A convoy of electric cars will sweep through Northland this weekend as part of the Great EV Road Trip.
Now in its fifth year, the event designed to lift the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) has become an established part of the motoring calendar.
But what's not so well known is that the road trip, now made comfortable by the rapid expansion of a charging network, follows in the tyre tracks of a pioneer Northland EVangelist, Craig Salmon, a beekeeper from Paihia.
Way back in 2014 when only three places in New Zealand — Whangārei, Wellsford and Auckland — had chargers (the slower variety that can take up to more than four hours to power a car), Salmon took it upon himself to prove a point: that as long as there were power points, an EV could travel the entire length of the country (and back because, of course, you have to go home again).
Among the first handful of Kiwis to own an EV, a Nissan Leaf, and as a founding member of RevUp (regional EV utility project) and the Northland EV Team, Salmon has been a staunch advocate of a technology he believes can help combat climate change. Peter Shand asks him some questions.
You were a very early adopter. What motivated you to take what must have seemed a considerable risk and buy an electric car in early 2014?
"It was New Year's Day and I was sitting on a hill between Waipu and Mangawhai looking out at the oil tankers anchored Bream Bay and thought what a disaster it would be if there was an oil spill. It was then I noticed huge pylons taking megawatts of clean electricity to the oil refinery to make a dirty fossil fuel and I thought, this is crazy. So two weeks later I had an EV."
How did people react to your decision? Did anyone think you were crazy?
"They were keen to try the car and loved the torque and raciness on take-off, but many would come up with excuses why it wouldn't suit them — mainly that there was nowhere to charge. I lived off-grid as well, so doubly crazy really. I now have enough solar power coming in to charge my car so my fuel is basically free, well, until the sun stops shining."
So did they think you were a bit unhinged when you decided to attempt what no one else had done before - drive the length of NZ in an EV?
"I didn't tell anyone except a few friends at the time and they were like "go for it" I knew the limits of my car at that point, so I was confident it could be done. By the return leg a good friend had joined me and he helped with getting all sorts of media coverage and interviews with local papers as we passed through different towns and stopping to charge."
What were the challenges you faced on this, the original road trip?
"The main challenges were making sure you didn't run out of charge before getting to the next charging spot. With only 100km of range there were some hairy moments, like the West Coast road and around East Cape, but it turned out there were more camping grounds to get a charge than petrol stations. I remember coming into Nelson with nothing left at 1am. I had to unplug a coke machine and plug in for half an hour. I bought a coke to pay for the power."
What was the highlight?
"Taking the reporter from the Otago Daily Times up New Zealand's steepest street in the Nissan Leaf, in the rain and watching him grip his legs and clench his teeth. We made it no probs."
Obviously it's much easier to get around in an EV today, and you personally have played a major role in setting up charging infrastructure in Northland.
Do you think the infrastructure is keeping up with the rapid uptake of EVs, which have increased 100-fold* in the bit-over five years you've owned one?
"I think early on government's hands-off approach was lazy and unstrategic. EV charging networks need to be planned properly but it was a lack of government action, and not the business case, that spurred ChargeNet to create NZ's network. It has got better with the Low Emission Vehicle Contestable Fund and we now have a nearly complete network of fast chargers around the country. The irony is, the greater the range of the vehicle the less you generally use public chargers. There's still work to do though, in regards to network resilience, charging speed and capacity."
Northland has been streets ahead the rest of NZ in the uptake of EVs and setting up charging stations. Why do you think that is?
"Often it's a few key people that can drive change. In particular, Northland Regional Council's Joe Camuso and Russell Watson from Northpower were key advocates promoting electric vehicles at events in Whangārei. NRC and Northpower were early adopters in buying EVs and providing public charging because of Joe and Russell."
Do you think EVs will one day outnumber petrol cars?
"Totally, and much sooner than people think."
You've now travelled 100,000km in your EV. What are the three best things about owning one?
■Saving over $15,000 in fuel, and nearly 25 tonnes of CO2
■An amazing feel-good factor and driving experience
■And, personally, no more blood oil
The Better NZ Trust Leading The Charge 2019 Great EV Road Trip, supported by the Energy and Efficiency Conservation Authority, will stop for a free public event at:
Dargaville: April 25 (Anzac Day), 1-2pm at The Warehouse.
Whangārei: April 25 (Anzac Day), 3-5pm, at Canopy Bridge, Town Basin.
Kerikeri:April 26 (Friday), 4-5pm, at Kerikeri Retirement Village, Ruatara Drive.
Cape Reinga: April 27 (Saturday), 5.45-6.30pm.
Also on motoring calendar:
April 27: EVs will also be on display at the Repco Rev Up Whangārei 2019, hosted by Whangārei Rod and Custom Club, featuring anything from V8s to classics to raise funds for Whangārei Youth Space, at Cameron Street Mall, an all-day event that begins with entrants assembling at 7am.
The length-of-the-country (and back) road trip began in Auckland last month, with the first stop in Rotorua on March 28. It has since toured both coasts of the South Island and is now heading north to Cape Reinga.
*The number of electric vehicles in New Zealand has increased from a bit over 100 in 2013 to 13,052 at the end of March 2019.