Australian electric car owners insulated from rising global fuel prices

The benefits of owning an electric vehicle far outweigh the drawbacks for households making the transition to a fossil-free life

While the rest of the country has been slow to get started on the transition to cleaner energy, Mike Westerman’s household is unique for being nearly fossil-fuel free.

The 64-year-old hydro engineer from Queensland has so far converted his water and stovetop to electric, installed 6kW worth of solar on his roof – with another 6kW to come – disconnected the gas line and owns three electric vehicles driven by two generations.

“I don’t think it was that hard,” Westerman says. “It was a mental thing. Once you decide to do it, you find a way of doing it and then you find the benefits are so attractive compared to the dis-benefits, you’re glad you did it.”

“It’s also a testament as to how contagious driving an EV can be.”

Westerman says it was not intentional to have three electric vehicles – soon to be a fourth – spread across two generations but it began when he and his wife imported their first second-hand car from Japan in 2019: a mint green 2017 ZE1 Nissan Leaf for $36k.

When it arrived, Westerman says his eldest daughter, who was saving for a house, took notice.

Mike Westerman’s driveway in Brisbane with three electric cars.
Mike Westerman’s driveway in Brisbane with three electric cars. Photograph: Mike Westerman

His middle daughter watched her elder sibling “liberate” the first vehicle and claimed the next car they imported in 2021: a $21k silver 2016 ZE0 Nissan Leaf.

“As soon as she saw the first one, and saw her elder sister had nicked the first one, she said, ‘The next one we import has got to be for me. Not for you guys,’” Westerman says. “We went along with it – we must be soft parents, I think.”

The family’s third EV – a $38k dark blue ZE1 2018 Nissan Leaf – was bought in November 2021 but Westerman says they’ve since bought a BYD Atto 3 for longer trips and heavy lifting.

Meanwhile, their old petrol car, a 2006 Honda Odyssey which has done 300kms, will be sold for scrap. When it goes, the only petrol car left will belong to his youngest son.

Westerman says the smell of petrol is gone from his home and fuel costs have been eliminated from the household budget.

Westerman’s eldest daughter was once spending nearly $80 a week in fuel, or nearly $100 a week when prices recently spiked to over $2.20 a litre. She now pays nearly nothing as she charges the car with solar panels on her roof.

“She was laughing,” he says.

And she is not alone. The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics household spending numbers released on Tuesday revealed Australians were still spending record amounts on petrol.

According to ABS figures for July, Australians’ spending on transport (mostly driven by fuel costs) increased by more than a third – or 35.4%.

Ajaya Haikerwal, clean transport campaigner from Solar Citizens, which represents the interests of solar owners, said running electric vehicles off solar was 97.96% cheaper than a petrol-equivalent model over 100km at current petrol prices.

“Petrol prices have rocketed sky-high since the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Haikerwal said. “If we had EVs— especially those run through home solar — we wouldn’t be dangerously vulnerable to foreign oil prices and availability.”

Solar Citizens have published a calculator that enables users to compare the running costs of petrol cars to two electric vehicle models. More EV models are expected to be added shortly.

Electric vehicles incur a high upfront cost but lower running costs over time when paired with solar panels, as they have fewer parts and need fewer repairs and less servicing.


Royce Kurmelovs

The GuardianTramp

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