With increasingly affordable options available and battery sizes and ranges on the rise, electric cars are becoming more of a mainstay in the Australian car industry.
We’re past debating the merits of the cars themselves – we know they’re up to the task, and they’re only going to improve – but questions remain about charging them.
Specifically, prospective buyers without off-street parking available may be pondering whether or not public charging is a viable option in Australia, given we're often told our infrastructure is lagging behind the rest of the world.
Plus, the idea of hanging an extension cord out the window of your bedroom and onto the street isn't exactly appealing.
So, to find out what electric car ownership is like if you don’t have a dedicated wall box in your garage, or even a driveway with a wall socket, we decided to hit the streets of Melbourne in the Nissan Leaf.
Priced from $49,990 plus on-road costs, the Leaf has 270km of range, uses a ChaDeMo plug, has a 40kWh battery and can receive up to 50kWh of charging power.
In our adventures, we trialled everything from 11kW boxes in basement carparks, to the whiz-bang new DC chargers at Airport West. And we never once fell back on a garage charger or a wall socket.
Below, we rate the various chargers, celebrate the wins where we can get them and highlight the challenges that remain.
Charging an electric car: a real-world diary
It's affordable: While the industry tries to encourage uptake, a lot of electric car charging is free or surprisingly cheap. The few times we had to pay, it was typically only around 40 cents per kWh for a fast charger, which roughly translates to about $3.20 to add an extra 21 per cent of battery capacity. Far cheaper than petrol!
It's uncrowded: Because electric cars are still relatively new to Australia, you'll often find the charging spaces are unoccupied, meaning there's often a designated park for you even in the most crowded of car parks.
It's a community: Apps like Plugshare are incredibly comprehensive, providing specific locations for chargers, highlighting any issues with the charging points and allowing electric car owners to check in and rate and review their experience in real-time. It's a nice community and a helpful one too!
It's city-dweller friendly: If you live in the inner-city or surrounds, there are enough stations around to feel as though you have options should you run low on battery.
It's hard to find: Finding electric car charging stations can be something of a treasure hunt. Often, they're stowed away in the basement level of a car park or obscured from view by poles, other cars or limited signage.
It's often in a paid car park: While lots of the chargers are free, they're sometimes located inside paid car parks, where two hours of parking can cost well over $25 or more. If you weren't aware of this and had no other option, this could make for a very expensive charging session.
It sometimes doesn't work: Occasionally, you'll encounter an unexpected and inexplicable issue with a charger. You'll plug it in and, for whatever reason, nothing will happen. Other times, you'll arrive at a charger to find it's under repair or inactive. This is where it's best to use apps for live updates and, failing that, ring the assistance number usually listed on the station itself.
It requires lots of apps: Because chargers are divided up between a small handful of different suppliers, you'll need a couple of different apps and accounts in order to be able to access all of them. While the industry is working on standardising plug types and payment methods across the board (more on that here), it's not quite there yet!
It can be occupied by a non-EV: By far the worst thing we saw in our travels was the small number of non-electric car owners parked in EV-charging spots, whether a result of innocent cluelessness or considered micro-aggression. There's no real enforcement of the designated areas and not much recourse available to you if it happens, which can be really frustrating.
It can be stressful: Range anxiety is real. Because electric car charging stations aren't yet as widespread as petrol stations, it's impossible to be as carefree as you would be in a regular car. Whether you want to or not, you're constantly planning your days or driving routes around your next charge, with a number of contingency plans as well in case plan A doesn't work out. This becomes an even greater issue if you don't live centrally or near the CBD, because chargers tend to become thin on the ground once you leave more urban surrounds.
It can be inaccessible: Very occasionally, a charger will be listed that's inaccessible to the general public. It could be in an ultra-expensive valet car park, a staff car park or a car park for hotel guests only. It pays to read the fine print on your chosen charging station app to see if there are any barriers before you commit to driving to your location.
It's easier if you have a Tesla: It's hard not to resent Tesla owners. You'll notice pretty quickly just how many charging stations they have at their disposal and how, miraculously, they seem to be working especially when your regular charger isn't. Tesla chargers aren't available to non-Tesla electric cars, so you'll be stuck glaring at that Model 3 as it tops up at a Supercharger while you frantically scroll through Google Maps for another option.
Electric car chargers in Melbourne
Hit the points on the map below to see an individual review for each charger we tried.