A rollout of chargers available free-of-charge in weeny towns around Victoria will nudge the uptake of EVs, a new venture hopes.
We all know electric vehicles will replace noisy, fuming, troublesome, over-engineered petrol-powered motorships soon enough, but will Australia’s roads be dotted with sufficient charging gear to keep us from running out of juice? It’s a big country, after all.
Rather than leave it too late, a local company is working on delivering a network of charging stations in towns around Victoria in the first stage of a rollout that aims to relieve the tremors of range anxiety. If city drivers know they can charge far from home, they’ll happily take to the roads and tour the state.
“I’m a bit of a car enthusiast and I’ve been watching the EV space with some interest and noticed the charging infrastructure was going very much the way of the internet and before that mobile phone companies, where it goes to the most populous places first and foremost and regional Australia gets left behind,” says Linga founder Adrian Kinderis, raised in Wodonga and a sometime resident of Whorouly.
Having observed that EV charging infrastructure is being built “solely” on government funds, Kinderis decided to pitch a model where drivers charge for free. “There is no return on investment,” he says. “The boxes are very expensive, the electricity is very cheap.”
The objective is to build a “cooperative network”, where carmakers, electricity companies and local councils take a collaborative approach to supply something they know will be needed tomorrow if not today.
“There are two entities that stand to benefit the most from EVs rolling out: the car manufacturers and the electricity companies,” Kinderis says. “We work with them to get the kit – in cash or in kind – and then we go to councils in townships to get that kit installed.”
Come as you are
Kinderis, who created some independent wealth over the past decade in IT deals, is paying for some of the project from his own funds.
“We have no monetisation model; it’s sounds like bullshit rhetoric, I know. But it isn’t. This isn’t philanthropic. Ultimately I’ll own the network, but at the moment it is free to use,” he says. “We just want people to engage and spend time in the township.”
In the racy world of EV charging the Linga model is hardly in pole position. The 22kW dual-port three-phase AC chargers deployed by Linga so far in Rainbow and Nhill, western Victoria, will take a minimum of an hour to get an extra 10-15% charge into a battery.
“We understand there are limitations to AC but AC is a stepping-stone solution,” he says. “DC is where it’s at but unfortunately DC infrastructure to purchase and install is very, very expensive.”
The ambition is to build a destination top-up charging network, with stations no farther than 100km distant from one another, with a target of 53 installed in Victoria by the middle of the year. “We want to put as many dots on the map as we can,” he says, with the expectation that Linga’s carmaker partners will show the network to prospective EV buyers as a way to allay fears of range anxiety.
Stay a while
It’s a hub-and-spoke approach, he says, where metropolitan DC fast-charge networks built by other companies will service the masses who will then call on Linga’s chargers when they venture out on Victoria’s tourist trails. “People are then encouraged to interact with the township that they’re in,” he says. “It’s the reason we’re working with councils and not with private enterprise. It’s about trying to get people to head out to these regional centres to provide some economic stimulus via the tourism our network will support.”
Linga hasn’t sought government funds but Kinderis (who doesn’t own an EV … yet) says if and when that happens it will be via the councils, to help subsidise installations. In the meantime, the electricity drivers draw into their batteries will be supplied free by councils – from the grid.
“We take whatever they’ve got,” he says of the electricity supplied, pointing out that Linga is on the lookout for green energy partners in the long term. “Where it is an opportunity we would like to see green energy used.”
If all goes to plan the bright green chargers will become as expected across country towns as toilet blocks or park benches.
Councils that offer motorists the carrot of free electricity in return for some hoped-for discretional spending would only complicate matters by charging a few bucks. Drivers will know a half-hour tank-filling fast-charge in the city only costs about $20, so the expectation of paying for an AC top-up might sound like “penny pinching”.
Linga’s carmaker partners so far include Jaguar, Land Rover, VW, Skoda and BMW. “The motor industry is very insular, but we’re trying to get them to work together. This notion of charge anxiety can go away very quickly with a small investment from all of them.”
Data collected via the Schneider smart boxes will allow for optimal augmentation of the network as it matures.