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Australia: SA Power plugs in electric transport

CEO of SA Power Networks Rob Stobbe. Picture: Dean Martin

PARKED out the front of the landmark SA Power Networks headquarters at 1 Anzac Highway is the latest in electric cars, the Holden Volt.

It is also the latest car to join the SA Power Networks’ 660-vehicle fleet and it promises a new, extended driving range, meaning it can last hundreds of kilometres without a recharge.

The company is looking forward to assessing its impact after trialling three fully electric Mitsubishi i-MiEVs since October 2010 that have a range of 110km.

“The Volt offers an opportunity to look at the benefits of its unique extended-range electric technology,” said chief executive Rob Stobbe.

“Our employees cover more than 17 million kilometres every year in managing and maintaining the state’s electricity distribution network. So efforts to reduce our emissions have significant benefit,” he said.
SA Power Networks is making a dual assessment of the cars. The first considers price, fuel efficiency and maintenance costs. The other grapples with the likely impact of an influx of electric cars plugging into our power network.

While the typical load of a car being charged is about the same as a medium-sized airconditioner running continuously – if large numbers join our roads the impact will need careful management.

The RAA’s senior manager mobility and automotive, Mark Borlace, thinks smart meters are the answer.

They could read the best times to plug in and inform their owners, along with providing the potential for the grid to take back some of the car batteries’ power at peak periods.

The issue is unlikely to raise concern in the near future with RAA figures showing that fewer than 30 electric-only cars have been sold in South Australia in the past two years.

Mr Borlace estimates there are another 5000 hybrid cars, with dual fuel/battery propulsion, on SA roads.

Regardless, there is significant planning being done to prepare for an increasing number of electric cars in the future.

There are about 20 recharge facilities around Adelaide and the RAA has ensured its on-road mechanics are trained to handle electric car breakdowns.

The RAA also is undertaking research and development on prototypes of a transportable generator that can provide enough charge to get cars with depleted batteries on the road home again.

Mr Borlace said while the Volt could alleviate “range anxiety” he didn’t think many consumers were yet prepared to pay up to an extra $30,000 for an electric car.

The change would come once technology improved and prices fell.

“I think there will be an exponential increase in this, especially as we start to get the baby boomers in,” he said.


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