“If you build it, they will come”: Startup rolls out EV charging network connecting major Aussie cities


Evie's super fast charger. Source: Evie.

Aussie electric vehicle charging startup Evie is partnering with a US charging tech provider to build a network of super-fast EV charging stations connecting major Australian cities.

Evie is working with US-based EV Connect and its EV Cloud platform to manage 80 new charging stations over 42 sites, that would allow electric vehicle drivers to travel from Cairns to Adelaide without the fear of running out of juice.

Founded last year and backed entirely by the St Baker Energy Innovation Fund, Evie has a mission statement to “accelerate the uptake of electric cars in Australia”, founder and chief executive Chris Mills tells StartupSmart.

“The sustained takeup of EVs relies upon three key factors,” he explains.

These are the availability of EV models, the cost, and the infrastructure.

Australia represents about 4% of the global car market, Mills says, and historically EVs haven’t sold well here. This means that, while affordable models are available elsewhere, manufacturers aren’t importing them here on any real scale.

In a 2015 PwC report, Recharging the Economy, 65% of Australians surveyed saw access to charging infrastructure as their biggest barrier to purchasing an EV.

Another barrier was cost, cited by 61%, while 59% were concerned about the distance an EV could travel.

Mills says “range anxiety” is particularly pertinent in Australia, where there are long distances between the major cities.

“There is no infrastructure that alleviates the fear of running out of range, which then suppresses demand,” he says.

The theory is, if you build the infrastructure, more affordable EV models will be imported, and the three factors for EV uptake will be satisfied.

“If you build it they will come,” Mills says.

Prepared to be patient

The first phase is to roll out a network of charging sites, powered by renewable energy, connecting Australia’s Eastern capital cities. There will be an average of 150km between each site, and no more than 200km, the founder says.

There will also be some sites in Tasmania and around Perth.

Mills expects the first sites will be up and running by September or October this year.

For Evie as a business, Mills admits the network is probably not going to pay off in the short term. But, one of the good things about being backed by a tech fund is that they’re focused on long-term investment, he says.

“They’re prepared to be patient with their capital.”

Although he says he’s not a forecaster, Mills says Evie is working to a “conservative estimate” as to when the charging sites will be in frequent use.

“The infrastructure doesn’t happen overnight,” he says.

In fact, he expects the rollout to take about three years.

“By the time we’ve got sites in the ground, the takeup will pick up,” he says.

But, what about my ute?

To those who doubt the viability of EV, Mills maintains that advances in technology mean the quality, and accessibility, of sustainable options is ever increasing.

As Evie is proving, “you can certainly solve for the range”, he says.

There has also been “an evolution of chargers … of the equipment itself”, he says.

While early chargers would take three or four hours to fully charge a car, ‘fast’ 50kw chargers soon came along, offering about 50km worth of charge in 10 minutes.

The ‘ultra-fast’ chargers used in the Evie network are 350kw, meaning they offer some 350km worth of charge in 10 minutes.

“In 10 or 15 minutes, you will top your car up,” Mills says.

“And you can be on your way.”

Also, drivers don’t have to remain with the EV while it’s charging, opening up opportunities for amenities, cafes and shops at the sites.

When it comes to the great ute-vs-EV debate, Mills says people are often surprised at how much they enjoy the experience of driving an electric vehicle.

Electric vehicles have “great acceleration, great torque, great power … because they don’t have all the moving parts that a motor has, which is where you lose power.”

The cost of EVs is driven by the battery size, he explains. The bigger the battery the more expensive the vehicle.

But, as with any new technologies, battery costs will likely halve every couple of years.

The end result will be a “big variety of cars”.

Some will be designed for use in the city, others for day trips, and others, with huge batteries, will match the power of the traditional, reliable ute.

“People’s fear that they will be forced into an inferior product is unfounded,” Mills says.

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