Electric Vehicles: What are they and how do they work?

Around the world, electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming a popular option for both tech enthusiasts and the environmentally conscious. And while EVs haven’t managed to penetrate the Australian market as much as they have elsewhere, experts say it’s only a matter of time before the share of EVs on Australia’s roads increases. Below, we look at some of the most common questions surrounding EVs, as well as the main obstacles to their uptake. 

What are electric vehicles?

Put simply, EVs are vehicles that are powered at least partially by electricity. There are different classifications of EV, depending on how much they rely on electricity as a source of power. 

Hybrid vehicles combine the engine of a conventional vehicle (one that requires petrol) with an electric motor, while vehicles that are completely powered by electricity discard the engine altogether. 

Because of this, they’re often strikingly silent. In fact, many countries require EVs to be equipped with noise synthesisers so they don’t startle pedestrians in places like shopping centre parking lots.

Electric motors are also much more efficient than your typical car’s engine, thanks to what’s known as regenerative braking. This allows the vehicle to convert the kinetic energy that’s produced when braking (which would otherwise be wasted in other vehicles) into chemical energy, which is then stored and used to charge the battery.

What are the types of electric vehicles?

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs)

BEVs derive all their power from electricity, meaning they produce no emissions (in fact, they don’t even have a tailpipe). Rechargeable battery packs are used to power an electric motor, instead of the internal combustion engine of a typical car. 

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs)

HEVs combine the internal combustion engine of a petrol or diesel-powered car with an electric propulsion system, making them a midway point between conventional vehicles and all-electric vehicles. They are the most common form of EV on Australian roads.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)

Like Hybrid Electric Vehicles, PHEVs utilise both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor. Where they differ is that you can charge the battery by plugging into an external power source. When you’re on the road, the vehicle will rely on the batteries for the most part, switching over to the petrol engine only once they’ve been depleted.

What are the advantages of having an electric vehicle?

Better for the environment

While hybrid vehicles still produce emissions, as they run partly on petrol, they do so at a much lower rate than regular vehicles. Battery electric vehicles are even better, as they don’t produce any emissions at all. Overall, EVs mark a pretty important step in the push to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality, and reduce our dependence on petroleum. 

Lower running costs

EVs are a lot cheaper to operate than petrol-powered vehicles. According to a report by the NSW government’s Future Transport 2056 initiative, the average driver travelling 13,700 kms a year stands to save $1,000 in fuel per year, or $1,200 if they’re able to recharge their vehicle overnight on an off peak tariff.

What are the disadvantages of having an electric vehicle?


Because the technology is still relatively new, EVs tend to cost a lot more than petrol powered vehicles, and reports say it will take until at least the mid-2020s for prices to level out. The exorbitant price tags are often cited as the main obstacle to electric vehicle uptake right now. 

Range anxiety

With public charging stations few and far between, many EV drivers experience what’s known as ‘range anxiety’ — the fear that they’ll run out of power when driving long distances. But when you consider that most EVs can cover 100-150 km on a single charge, much more than the average person travels in a day, this fear starts to seem a little unfounded. 

Limited charging infrastructure

The fact that Australia is quite limited in its charging infrastructure has also dampened customer confidence in EVs. Currently, there are only around 800 public charging stations in the country. 

Earlier this year, a report by Infrastructure Australia identified the need to increase the number of charge stations in Australia as a high priority. After all, if we want electric vehicles to catch on, there will need to be a robust network of charging facilities available to service them. 

How many EVs are in Australia?

As of 2019, there are approximately 2,300 EVs on Australian roads, a pretty paltry number when you consider the popularity of EVs in other countries. 

In Norway, for example, there are more than 290,000 registered EVs, or the US, where a total of 361,307 EVs were sold in 2018 alone. Even our much smaller neighbour New Zealand has around 13,500 light-duty EVs on its roads.

But that's not to say the future of EVs doesn’t look bright for Australians. Experts are optimistic that those numbers will increase in the future. The report from Infrastructure Australia estimates that EVs will account for 70% of new vehicle sales and 30% of all vehicles in Australia by 2040.

What incentives are there for owning an electric vehicle?

Right now, there aren’t many government policies in place to incentivise owning an EV, which is a big reason why we haven’t seen anywhere near the scale of adoption that other countries have seen. 

Compared to Norway, which has the largest EV ownership per capita thanks to an array of government initiatives, Australia hasn’t done all that much to make the purchase of EVs economically beneficial for owners. Here’s what current policies look like:

  • In Victoria, EV owners will receive a $100 discount on their annual registration.
  • In the Australian Capital Territory, EV owners will receive a 20% discount on their annual registration, and will have their stamp duty reduced to $0.
  • In NSW, EV drivers benefit from lower rates of motor vehicle tax.
  • In Queensland, EV drivers receive toll and parking discounts.

How much do electric vehicles cost?

As mentioned above, EVs tend to be quite pricey. Most will set you back at least $60,000, with several models costing upwards of $100,000. There are, however, a handful in the $40,000 to $50,000 range. Currently, the cheapest models available in Australia are the Hyundai Ioniq Electric, the Renault Zoe, and the Nissan Leaf, which all come in at under $50,000. 

While they’re likely to be much cheaper in the future, EVs are very much a luxury item at the moment. For a more in-depth look, a 2018 report from ClimateWorks Australia includes a breakdown of EVs available in Australia by cost.

So if you’re in the market for an EV and are thinking about taking out a loan to pay for it, you’ll be glad to know that some banks and providers offer green car loans. These are loans specifically for environmentally-friendly cars, and will get you much lower rates than your typical loan. The loans.com.au Clean Green Car Loan or the Bank First Green Car Loan are just two examples.

Charging your EV

All EVs come equipped with a plug which allows it to connect to a wall socket, similar to any other electrical appliance you might have in your house. But that’s not the only way to charge your electric vehicle. Here’s a rundown of all the ways to bring your car to full power.

Level 1 chargers

Level 1 chargers are your standard electrical outlets. They won’t charge your car very quickly, so it’s best to plug your EV in and charge it overnight. While most households should be able to charge your car without a problem, a professional will need to confirm that the existing wiring in your home can handle the job, and make any upgrades if necessary. 

Level 2 chargers

Level 2 chargers are much more powerful than your regular electrical outlet, as they’re designed specifically for use by electric vehicles. They can be found out in public - for example, in some shopping centre parking lots - but they can also be installed at your home. 

Level 3 chargers

Level 3 chargers are the public charging stations that charge your car extremely quickly - typically in 10-30 minutes - and use a lot more power to do so. The Tesla Supercharger network is just one example of a level 3 charger.

If you’re wondering how much charging your EV will run up your energy bill, be sure to try out our energy cost calculator for an idea. And if you're on the lookout for a new energy provider, check out the selection below, or have a browse of our electricity comparison page.


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