Tesla Model 3 owners make a 6000km round trip to FNQ for $186

In August 2022 my wife and I decided to drive a Model 3 Tesla on the Queensland Electric Super Highway (QESH) where this public charging network is known as. Our only plan was to get to Cairns in the far north of Queensland. We had a full month available for the round trip, including deviations from the tourist sites.

Finally, we arrived at Cape Tibulation. After 6000km and 20 days later we are back in Brisbane thinking about how much it cost, what we saved, what we learned.

In numbers:

  • Mileage: 6051 km
  • Average kilometers per day: 300 km
  • Energy used: 835 kWh
  • Charging points used: 24
  • Total Shipping Cost: $186
  • Gasoline cost for the same trip ($1.65 and 7.0 l/100 km): $698
  • Dollars saved: $512

Completed by the Queensland Government in 2021 at a cost of $5.3 million, QESH currently consists of 33 freight stations studded on the main A1 coastal motorway from Brisbane to Cairns. There are 24 more stations due to be added in Phase 3. They are managed by the Chargefox network so that chargers are accessed, and use is paid for via the Chargefox app.

Additionally, these charging stations appear on Google Maps if you search for “EV chargers”. Note that your Tesla navigation system won’t help you here, in fact Tesla believes the northernmost we can go to in Queensland is Gympie. Each QESH terminal consists of a 50kw Tritium charger with two wires attached. One contains a CHAdeMO plug and the other contains CCS2.

There is also a 22 kW Schneider Electric tower with two Type 2 sockets. To use this, you will need to bring your own freight captain. The two tritium outputs cannot be used together at the same time, so only one compound can use them at a time. I believe the 22kW unit would support two vehicles simultaneously, although as I didn’t have a pilot, I couldn’t verify that.

In addition to these charging points, we’ve also stayed in two motels that have Tesla destination chargers and have charged them from a standard 240V socket multiple times. We also made use of the Tesla Supercharger at Gympie, which is very fast compared to QESH chargers.

Shipping at QESH at FNQ. Photo: Paul Thompson

Always Shipping

How did the trip go? QESH charge points are spaced an average of 60 km, with the largest gap being Townsville to Cardwell which is 165 km.

This means you can afford to miss one or two and still avoid range anxiety. At the start of the trip we took the ABC (always charging) approach and stopped more often than we really needed to.

In the second leg we were feeling more confident and let the charge drop even more. We only had to wait for another car to finish charging three times, which suggests there is excess capacity for now at least. Most of the time we were the only car at the charging point.

I found our 3 RWD group to be suitable for city driving. Prior to this trip, I had only used a fast charger once, and the rest of it was slowly charging at home overnight.

The relatively low range compared to our petrol car really became a factor in this trip. At first, we were happy to have a break, toilet, and a cup while charging, but the novelty of that is starting to fade.

When you are told that it will take more than an hour to charge, you begin to wonder how this could be improved. My wish now is to have a range of about 600 km and a destination charger at every hotel. With that said, we could have had one recharge a day (lunch) and an overnight recharge.

Anxiety scale erases EV smile

But back to the flight.

The only time we ever worried about the range was when we were on the south leg when we found that the Cardwell charger was malfunctioning. This means going to Townsville without recharging. We got to the JCU charger in Townsville with about 12%.

We wondered what we would do if this charger was broken? I imagine we had to look more seriously for the destination charger and spent the night there.

By now, most of you will have heard of the EV smile, and “range anxiety,” both feelings are real, but I’ll add the third.

The feeling that you are a pioneer in the field of electric cars. The inescapable conclusion is that the landscape of the electric car is about to change radically and that we are in a world that is about to change forever.

I imagine it is like living in the 1920s owning one of the first petrol cars.

Outside the capital, there were very few gas stations. That’s what it feels like to drive an electric car from Brisbane to Cairns right now.

Paul and Kaelen Thompson.  supplied
Paul and Kaelen Thompson at FNQ. supplied

There are not enough electric chargers to approach the tidal wave of electric vehicles

His conclusion is that there are too few charging points to support the tidal wave of an EV that’s about to hit. We went through several gas service stations that were recently refurbished or in the process of being renovated and none of them seemed to use electric chargers.

We did not observe any EV-friendly signage on the way to EV destination cities of charging points advertised on motels sign boards. After a few days of the trip we stopped looking for destination chargers as there seemed to be very few of them.

Tesla generated more interest the further north we got, and if any of this is negative, we haven’t heard of it.

As fossil fuels like Northern Qld, they are also interested in technology and keen to see how that works. There are still some funny misconceptions out there.

For example, people are surprised to learn that we can charge it from a regular wall socket.

Yes you can and we did! Thus, caravan stands (with powered sites) are an option. For example, we headed for the night on Daintree since that was far north of QESH at the moment.

Overall, the trip was comfortable and enjoyable, we saw some beautiful sites and spent some time in Atherton tableland and Daintree. Other than that, we mostly stuck to the highway, and ventured to see the quaint national park and tourist spots like Yeppoon and Agnes Waters.

We stayed in motels when we weren’t visiting friends. We took a 12v mini fridge in the car so we could serve some meals ourselves, but otherwise relied on cafes and restaurants.

Shipping at a friend's garage.  Photo: Paul Thompson
Shipping at a friend’s garage. Photo: Paul Thompson

Broken electric vehicle chargers will ban long-distance routes

Since I bought the Model 3 I’ve done my best to tell as many people as possible that I own an electric car and it works just fine, I’ve given loads of driving experiences and really enjoy people’s reactions to the unexpectedly good acceleration that even this base model has.

I am actively trying to convert people from Can to me sure EV purchase.

Taking that impulse was an extension of that. I posted daily and got a reasonable response from my social network. Unfortunately, my realistic conclusion is that the charging network required for the electric cars that reach our sidewalks now is wholly inadequate.

Yes, I could drive from Brisbane to Cairns, but I couldn’t go further west than Dalby.

Moreover, if some charging stations in a row are down, the entire route will be effectively blocked.

This fragility needs to be fixed soon or a lot of electric vehicle owners will be really angry at some point in the next 12 to 24 months. I suppose all the major gas station brands are planning to put in electric chargers, from my point of view they seem to have left it too late to start.

Paul Thompson graduated from the University of Queensland in 1983 as an electrical engineer. He is the co-founder and former CEO of the Pakton Group and JVA Technologies. Paul is an award winning inventor with a number of patents to his name. His interest in solar and renewable energy began in the late 1980s when he was working with AERL. There he designed the electronic power system for Ford Australia’s Darwin first entry to the Adelaide Solar Car Challenge. After stints in research and development with other electronics manufacturers, Paul and his wife started Bacton in 1995 and grew it into a multi-million dollar enterprise. Paul spends his free time playing with new inventions and traveling.

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