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Electric vehicles take off on Lord Howe Island

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Ian Hutton, The Lord Howe Island Signal

EV van
BYD T3 on Lord Howe Island.
Photo: The LHI Signal.

In April, 2022, three more electric vehicles have arrived on Lord Howe. These are all a Chinese-made BYD van, the T3. They are powered by a 70kW electric motor, fitted with a BYD 45kWh Blade battery and have a range of about 300 kilometres. These small vans are 5 seaters, with a cargo volume of 3,800 litres, similar in size to the three Nissan NV 200 vans on the Island. This brings to twelve the total electric vehicles now in use on the island.

The first electric vehicle to come to Lord Howe Island arrived in the mid 1980’s when Jim Lacey was the administrator. The LHI Board imported a small carry van converted from a petrol engine to electric drive by Pacific Power. These were the early days of electric vehicle conversion in Australia, and the van was a bit of an oddity. After about six months it was returned to the mainland.

The next electric vehicle arrived some ten years later when, in 1995, Chris Murray, who was the local Eastern Australia Airlines agent, had talks with David Gosden, Director of Electric Vehicle Research at Sydney University. (The two met when David had been holidaying on the island). Chris approached Neil Shea, general manager of Eastern Australia Airlines about providing an electric vehicle for airline use. After a feasibility study Eastern Australia Airlines agreed to fund the purchase and conversion of a suitable vehicle for use as an airline and freight delivery vehicle.

Les Puklowski of Huntingdon Enterprises in Sydney was commissioned to supply a vehicle. Les purchased a second hand Nissan Prairie which had an ideal design to carry the amount of freight and mail to and from the airport. The front engine of the Prairie was removed and a 96 volt electric motor was fitted to the gearbox. The motor was powered by sixteen deep cycle ALCO lead acid batteries batteries.

At the time Chris calculated the running costs at 4.74 cents per kilometre, while an equivalent petrol Ford Laser cist 14.28 cents per kilometre. The vehicle, however, had some teething issues and managed to start itself and run into a tree outside Lagoon Store (now Blue Peters)! Needless to say, it was repaired and continued until 2005 when rust became a problem and the vehicle was disposed of.

In 1998, when Philip Whistler owned Capella, manager Paul Beaumont visited Tangalooma Resort off Queensland to investigate electric golf buggies, and subsequently applied to the LHI Board to import a golf buggy for trial use at Capella. The Board agreed that this proposal provided a good opportunity to prove the suitability or otherwise of this type of vehicle on the island and that the importation of a trial vehicle was justified. The Board approved the importation of the vehicle for a twelve month trial.

The trial proved economic and practical and Capella still operates two electric golf buggies. Licensing for an off-road vehicle for on-road use on lord Howe was specially arranged by the NSW Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Pam Allan.

In 2012, the Island Board approved the importation of three Mitsubishi i-Miev electric sedans for one month to coincide with the Small Islands Forum, which was held in the May of that year. This was to raise awareness of the capabilities of electric vehicles, and particularly their suitability for small islands. After the forum, the vehicles were returned to the mainland.

In 2015, Rhonda Wilson and Ed Gowan imported a Chinese-made IVTONG electric resort vehicle. This originally had lead acid batteries but Ed recently converted these to lithium batteries and the vehicle has continued to operate successfully with the new batteries.

In the past three years there has been more interest in electric vehicles for the island, and three Nissan NV200 vans and two small Mitsubishi i-MIEV minivans have been purchased by residents and the LHI Board.

With concern around the world about fossil fuels emitting carbon dioxide and adding to climate change, plus the world politics of oil supply from Russia and the Middle East (currently causing a spike in petrol prices) Lord Howe Island, with its solar farm, is extremely well placed to take advantage of this new, clean, cheaper mode of transport.

Anecdotally, one of the Miev mini van owners, Chris Murray, is saving $3000 per year in petrol costs and, being able to recharge his van from roof-top solar, has had no fuel bill for two years.

Electric bikes have also taken to the roads in recent years, and many island residents now have an e-bike. There are also two cargo e-bikes on the Island, one in use at the hospital, which can carry up to 150kg as well as a rider.

Stuart Watson, the retired former owner of Wauchope Solar, has assisted a number of Island residents select and buy new and second-hand electric vehicles on the mainland. However, in the next year or two, nearly every automotive company in the world will be producing new electric models, so the range of vehicles that Australians can purchase will increase enormously.

Former Lord Howe resident and mechanic, Stephen (“Bing”) Simpson, now resident in Brisbane, has recently purchased a fully electric Hyundai Kona, and reports that the vehicle has exceeded all his expectations.

LHI Signal 30 April 2022

This article appeared in The Lord Howe Island Signal, 30 April 2022.

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