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Tasmania looks to EVs as next step to 100% renewable energy

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Tasmania looks to fast-track take-up of electric vehicles to boost its credentials as a green manufacturing hub to replace old industries, and export clean energy to the mainland. Tasmania could end up totally renewable – a Green Apple Isle – in both electricity and transport.

tasmania ev

The electric vehicle rental car on Tasmania’s Flinders Island.

Tasmania is looking closely at electric vehicles to take the next step towards 100 per cent renewable energy – both electricity and transport – and boost the state’s strategic advantage as a clean energy manufacturing hub.

The state government recently released its energy vision for the next 20 years, titled Tasmania’s Energy Strategy, Restoring Tasmania’s energy advantage”

Unlike the federal equivalent, the energy white paper, it did not focus on fossil fuels – Tasmania hasn’t much to speak of – but it did look to profit from its major natural resources, renewable energy in the form of hydro, wind and even solar.

What is fascinating about this paper is not so much the ambition – because, frankly, there is not a lot – but the recognition of the potential there is to exploit. A more progressive government faced with declining traditional industries, a huge fuel import bill, and such excellent renewable resources, and the potential to become a green energy manufacturing hub may think that it should be more ambitious. But at least it is a start.

Tasmania is already pretty much at 100 per cent renewable energy for its electricity needs, given the extent of its hydro plants and wind energy – both existing and potential. It also has more than 70MW of rooftop solar installed across the state.

But the Tasmanian economy faces a major issue with the threatened closure of some of its ageing and expensive manufacturing businesses. Four major industrial users account for more than one half of its electricity demand and their future is not certain.

That gives Tasmania one or two options. Either it tries to boost its exports to the mainland – Hydro Tasmania has previously suggested it could provide 1GW of “baseload” renewables to the Victorian market – or it boosts demand in its home market.

There are two ways of doing the latter. One is by transitioning to renewable energy transport, primarily through the deployment of electric vehicles. This would have the added benefit of reducing the transport fuel import bill, which currently stands at $1 billion a year, with significant energy security issues in the form of the supply chain.

Even big industries recognise the potential. Norske Skog, which operates the Boyer mill, said in its submission: “Of all the states in Australia, one might expect Tasmania should be at the forefront of implementation of electric vehicle technology.

“Most mainland users of electric or hybrid vehicles still require coal or gas-derived electricity as a basis for their vehicles fuel thus reducing some of the overall positive environmental effects these vehicles have.”

It said public transport could be a candidate for the utilisation of Tasmania’s renewable electricity source, particularly as local travel is generally over shorter distances.

“The large-scale uptake of electric vehicles could provide better utilisation of the electricity network as one might expect that vehicles would be charged overnight between peak demand periods.”

In its paper, the Tasmanian government says that EVs will create competition with liquid fuels and, therefore, reduce reliance and vulnerability to oil prices and supply.

They will also provide the opportunity to increase Tasmanian electricity load, re-shape demand and improve network utilisation (with appropriate market signals), which should lower prices for all customers.

The government says it is looking to deploy EVs in government fleets, and is providing incentives to have them deployed in private fleets too. This could provide education for consumers, and the market, for charging networks to be installed.

The other option is to try to attract new industrial load. That would mean selling Tasmania as a source of cheap green energy to industrial users.

“Tasmania should be more active in pursuing customers that value this attribute (renewable energy),” the document says.

“Energy intensive industries that may be attracted to Tasmania could include data centres, silica smelters, food processing, and irrigated cropping, to name but a few.

The government still has ambitions to increase its output to the mainland and is still considering a second inter-connector that could facilitate that, and boost its hydro energy output by around 10 per cent. This is notwithstanding its recent decision to discontinue the proposed 600MW wind farm on King Island and its associated connection to Victoria.

It notes that the emergence of battery storage could be a game changer that could lead to some customers choosing to to go ‘off grid’. But it does not appear certain about how to respond to this.

“Retail electricity prices have rapidly escalated, largely as a result of significantly increased investment in networks,” the study says.

“Consumers have responded to higher prices in a range of ways, including by investing in solar PV and energy efficiency measures, it notes.

“These responses have led to actual and forecast reduced levels of consumption, which is leading to concerns of a network ’death spiral’. This is compounded by tariff settings that are largely consumption based but the costs of providing the network are largely fixed.

Indeed, the Australian Energy Market Operator forecasts rooftop PV in Tasmania to jump four-fold over the next decade, from 70MW now to approximately 300MW by 2024, so this situation is likely to accelerate.

And it signals a big take-up of battery storage. “In addition, rapidly falling battery storage costs may cause some customers to consider disconnection from the grid,” it notes. “To the extent that this occurs, it will leave fewer customers to pay for the maintenance of the grid, resulting in even higher prices and driving even more customers off the grid.”

Of course, the introduction of battery storage could also add stability to the grid, and allow for greater integration of variable renewables such as wind and storage, as the government owned Hyrdo Tasmania is finding it its ground-breaking projects on King Island, and soon on Flinders Island.

Still, even though the government recognizes the potential of Tasmania’s clean energy resources, and its possible economic benefits, it still appears to be in “defence” mode on current industries and policies.

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  • suthnsun

    Ramp up the wind farms, install a few fast charging stations judiciously, build plug in hybrid trucks and buses, slough off some ageing large scale power users who don’t provide a good economic return to the state, lower the retail price per kWh. Tas could easily generate good returns for any sensible strategy and lower overall costs of transport within the state for everyone. Growth of small to medium enterprises could be readily catered for..
    A state with a massive battery at its heart and heaps of wave and wind should do well..?

