CHARGING AHEAD: Margaret McDonald rechargers her Hyundai Kona at Euroa, Victoria, where a different system to NSW requires you to download and use an app to recharge.
CHARGING AHEAD: Margaret McDonald rechargers her Hyundai Kona at Euroa, Victoria, where a different system to NSW requires you to download and use an app to recharge. Alison Houston

Early adopter highlights the green behind the grey

MARGARET McDonald is a pioneer of sorts - one of a relative handful of Australians who own fully electric cars.

An RMIT ABC Fact Check report in June found just 0.2 per cent of new cars sold in Australia are electric and that we have the lowest sale rates of any developed OECD country.

Concerned about the environmental future for her children and grandchildren, and inspired by attending last year's Sydney's Antidote Festival of Ideas, Action and Change, Margaret, from Erina on NSW's Central Coast, took delivery of her new Hyundai Kona in August.

She has also installed solar panels in her home and moved to a vegetarian diet three days a week in order to reduce her carbon footprint.

The 74-year-old also demonstrated at the school climate change protest in The Domain, has reduced her air travel and become more aware of recycling.

That includes never buying bottled water and rejecting takeaway coffee unless she has her "keep cup” with her.

"I just think about my grandchildren and what an awful thing we are leaving for them,” Margaret said.

With too many politicians having ignored the environmental consequences of fossil fuel reliance and the need to invest in alternatives, she said she believed it was up to every individual to do what they could.

Recognising the prudence of waiting until the cost of electric cars came down and there was greater infrastructure available, Margaret nevertheless decided that with limited driving years ahead, and change unlikely until more people purchase the cars, she would take the step to electric.

"I feel a little glow when I go out, knowing I am not causing any pollution,” Margaret said.

And she allows herself the occasional snigger as she watches the rising petrol prices to which she is now completely immune.

Margaret also is electricity bill-free, with the 20 solar panels she has installed in her home providing three times more electricity than she uses, and contributing back to the grid.

But she admits the initial outlay for both the panels and the car were significant, and a lot more planning is currently required to travel long distances to ensure a suitable recharging stop is available.

Margaret said her SUV-style Kona was about $65,000, but has a far greater range (450km) than the smaller alternative Ioniq (230km).

With a charger installed in her garage, she has not had a problem getting around the Coast - only recharging twice in five weeks - but decided in September to test out a longer distance, driving to Bacchus Marsh in Victoria to visit her sister - a round trip of 2288km.

She discovered the Plugshare app which allowed her to type in the vehicle make and her destination and showed all suitable charging stations along the route.

Much like mobile phones, she said, not all chargers suit all cars, with many aimed at the more expensive Tesla brand.

She explained there were three ways to charge an electric car: a DC fast-charger takes 30-60 minutes depending on how low the battery is; an AC charger takes nine hours to fully charge; and the portable charger (suitable for any household socket) takes 24 hours to recharge.

The NRMA has installed free DC fast-charging stations near parks and tourist information centres in country areas, and the RACV at highway service stations (requiring a ChargeFox App to use).

However, Margaret said she was surprised to find large towns like Wagga Wagga and Goulburn did not have chargers to suit her car, while in Canberra you have to apply for a swipe card which can take 5-10 days.

Another issue which Margaret hadn't counted on was that the car's range changes with the environment, so travelling at higher speeds and climbing the escarpment from Nowra to Jugiong drained her battery far faster than general driving.

"I was panic-stricken for a while,” she said, but remembered an article she had read and slowed her speed sufficiently to get to the charge point with about 50km to spare.

"As I had drained the battery to such a low point, it took 60 minutes to re-charge so I took the opportunity to have a cup of coffee and lunch,” she said.

She reflected that this was another bonus of the electric car, forcing her to take rest stops rather than continuing driving tired as she might otherwise have done.

She did run into other problems on the way, including using the Victorian app, but said the return journey was uneventful as she had become accustomed to the process.

"It was quite an adventure and a bit stressful at times but that is mostly to do with the lack of infrastructure,” Margaret said, with ranges of 170-265km between chargers.

For everyday driving around the Coast, she said the electric car was comfortable, easy to use, so quiet she sometimes forgot it was running, and had no exhaust or heat from the engine. She has no regrets about her purchase, and says for the sake of a little extra planning and keeping an eye on the range, it is a positive step.


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