Electric vehicle charging stations are located right across Australia but in many locations there are only one or two outlets, experts say, and that needs to change if people are to avoid lengthy queues next summer.
Significant government investment in regional EV infrastructure is the key to ending the frustrations many holidaymakers have experienced over the past few weeks, a number of charging companies have said.
But other businesses are more optimistic and believe the queues reported in late December and early January won’t be as bad by 2024 because they are clearly demonstrating where more chargers are needed.
Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup
The NRMA, which manages 55 charging stations across New South Wales, reported a 50% increase in demand during the first week of January. The increase was even higher at the busiest locations in Homebush and Mittagong.
“It has obviously led to delays – it is going to take time to build the network to a point where you see a drop in these delays,” NRMA spokesperson Peter Khoury said.
“The challenge is getting the charging stations in the right location, getting them working, but also making sure we can scale up in the right places when we need to.”
The NSW government is promising to build more than 1,000 charging stations for electric vehicles under a four-year plan that would create the most extensive network in the country.
BP Pulse has 22 fast-charging stations across Australia and plans to build 100 by the end of 2023. Its business development manager, Josh Hoevenaars, said the current delays indicated the increasing popularity of electric vehicles.
“At the moment we’ve got a fairly vast network of charging stations, but it is quite shallow,” Hoevenaars said.
“It covers most of Australia but lots of locations only have one of two chargers. Because we don’t have the depth of charging, or redundancy of charging at those locations, a lot of people have to wait. But that doesn’t happen very often throughout the year, only on one or two days at peak periods.”
Luke Chippindale, the general manager of the Caravan Industry Association of Australia, said some holidaymakers delayed their return home by up to eight hours due to an inability to access charging stations.
“We know that a lot of the charging infrastructure is based on downtime, where people have the ability to pull up for a night,” Chippindale said.
“But from a tourism perspective, when you start to look at range anxiety and battery capabilities, the reliance on a fast-charge network is really critical.”
Chippindale is lobbying governments to invest in fast-charging stations at regional caravan sites. He hopes this will encourage more electric vehicle drivers to travel longer distances with confidence.
“It’s a way to make sure we keep people moving across the country, to keep people visiting the areas they love to visit and ensure there is a fairly mature charging network away from high-demand urban areas,” Chippindale said.
“We know anecdotally that people are pulling in and effectively charging for five or six hours and going for a [bike] ride during that time. There’s not much you can do to decrease the charging time without a fast charger – that brings the time down to 15 or 20 minutes.”
Michael Brewitt, the director of VE Charge, a company that installs charging stations in apartments and workplaces, said the public infrastructure in Australia was at least five years behind international standards.
“It is not financially viable for a private company to install one of these fast chargers, the return on investment is just too long at this stage. Without government help, we are not going to get enough stations installed,” he said.
But Hoevenaars said the charging market could develop quickly thanks to more competition and investment.
“I am an optimist, so I would hazard a guess that we will be in a better position next year, even with increased growth of sales, because you are seeing a lot of new entrants into the charging market and also increased investment and ambition from existing operators,” Hoevenaars said.