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The world-first project giving electric vehicles a real boost

Henrik Moller and his Nissan Leaf. Photo/Supplied

“What we are trying to do is amplify the message,” says Henrik Moller, a founder of FlipTheFleet. The world-first community data-pooling project aims to accelerate New Zealanders’ shift to electric vehicles.

“There is mistrust and scepticism about them and no matter how good and compelling the argument is, people take a little bit of incentivising to get in,” says Moller, an emeritus professor at the University of Otago’s Centre for Sustainability and director of Ecosystems Consultants. “Right around the world, you are seeing that really good ideas take a while to take off and that’s the phase we are in now in New Zealand,” he says on his phone from an electric Audi hired from Mevo, which he picked up on the Wellington waterfront and was driving to Petone.

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“I am keen on citizen science as an approach and that’s what FlipTheFleet is about – trying to collect all people’s actual experience as early adopters and communicating that in a scientifically honest way that people can trust.”

Moller and Auckland data analyst Dima Ivanov, from PowerStats, teamed up a year ago to start FlipTheFleet. About 400 members now share vehicle-performance data. Members include people seeking fuel savings, some who want to reduce their carbon footprint and others who are attracted to the engineering data of the citizen-science project.

According to Moller, FlipTheFleet has become a quasi-consumer protection society as increasing numbers of people seek its advice, especially as more second-hand EVs become available.

“The more normalised EVs become, the more these potential worries will fade.”

Moller with fellow EV data-cruncher Dima Ivanov. Photo/Supplied

Range anxiety is a constant concern, so FlipTheFleet polled its members and discovered that “the idea that you are somehow going to run out of battery in the wops and be stuck is way overblown”, says Moller.

A dashboard alert warns when an EV’s battery charge is low and gives an estimate of remaining range. Although 95% of charging happens at home, a growing nationwide network of charging stations means there is little risk of a flat battery.

EVs are often considered prohibitively expensive, but Moller says the interest on the extra money needed to buy one instead of a conventional car is offset by running-cost savings.

“You get the interest back and five times more just by owning an electric vehicle now, let alone how good it’s going to get.”

People who don’t want or can’t afford their own EV could follow the lead of the Hampden community in coastal Otago, which used the proceeds of recycling to buy a communal EV, charged at a motel. “Overseas research shows that you can take seven to 13 standard vehicles off the road for each shared vehicle,” Moller says.

His EV, a second-hand Nissan Leaf, gets him from Dunedin to Christchurch and back for about $26. It’s a quiet, smooth ride and has a range of 150km. Each New Zealand EV saves about 170kg of carbon dioxide emissions a month, totalling about 800,000kg for the fleet.

FlipTheFleet’s data includes battery life. “We are trying to learn how to maintain battery health for as long as possible so your investment lasts as long as possible.”

Moller believes the Government should show leadership in speeding EV uptake. The country “faces a huge number of issues around finding a low-carbon economy”, he says, noting New Zealand’s top two export earners – tourism and agriculture – are carbon-intensive. “It’s really important that as a community we start to get smart about minimising those impacts. I think EVs are a good step in that direction.”

This article was first published in the October 14, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener on what you need to know about electric cars and driverless vehicles.