Posted by Franz Huber on May 30, 2019
If one ever met the proverbial engineer, that would be Lou Christeson. He gives the simple impression that he is... right on top of his vocation. His CV is impressive: 54 years in the electrical distribution industry, developing the first computerized System Control & Data Acquisition (SCADA) system in NZ, culminating in various senior positions with various Power Authorities on the NZ North Island.  And, he hastens to add: "No! I wasn't there when the 6 weeks black-out occurred in Auckland in 1998!"
Lou's principal subject was the electric car, and the feasibility of a target of 50% of passenger vehicles going electric by 2030.  The "ridiculous promises made during the recent elections" prompted him to look further into this. Yes, the efficiency of the electric motor is indisputable: petrol rates at between 15 and 30% efficiency, electricity rates at 80% efficiency.  "There's no clutch, torque converter or variable-ratio gearbox needed, it has no brushes and - apart from the bearings - no moving parts. No exhaust system, turbo charger, oil pump, distributor, air filter, pistons, valves, camshafts, catalytic converters.  And the motor acts as a brake, converting energy back into the system as you are rolling down the hill..."  All good! So, why wouldn't we simply jump to it?
Besides the high acquisition cost, the main issue seems to be the supply of electricity. A 'Supercharger' can re-charge a Tesla S for about 270 Km in 30 minutes. But a 20 point Charger Station would require a loading of 2 MW, the equivalent of what 670 houses use in average in a day!  And of course, at present there aren't too many Supercharger Stations around.  The Nissan Leaf, currently the most popular electric car, has a battery capacity of 24 KW, giving it a range of about 140 Km in summer, about 80 Km in winter (the new model has a 40 Kw battery, extending it to about 270 Km).  However, assuming that most people would recharge their cars at home, overnight: on a standard 10 Amp socket, it would take some 35 hours. OK, so all will install a 40 Amp socket. This will reduce it to about 9.5 hours.  But where will the infrastructure to supply all that electricity come from? Currently, Australia is struggling to supply its industry and households "normal" requirements. In simple terms, if 50% of households would fit a 40 Amp socket to re-charge overnight, it would require the replacement of all the power infrastructure, from massive power generators to the distribution system.
Lou also outlined some very interesting facts about renewable energy, which space doesn't permit me to outline in this summary.  You can download a copy of his speech notes from the Download Section on the right.  In summary: it would appear that the electric cars target, like so many other "pie in the sky" projects dreamed up on the back of an envelope by populist politicians and eagerly supported by the various industries which benefit from the government subsidies, hasn't been properly thought through, if at all. Or perhaps it has, but the proponents of such schemes rely on the gullibility of the "average voter".
Photo by Charles Thomasson: Col Laurenson with his friend Lou Christeson (right)