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The Whistler

Blue Mountains   -  Australia

TECHNOLOGY

Range anxiety in an Electric Car

November 12th, 2010
in The Whistler’s second edition

Range anxiety is something electric car drivers may face occasionally — like the Sydney couple who almost reached Wentworth Falls recently, but had to abandon their Mitsubishi i-MiEV in a side street as its battery was about to run out of juice.

“Had we not had the i-MiEV on loan, and had instead paid $65,000 for the vehicle, we might not have kept our senses of humour about the experience,” blogged Michael Adams, whose family was chosen to live in the Smart Home in Sydney’s Olympic suburb of Newington.

The home was created by EnergyAustralia and Sydney Water “to road test exactly what it’s like to live in a home embracing the power of environmental design, hi-tech appliances and new energy technology.”

Clare Joyce, Michael Adams and their daughter Ava, aged 4½, were chosen from 160 families from as far away as New York and Sweden to live in the Smart Home for a year and write a blog about it.

Having covered the Return of the Electric Car in its first edition, Whistler was keen to learn more. Especially about what the Smart Home family calls ‘range anxiety’ — the fear that your electric vehicle won’t make it to the next recharge socket.

“Having had the i-MiEV for a week or so, Clare and I have taken it on a few short test drives, chiefly from Newington to Sydney and back again,” reports Michael in their blog. “It has performed this 30km or so round-trip like a champ, handling almost exactly as a petrol-run hatchback would.”

So the couple decided to drive it from Newington to Blackheath where their daughter Ava had spent a week of her school holidays with her grandparents. EnergyAustralia had installed a 240v/15amp socket at Clare’s parents’ place in Blackheath so they could recharge the i-MiEV for the return trip.

After more than eight hours of charging in their Newington Smart Home, they started off with the digital indicator that predicts range showing 102km; but with 90km of road between Newington and Blackheath, they felt confident.

“Heading along the M4, everything was going according to plan,” says Michael. “We were averaging 90km/h, occasionally hitting 110km/h when the speed limit permitted, and the range indicator still showed a comfortable buffer between getting to Blackheath and running out of juice…

“By the time we were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in Woodford, the result of the long-term widening of the Great Western Highway, the i-MiEV had just 15km left on the dial. We had at least twice that to go. We were gonna miss, and not by a mere kilometre either.

“We saw out our last few kilometres in bumper-to-bumper traffic caused by a lane closure. Much of the road is enclosed by concrete barriers so there’s no shoulder to pull (or push) onto. If the i-MiEV totally carked it we’d have to push it a long way or it would completely block the Great Western Highway for as long it took someone to move us. With heavy traffic, wet weather and it being a long weekend, that could be hours. And would make us very unpopular with our fellow motorists.

“We made it into the side street and parked the i-MiEV.

“Then we trudged into Wentworth Falls, fortunate to get a break in the rain, and had a nice lunch at an Italian place while we waited for Clare’s dad to pick us up. We called EnergyAustralia to tell them that all had not gone according to plan.

“The rest of the weekend was fun, though we were car-less and had to return to Sydney on the train.”

The i-MiEV was sent off for tests to ensure the battery storage and charge is working correctly.

Summing up, Michael says: “Clearly, the i-MiEV’s range needs to be more reliable. If the display reads 102km, you need to know you can get that distance in most circumstances. The 70km we got wasn’t even close — and that was without the air-con or stereo on.

“Further, while we’d figured that the electricity to charge the car four times to cover 400km costs about one-quarter the price of the petrol required by our Honda Jazz to cover the same distance, that saving diminishes if in reality you have to charge the car six or seven times.”

It’s good that EnergyAustralia is allowing their Smart Home Family to report their new technology experiences so candidly. This is a testing time for electric cars in Australia and only by putting them to everyday use will any kinks be corrected.

Our earlier story on electric cars noted how Simon Hackett drove a Tesla Roadster 501 kilometres on one charge of its battery.

The Whistler thanks EnergyAustralia and the bloggers for permission to reproduce the blog contents.


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