After we had diverted off the motorway, we discovered the chargers were installed but not yet operational. So, we headed to the single charger at Nabiac only to find it occupied by a Volvo taking on a charge for 30 minutes. After waiting, we made a limited charge there and reached the Heatherbrae Supercharger with 11 km of range remaining and the co-pilot stewing. From Heatherbrae we had plenty of charge to reach Sydney. A great example of using charger problem solving skills.

The trip was made much less arduous by using cruise control and Autopilot as much as possible. There is no need to watch the speed when cruise control matches the speed limit and the car slows for curves and slower vehicles. There is no need to steer when Autopilot keeps the car on track — just keep a reassuring hand on the wheel. It is possible to enjoy the view. We had a minor issue for two days after Grafton when a software update was incomplete after using a mobile phone as a wifi hotspot. Autopilot was out of action and the GPS did not direct us, despite the map showing on the screen. We really missed these functions but the problem was solved in Sydney when we used a home wifi to download the software update again and install it properly.

We stayed a few days with family in Sydney and made use of a domestic power point and our mobile charger to keep the battery topped up. We travelled on to Wollongong south of Sydney for another overnight stay and then headed to Canberra. The trip up Macquarie Pass to the Southern Highlands was a good chance to test the power and torque of our electric motor. We stopped at the BP service centre at Marulan to try the new BP Pulse network. We had become used to using the Chargefox RFID card for identification instead of the app and we found it a bit tricky to use the BP app in bright sunlight, although we had previously registered. When will we get some shelter over EV chargers? Why should petrol pumps get preference?

As we approached Canberra, we saw Lake George filled to a record level and then did some sightseeing in our national capital. We stayed at a motel at Murrumbateman that advertised EV charging and found two Evie chargers in the car park. Although we had an Evie RFID card, they would not work. The motel staff were not interested and said it was not their problem. When phoned, the Evie overseas call centre explained that there was a communication problem on the network and they could not communicate with the chargers. There were no external power points available at the motel, so we ran an extension cord into our room and used our mobile charger for a while. Arthur using his charger problem solving. We found that the communication issue had been rectified and we were able to connect to the charger to fill up and be ready for the next day.

Charger Problem Solving
Lake George after recent rains. Photo courtesy of Arthur Hunt.

We re-joined the Hume Highway at Yass and headed south to the Tesla Supercharger at Gundagai where we shared the bank of six chargers with two other Teslas. Meeting other EV drivers at charging sites is a good chance to share EV experiences. We then continued to Albury to meet a friend, stay overnight, and use the free NRMA charger. We accidentally left the air conditioning on overnight, and when we left the next morning for Euroa in Victoria, the navigation system in the car warned that we were too optimistic and would have to visit the Tesla Supercharger at Wodonga nearby first. After a quick pitstop there, we were back on the motorway to Euroa.

This time we were the only car at a bank of six Superchargers, so after a lunch and charging stop, we headed south following the car’s direction to the Supercharger at Moonee Ponds,on the outskirts of Melbourne. In unknown territory, we felt like blow-ins from the bush. However, the GPS system directed us through the maze of one-way streets to a multi-level car park. Fortunately, the Tesla chargers were clearly signposted and we descended to the bottom level where we found a bank of six chargers with two vacant. However, city Tesla drivers are too busy to chat while charging. Maybe they were on the phone to their stockbrokers.

Charger Problem Solving
Found the chargers in the maze. Photo courtesy of Arthur Hunt.

Thankfully, the GPS system extracted us from the city and we headed around Port Phillip Bay to Geelong, preparing to board the ferry to Devonport. After some time to shop and relax, we headed back a few kilometres to the Tesla Supercharger at Corio where we were the only car at a bank of six chargers. Before it got dark, we travelled the short distance to the ferry terminal to check the boarding procedures. We had booked overnight crossings of Bass Strait both ways, boarding at 9:30 pm, departing at 11:30 pm, and arriving at 9;30 am. After spending some time using the free wifi in the ferry terminal, it was an interesting experience to join hundreds of other vehicles of all types packed closely on the vehicle decks. A group of about 30 Harley-Davidson motorbike riders made sure that we heard them as they embarked and disembarked. The crossing to Devonport was amazingly, unusually smooth, with time to get to sleep before entering Bass Strait and only slight rocking during the night before a calm approach to Devonport.