  • RobS

    Just keep in mind that this report has been released by a Liberal state government, compared to the paleolithic attitudes of the Federal LNP to EV’s and renewable energy this report is somewhat astounding. The other advantage of Tassie for EV’s is its size, the longest commonly driven route is Hobarrt to Burnie which is 325km and about the longest drive possible although very rare as both are very small population centres is Dover to Smithton at 480 km both of which are ideally suited to Tesla Model S like EV’s particularly with a supercharger at the midpoint in Perth.

    • Malcolm Scott

      An in my experience of EVs, they simply offer a much better driving experience on roads of the type prevalent in Tassy. No hunting through gears and the engine searching for a sweet spot. An EV is always in it’s power/torque sweet spot at legal road speeds

      • neroden

        EVs offer a better driving experience on every sort of road.

  • Ken Dyer

    Tasmania’s problem, particularly with hydro, is that it has too much electricity, but no market. This was destroyed by the Abbott Government in 2014 when they killed the carbon tax, penalties for burning brown coal in Victoria were removed, so the hydro fell away and at the same time brown coal burning increased. What Tasmania needs is a market for its renewable energy, and to date there is no incentive for the average household user to change over.

    That may be about to change with the Victorian Government signalling a move from land based rates values to CPI, a sure recipe to reduce local government revenue thus potentially severely impacting local government communities. So councils, many of which are establishing carbon neutral strategies, will have to find a new source of revenue. Some councils are planning to establlsh up their own solar farms, and should they enter the electricity market, they will be seeking cheap renewable baseload power to supplement their rate income, and provide a reliable market for Tasmanian baseload hydro.

    So if you do not have rooftop solar, and/or avail yourself of cheap renewable power from your local council, be prepared to pay a fossil fuel premium on your rates for your electricity, as Councils seek to minimise their communities’ carbon emissions.

  • Rob

    Because of its diminutive size, it would not take that many strategically placed Superchargers for all of Tasmania to be EV friendly. Tasmania is perfect for exploring by car and is how I spent one of my most enjoyable holidays in Tassie. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to hire an EV for your Tasmanian touring holiday! This would fit in perfectly with Tassie’s green “brand”. I would have thought it would be a good basis for a Tassie tourist advertising angle, “Tour pristine green Tassie in a clean and green EV”! It would be a great way for people to try out an EV and at the same time experience the amazing countryside and landscapes of Tassie. If I thought I could tour Tassie in an EV I’d be on the plane tomorrow. Tassie could become the place people go to, to try out EVs. “Its travel time so take a trip and try out a Tesla while touring Tasmania”! Yes please!

    • RobS

      One in Perth would cover 80% of long distance trips between Hobart, Launceston, Devenport and Burnie. Two others would cover 95% of the rest, one in Queenstown and one in Swansea. The only thing not covered by those three would be highly unusual routes from the NW to Hobart via the great lakes.

      • Miles Harding

        I was thinking of the wrong Perth :)
        Superchargers only work with Tesla, then there’s the rest of us.

        In WA, the RAC is installing a fast charger network from Perth (in WA, this time) to Augusta in the SW corner. These are being placed on the town main streets and should attract visitors to the towns… Eventually, when there are more than a handful of EVs on the roads.

        • RobS

          For better or worse I think Tesla is the only one that really matters because no one else is really in the long distance EV market, even with high speed chargers the range of 80-150 kms that the “competition” offers is just not practical for long distance travel, they are really short distance city commuter cars. For the sake of fairness we can put in Chademo chargers in the same locations but additional stations will be required to create a congruous Chademo charging network. I think the Model S will pave the way and then mass adoption will become realistic with the release of their gen 3 vehicle in ~2017.

          • Miles Harding

            One issue I have with Tesla is that the superchargers are exclusive. I believe that there is a Tesla to CHADEMO interface cable.

            I was at a meeting a week or two ago where we were discussing exactly this. A Leaf or i-Miev is marginal for country travel. Possible, but only at a ‘leisurely’ pace.

            When the speed and fast charge limits (low of 20% to about 80% in 30 minutes) are considered, the EPA or sticker drive range will have to be at least twice the distance between charge stations to be practical.

            Fortunately, it looks as though there will be many offerings in the 250 to 300km range coming onto the market in the next few years. Maybe some of them will make it to Australia :)

            In the mean time, the 100-odd km range works nicely around town.

          • RobS

            Care to provide more detail of the “many” 250-300km EVs coming to market in the next few years?

            I would point out that Tesla has released all their IP for free use so strictly speaking Superchargers aren’t exclusive, any manufacturer may incorporate the technology if they so choose. I would also point out its largely a moot point even if they are exclusive because they are installed at Tesla’s cost. There are Chademo to tesla adapters are available however it is a suboptimal alternative as Chademo charging is substantially slower than Tesla supercharging.

  • Thylacine

    A further option would be to electrify the railway. Presently still in government hands, it has been successfully upgraded and appears to be running efficiently. To free from ff would be another step in the right direction.

  • David Costin

    At last some leadership even if it is with a LNP governmenrs.They at least have a vision compared to the hopeless federal government who are still digging their owm holes with a thinking community that sick and tired of their pathetic spin and lack of support for this industry

  • Biologyteacher100

    Impressive progress in Tasmania. Shows what could be done on mainland Australia.