Electric renaissance

Most people don’t realise that some of the earliest cars to grace the world’s roads were electric. Now, after a century in the shadow of petrol and diesel vehicles, electric vehicles (EVs) are staging quite a comeback.

One event that has helped demonstrate what EVs are capable of is the World Solar Challenge. To drive 3,000 km at average speeds of up to 100 km/h using only the power of the sun requires some pretty clever engineering, and it was the developers of some of this technology that got together to form Tritium.

“We were part of the University of Queensland’s SunShark team for the 1999 race,” says Tritium’s Commercial Director Paul Sernia. “After developing the drivetrain technology we could see its commercial potential and in 2001 we founded Tritium.”

Since then Paul, Managing Director David Finn and Engineering Director James Kennedy have harnessed their passion for innovative engineering to build a business with a global customer base. Final assembly and quality control occurs in Tritium’s Brisbane offices, and from there products are shipped to every continent (including Antarctica!). And they’ve moved well beyond light-weight solar racers. Tritium components can be found in EVs ranging from high-performance sports cars through light commercial vehicles right up to buses.

Fast charge

Most of Tritium’s products won’t cross the minds of EV owners. Motor controllers, inverters and battery management systems might excite the engineers who create EVs, but for the driver they largely remain out of sight and out of mind. Not so with Tritium’s Veefil fast charger. With a striking design for high visibility, the Veefil takes just ten minutes to give an EV enough charge to cover 50 km. A further 20 minutes will charge an EV to 80% of its capacity, so a network of Veefil chargers will go a long way to dispel the “range anxiety” that puts some people off electric cars.

“Veefil is a highly innovative product,” says Paul. “It’s easy to use, allows contactless card payment and with a small footprint it fits just about anywhere.” This means the market is pretty much anyone with a car park, from EV owners themselves through to shopping centres, businesses and local councils.

Tritium’s organic growth has been aided by a range of government R&D grants, and the company’s plans are to build on its existing product offering with new and innovative technology. “The largest markets for EVs are Europe, Asia and North America,” says Paul, “so we are in a global market and need to remain competitive. But there are already 200,000 EVs globally and by 2020 there will be millions. Publicly available fast charging infrastructure is essential to support this volume of vehicles.” Part of Paul’s confidence in that growth is that EVs are cheaper to run and provide better performance. And being quieter and cleaner, mass uptake will lead to healthier cities.

That said; electric vehicles aren’t necessarily “green”. It depends on how the electricity they are charged with is produced. But just a few solar panels can generate all the power required by an EV to provide true “zero emissions” motoring. The rapid roll-out of wind and solar power around the world is also helping to create cleaner electricity grids.


Paul’s last word is on policy. “There are a lot of good examples internationally of policies that encourage and facilitate the transition to lower-emission vehicles and we can learn from and adapt these,” he says. “Given the current uncertainty in the Australian automotive and manufacturing sector, this is a great opportunity to steer our capabilities towards the high-tech automotive markets of the future.”



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