Can You Really Charge All Around NZ In An EV?

Good infrastructure is seen as essential to the promotion of EV sales and use in NZ. 

image PAUL SHERLEY/BMW NZ

[David Linklater - Stuff - 30 Jan 2019]

The latest round of the Government's Low Emission Vehicles Contestable Fund has once again thrown the spotlight on New Zealand's charging infrastructure.

The fund, which provides up to $7 million per year to contribute up to half of project costs to promote the uptake of Electric Vehicles (EVs), named Ngai Tahu Tourism as one of its recipients.

Partnering with ChargeNet, Ngai Tahu will install DC fast chargers at key tourist spots including Franz Josef Glacier, Queenstown and Glenorchy.

Good infrastructure is seen as essential to the promotion of EV sales and use in NZ. 

But as we stand right now, today, is it possible to drive around the country in an EV without drama - not just on the main roads, but wherever you might want to go?

A modern EV like the Hyundai Ioniq (NZ's best-selling pure-electric) can do 200km between charges.

We're talking about a plug-in that can do 200km on a charge, which is pretty do-able for a modern EV like the BMW i3, Hyundai Ioniq or Volkswagen e-Golf.

Many older EVs (OK, used-import Nissan Leafs) won't have that kind of range, but let's not scupper the project from the start. Remember, we're talking about getting more EVs on the road in the future and we want the most modern, as they'll be the ones that have the longest life as used cars further down the track (assuming the track has a charge station at the end of it).

Anyway, that 200km-range road-trip question: the answers are definitely yes... and sort of yes.

Big road trips are very do-able in a modern. We've done them. Image DAMIEN O'CARROLL/STUFF

Asking how many charge stations there are in NZ and where, is a bit like asking how long a piece of string is. You can charge an EV anywhere there's electricity.

The PlugShare website lists 555 individual charging points in NZ, covering virtually the entire country.

But that list includes everything from the fastest DC stations to caravan plugs at out-of-the-way camping grounds

PlugShare's map of NZ. We're pretty well covered.

So that "definitely yes" applies to those EV early adopters who are determined and happy to make road trips an adventure. Those people who have the right (and tested, safe) cables to charge it at a camping ground and are happy to go and have many, many cups of tea or do a bushwalk while their car charges; the 16 amp points at a camping ground (household power is 10 amp in NZ) will charge an EV in 4-8 hours, depending on the model.

For the rest of us who don't want to make trips more about the car than the destination, a better question is how extensive the network of fast chargers is. Because they allow you to power up an EV to around 80 percent in less than half an hour and that seems a reasonable compromise between practicality and saving the planet.

Again, there are many providers, but undoubtedly ChargeNet (which is also in partnership with BMW NZ for its main network) has provided the spine of our country's EV infrastructure.

DC fast-charge stations will get an EV up to 80 percent power in less than half an hour. Image: DAVID UNWIN/FAIRFAX NZ.

It has over 100 stations nationwide (expansion is ongoing) and if you're sticking to the main highways, you can absolutely drive all over NZ in a modern EV (and maybe even one that's not so modern if you're brave.) The company aims to prove that point every year with its toe-to-tip Leading the Charge EV rally.*

The holes in the network are relatively few.

The furthest north is Pukenui, just 60km from Cape Reinga. South it's Invercargill, and even if you want to go to the more desolate-looking (charger-wise we mean) places on the map, Tuatapere is achievable as a return trip (160km); even though there's no DC facility in Manapouri or Te Anau, it's a maximum 160km round trip from the nearest station in Lumsden.

Hopefully, charging infrastructure will grow and keep pace with EV uptake. Image: RENEE CLAYTON

So where would a normal motorist dare not go in a EV? Te Kuiti to New Plymouth (170km) would have you in Eco mode and a spin around East Cape (160km/170km each side from the station in Te Araroa) would be a bit nerve-wracking. Hawera to Palmerston North is 160km. But it's all possible.

The biggest gaps are on the West Coast of the South Island. If you've got a hankering to drive from Christchurch to Hokitika or Greymouth over Arthur's Pass (who wouldn't?), you're going to need an EV with a big range (Hyundai Kona Electric, any kind of Tesla) because it's 230km but you have to conquer the Alps. What charge you lose going up, you don't gain coming down; only about a third of it.

Even more of a challenge is Hokitika to Wanaka: 420km and not a DC charger in sight.

Although Franz Josef Glacier, the proposed site of Ngai Tahu's new ChargeNet station, will splice that trip into 135km/285km increments. Bit of a stretch on the last bit, but who knows?

Point is, we're almost there with the bare bones and the network will hopefully flesh out to meet whatever increase in national EV fleet we experience.

[David Linklater - Stuff - 30 Jan 2019]

* Correction to above article: The "Leading The Charge Great EV Road Trip" is owned by the Better NZ Trust, and is not, and has never been, owned by ChargeNet NZ Limited. Better NZ Trust is very grateful for the ongoing sponsorship and support it receives from ChargeNet, which helps enable the Better NZ Trust to carry out its primary goal of promoting electric vehicles to New Zealanders. 


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  • Richard Moylan
    commented 2019-01-31 21:57:38 +1300
    Even easier returning due to net drop in elevation.
  • Richard Moylan
    commented 2019-01-31 21:55:54 +1300
    Enjoyed driving IONIQ from Christchurch to Greymouth last weekend. Stayed overnight at Jacksons Retreat which is a top rated camping ground with glow worms and waterfall. Charged from 75% to 91% in Darfield (ie +16%) and arrived with 34km/16% spare.