Charger Problem Solving
Spirit of Tasmania berthing at Corio. Photo courtesy of Arthur Hunt.

Laurel was keen to visit the Bridestowe lavender farm near Scottsdale, northeast of Launceston. After disembarking from the ferry, we let the GPS system take us on minor winding roads eastwards to the John Batman bridge over the Tamar River to the lavender farm. Harvesting had been completed for the season, but we saw the rows of lavender bushes ready to shoot again. We had booked scarce accommodation on the outskirts of Launceston, but the direct road was closed by a landslide so we headed back to Scottsdale. There we were able to charge at a single Chargefox charger in the car park of an art gallery and café which offered a discount on purchases to those using the charger!

Charger Problem Solving
Charging at Scottsdale Art Gallery. Photo courtesy of Arthur Hunt.

After our overnight stop near Launceston, we topped up at a fast Evie charger in a suburb of Launceston before heading south on the main highway. We wanted to see the east coast, so we turned off at Campbell Town and headed east for Swansea. On the long winding descent from the highlands to Swansea, Laurel was driving and was able to go the whole way down without using the brake pedal, accelerator, or steering wheel. As a bonus, we picked up 11 km of range by regeneration of power for the battery. We stopped for lunch and charging at Swansea. The rate at the charger was designed to encourage quick turnover. It was 25¢/kWh and 25¢/minute of charge time, so we paid $6 for energy and $9 for time on our Chargefox account. This charger also had an attachment to allow tourists driving EVs to pay directly by credit card.

One of the main purposes of the trip was to visit Arthur’s older brother and his family members south of Hobart. After a quick call to them in Kingston, we headed to the Yellow Door B&B, at Nicholls Rivulet, where we had booked for our stay. It was a delightful place where we could pick our own vegetables and were provided with fresh eggs.

Arthur’s Tasmanian family are keen EV owners, with four Teslas and a Nissan Leaf between them. One day we organised a family photo at Peregrine School, showing all six EVs with a decommissioned Melbourne tram in the background.

Charger Problem Solving
Hunt family EVs — 5 Teslas, Nissan Leaf, and Melbourne tram in background. Photo courtesy of Arthur Hunt.

One day, four of us drove in our Tesla, up Mt Wellington, towering over Hobart, to admire the view and test the regeneration. As we ascended for 21 km, the battery lost 24% of battery charge. As we descended the same distance, we regained 11% of battery charge. It was a good example of the efficiency of the Model 3.

Charger Problem Solving
View from Mt Wellington, Tasmania. Photo courtesy of Arthur Hunt.

After more sightseeing and family time, it was time to begin the return journey, as we were on a deadline. The return trip of 2,900 km had to be completed in six days. Our plan to drive on a minor road up the middle of Tasmania was thwarted when we could not connect the car to the unusual charger network at New Norfolk, out of Hobart. Instead, we diverted to Oatlands where we used free charging at a bank of new chargers installed by Electric Highway Tasmania. We then took a cross-country route through Cressy and Deloraine, passing paddocks covered with hundreds of round hay bales. At Devonport, we used the Tesla Supercharger, ready to board the Spirit of Tasmania later at night. While waiting, we watched another large ship rotate in the turning basin in the narrow river, a feat later copied by our vessel. The second crossing of Bass Strait was slightly rougher but not uncomfortable.

