Electric vehicles set to take charge
Electric vehicles set to take charge
It’s March 2013 and Don McPhail is cruisin’ the Arizona highways enjoying the sunny spring time weather.
There’s hardly a sound, just the rush of wind, the songs on the radio and the slight whirr of the air conditioner as he motors along Interstate 17.
It’s another weekend road trip but it’s not your normal time on the tar.
Don’s an engineer and he’s actually working, well sort of.
Over the next few months he’ll drive about a dozen different electric cars, testing the road feel and handling of these strange, QUIET, new vehicles.
“I was really lucky.
“I was working at a company called Ecotality which was at the time the world’s largest EV (Electric Vehicle) infrastructure company.
“I had the chance to take an EV home on weekends and I’d drive lots of miles in it.”
Fast forward almost three years and Don McPhail is back where his engineering adventure began.
Ergon Energy is where Don worked in the formative part of his engineering life after accepting a graduate role straight out of University.
From those early days he spread his wings overseas, working in London, the Netherlands and the US before coming back to Ergon in mid-2013.
“I’ve always liked the big stuff and found research and work in renewable energy really interesting.
“Working at Ergon has allowed me to gravitate towards the bigger projects and the future for things like EV is an exciting one.”
It’s a future which has received a lot of attention and financial clout from the likes of tech mogul Elon Musk.
Musk talks of a future not too far away where his Tesla EVs not only travel long distances, but can be summoned to meet you remotely, even charging itself along the way.
But for our own "Mr EV" it's all about ensuring Ergon is a leader in the ongoing development of electric vehicle technology.
As Ergon doesn't build cars, what role can it play in the future of EV?
Quite a big one if you ask Don McPhail.
“Ergon needs to pay close attention to the development of EV technology in Australia.
“While the market is small in Queensland (just some thousand or so plug in vehicles across the state with more than 15-thousand hybrid vehicles) we need to be proactive and part of the journey to make sure we can respond to changes in consumer demand.
“The industry is still very much on the periphery here and it’s only now that manufacturers are starting to cater to what the consumers want and move away from the small, lightweight vehicles.”
There’s been a number of examples of the lightweight, compact electric car hitting the market in Australia, but nothing has been produced to cater to the ever growing, ever popular family car.
That is until now.
Mitsubishi has responded to customer demand with an upgraded hybrid (electric/petrol) family SUV which is the first of its type in Australia.
For Don McPhail, it’s a sign of things to come in a rapidly and exciting changing landscape.
“In the future batteries will be higher density, have longer life and EVs will have all the mod cons of petrol vehicles.
“The big difference will be there will be more choice in the market with those looking to buy a four wheel drive, a family sedan or even a ute catered for.
“As the second hand market comes into its own in the next few years, buying an EV will become more affordable and that will see a larger percentage of the population at least consider it as an option.”
Queensland is a big state and having the infrastructure to provide charge point locations in convenient locations is still a challenge to overcome.
Plans for an EV Superhighway remain some way off but not insurmountable.
“As a concept it’s important to bring together all those with an interest in EV technology. From local councils providing charge points, to Queensland Transport and Main Roads, energy providers like us to car dealers and of course manufacturers, everyone needs to be on the same page.
“In the meantime I can see a strong uptake in the next decade in South East Queensland. The Toowoomba to Brisbane to Hervey Bay area will become a mini-hub while larger regional areas like Townsville and Cairns will also show strong growth.
“Electric vehicles have the chance to be at the forefront of automobile technology.
“It’s logical to think that with all the effort going in to the development of EVs, that manufacturers would use it as a pre-cursor to the advancement of driver-less cars.
But for now, staying behind the wheel and driving Ergon’s EV agenda is what it’s all about and Don McPhail is more than happy to look back on a career which to date, has taken him around the world and back home to Queensland.
All, it’s worth noting, by the age of 28.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have some really great experiences working on a number of very exciting projects all over the world and while driving EVs in the US on massive motorways on the wrong side of the road was fun, my goal now is to keep Ergon involved at the pointy end of the development of what is rapidly changing technology so when it does take off, and it will, we are ready to lead from the front.”