Electric vehicles (EVs) are revolutionising the motoring industry. In 2020, more than 3.2 million new electric vehicles were sold globally, representing a 43% surge in growth. Closer to home, 6,900 electric cars were sold in Australia, a 2.7% increase from 2019.

While the uptake in Australia is slow, the idea is growing on us. Close to 60% of consumers surveyed by the Electric Vehicle Council said they would consider making a switch to EV for their next car choice.

Is the world of EVs new to you? Here’s what you need to know to make sense of it all.

What are the different types of electric vehicles?

Battery electric, hybrid electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are all powered by electricity, but they’re not all the same.

Battery electric vehicle (BEV)

These cars run purely on electricity, so there’s no petrol or diesel involved. They don’t produce emissions and the battery capacity determines the driving range. BEVs are quiet, cost-efficient and eco-friendly, but they are currently more expensive to buy than a comparable petrol fuelled car.

Hybrid electric vehicle (HEV)

HEVs run on both petrol and electricity. They have an electric motor and a petrol engine, which is controlled by an internal computing system. When you start driving, the electric motor kicks in, then the petrol engine takes over as you accelerate.

In a hybrid, the battery is recharged while you drive via a process called regenerative braking, so it’s always ready to go without ever needing to be plugged in. You still need to fill up with petrol, but your fuel economy is much better because the internal combustion engine shuts off during complete stops.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV)

Just like a HEV, a PHEV is powered by fuel and electricity. The difference is the battery is charged independently via a plug-in outlet or charging station. These cars will typically run on electricity for 50-60km before the petrol engine takes over to increase the car’s range. A PHEV also makes use of regenerative braking.

The benefits of owning an EV

While charging infrastructure and the upfront cost of purchasing an electric vehicle is still proving to be a purchase barrier in Australia, the benefits of EVs are clear:

Lower running costs 

Although EVs are more expensive up front, they are much cheaper to run. The cost of electricity required to charge an EV is around 40% less than the cost to use petrol for a similar sized vehicle. The cost will be lower again if you charge your EV from a solar PV system or at a charging station. In the lifetime of an EV, the savings could be substantial.

Cheaper to maintain 

Electric vehicles have far fewer moving parts than a conventional petrol or diesel car, which means they cost less to maintain.

Reduced gas emissions

Electric vehicles produce no exhaust emissions which means cleaner air for all. EVs can reduce greenhouse gas emissions even further when the vehicle is charged using renewable energy sources.

Better for your health

Less exhaust emissions entering our atmosphere is good news for our health. Improved air quality leads to fewer health problems caused by air pollution. EVs are also quieter than petrol or diesel cars, which means less noise pollution.

Enhanced energy security

As a country, we’re highly dependent on other countries for petroleum. EVs are easy to power from local renewable energy sources, which reduces our reliance on foreign oil.

Integrating EVs into the network

Plugging a large number of EVs into the grid at the same time requires a lot of power, which can impact the reliability and performance of the network during peak periods. However, if EV charging is managed effectively, it can support the grid. The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) predicts in the future, households will adapt and use EVs as a home battery, which will enable customers to sell their power back to the grid.

The key to all of this is ‘vehicle-to-grid’ technology, which will enable EVs not only to charge but also discharge and supply power to the grid. This technology is still relatively new in Australia, with only two vehicles built with this capability – the Nissan LEAF and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. Bidirectional charges are now starting to enter the market and one day could completely transform the way the grid operates.

What are we doing to support EV uptake?

We’re big supporters of the electric vehicle revolution. Some of the initiatives we’re currently involved in include deploying EV smart chargers in residential homes, rolling out electric vehicle charging stations across our network and even integrating an electric bus depot of the future with the grid.

The future potential of electric vehicles in Australia is huge. As the technology continues to evolve and EV adoption increases, it can only mean a sign of good things to come for consumers who will have access to more options, our network, and the environment.