Our route home was to take us up the Newell, New England, and Bruce Highways. From Geelong, we avoided Melbourne by heading north to charge at Ballarat and then headed across country to Shepparton via Kyneton, and stopped overnight at Tocumwal, which has recovered from the floods in the Murray River. At Tocumwal, we were welcomed at the spacious ground-level Kingswood Motel. When we enquired about connecting to a power point, the manager gave us the key to the unused breakfast servery hatch at our room. We ran our charger cord from an internal power point, through the hatch, to the car outside. Charger problem solving in action.

Charger Problem Solving
Charging at Chinnock B&B Gilgandra. Photo courtesy of Arthur Hunt.

The next day, we covered 630 km north to Gilgandra, charging at Narrandera, West Wyalong, Parkes, and Dubbo. We had been warned about flood damage to the Newell Highway and the need to avoid damaging our tyres. We saw a lot of road works, but much of the damage had been quickly patched. At the historic Chinnock B&B at Gilgandra, the elderly owner had no qualms about us running an extension cord under the door to a power point inside. As the charge rate on a power point is only 2 kW, the cost of charging overnight this way is only about $4. We encouraged her to register this wall charging facility on the PlugShare app — free advertising.

Charger Problem Solving
Road works on Newell Highway. Photo courtesy of Arthur Hunt.

The next day, we charged to 100% at Coonabarabran, as we had to reach Inverell without another fast charging stop available en route. We added some air to the tyres to reduce resistance, travelled at 90–95 km/h, and turned off the air conditioning to limit battery use. We turned off the Newell Highway at Narrabri and continued over the range near the Mt Kaputar National Park towards Bingara. As a precaution, we phoned ahead to Bingara to enquire about using three-phase outlets at the caravan park and the showgrounds, but this was not possible. So, we pressed on, taking a rough gravel shortcut bypassing Delungra and through Inverell.

We arrived at our friends’ property with 28 km of range left. Perhaps we could have used the air conditioning! This 306 km was the longest stage between charge stops on the whole trip. We plugged into a power point overnight to enable us to reach Glen Innes the next day. As we left Inverell, we admired two new chargers that have been installed but not yet connected to power. So, charger problem solving will not be necessary in the near future in this area. Charging at Glen Innes, we enjoyed a stop at the popular strawberry farm cafe (The Super Strawberry).

From there, we were in familiar territory and the final two days from Inverell to Kingaroy via Tenterfield and Toowoomba and home via Childers and Miriam Vale were routine. We arrived home with 28 km of range remaining, but topped up again on our home charger overnight.

Charger Problem Solving
Pausing for wide load. Photo courtesy Arthur Hunt.

We learned some lessons about charging on the trip. When planning a charging stop, it pays to use the PlugShare app to check that the charger is operational. Secondly, charging will not start if a car door is left open — although, they can be opened once it starts. [Editor’s note: That’s odd. I’ve started charging in our Tesla Model 3 many times with the door open. Maybe an Australia thing?] Thirdly, it is often difficult to read mobile phone apps in bright sunlight and it is much easier to use an RFID card to identify yourself and start the charger. We carried RFID cards for the Chargefox and Evie networks, but may need others.

Our energy cost for the trip was only $414, as we received free charging at NRMA chargers in NSW and from generous friends and relatives and two accommodation places. If we had paid for all energy at an average of 50¢/kWh, the cost would have been $511, much less than the cost of fuel for a conventional car.

We needed 46 charging sessions during the trip, usually timed for meal breaks, and we used a number of charging networks — Tesla (15), Chargefox (10), NRMA (9), and Evie (6). The cost was higher for fast chargers and varied from 30¢/kWh to 69¢/kWh. It was encouraging that NRMA and Chargefox are now installing 75 kW chargers instead of the early slower 50 kW chargers

We hope this account of our trip, which we completed without major problems, will help readers to realise that electric cars can venture outside urban areas and are suitable for long-distance travel. We were encouraged by the installation of fast chargers in many locations and plans for more. As people in country areas travel longer distances than urban drivers, they have the most to gain from the low running costs of electric vehicles.

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David Waterworth

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

David Waterworth has 719 posts and counting. See all posts by David Waterworth