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Australia’s ‘electric car revolution’ won’t happen automatically

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The Conversation

Electric cars might finally be having their moment in Australia, after British billionaire Sanjeev Gupta approached the South Australian government about retooling Adelaide’s defunct Holden factories into a new manufacturing hub.

Last week federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg wrote that as costs fall, Australia will “inevitably” see an electric car revolution.

He cited surveys showing up to half of Australian motorists would consider going electric the next time they buy a car.

But falling costs alone won’t convert consumer sentiment into actual sales. Our research – partly covered in a previous article on The Conversation – examines how different countries handle the three major issues: vehicle cost, recharger availability, and demystifying the public.

Recharge network

Our research shows that the most important factor that affects consumers’ decision to buy an electric car is the availability of a fast recharging network, especially on long trips away from home.

This was far more important than the availability of cheaper vehicles, the second most cited barrier to uptake.

Even if people can afford the available electric car models, they also need to be assured that they can recharge conveniently and quickly on those long journeys they occasionally make during the year. We need to be ready for this transition.

Uptake of EVs in selected countries as percentage of new car registrations by market; showing top, mid and low performers for 2013-2016

While there have been some commendable efforts to build infrastructure, including by Queensland’s Labor government and the NRMA, there needs to be some federal coordination, for several reasons.

First, standards are needed for the recharging plug; there are quite a few types out there, and to avoid having some very unhappy investors this issue needs to be urgently addressed.

Second, not all electric models can accept superfast direct current charge in addition to the usual alternating current used in household electricity supplies.

Third, having cars with a bigger range doesn’t mean you can do without rechargers on major intercity roads and in country towns.

Australia needs a comprehensive network. This means fast chargers with standardised fittings available every 50-100km on highways and in country towns.

An app to help motorists find their nearest recharger – without locking them into membership of any particular company – are essential.

What about charging at home?

While a nationwide network of chargers is important, most people will be recharging their cars overnight. This raises another question: how many people have access to a power point within a few metres of where they park their car?

For people with garages, it is unlikely to be an issue. But apartment living is increasing every year in our big cities, and there are plenty of suburbs where off-street parking is not the norm.

Ideally, federal regulations would step in to ensure that apartment-dwellers don’t end up having to be electric car have-nots. We can look to California for an example of legislation that can inspire Australia.

Making it easy for people to recharge at night could also allay fears about increasing demand on the electricity grid. If the cost of off-peak power at night is lower than during the peak, people will get into the habit of flicking the recharger switch on when they go to bed.

It would make sense to ensure that everybody has access to off-peak pricing; people will then act in their own financial self-interest and recharge at night if they are given the opportunity.

In fact getting everyone to go electric as quickly as possible will save us billions of dollars in imported oil. In 2016 Australia imported almost A$15 billion worth of refined petroleum, much of it for road transport. We could fund a lot of infrastructure with the money saved.

Dropping cost

As Frydenberg pointed out, electric cars are getting cheaper.

The cost of batteries, the biggest single factor in the vehicle’s price, is falling.

It is reasonable to predict that electric cars will cost the same as their conventional combustion counterparts within a few years.

Charging with electricity is also cheaper than filling up with petrol or diesel, especially once home solar is taken into account.

There are other hidden costs to conventional cars that we need to take into account. For example, fossil fuels are known to cause cancer and asthma.

Australia is currently one of the only developed countries in the world without minimum fuel efficiency standards. This is an astonishing state of affairs.

Demystifying electric cars

One of the countries we studied was Norway, which has the highest sales of electric cars by a country mile. Nearly 35% of all new cars sold there in 2017 were electric, and Norway has the densest recharging network in the world.

Yet even in this environment, we found that when thinking about buying their next vehicle, Norwegians who had never owned an electric car were three times more concerned about running out of charge.

What’s more, Norwegians who didn’t have any friends who owned an electric car were far less likely than others to consider buying one.

This highlights the importance of practical exposure to electric cars.

We found that providing accurate information about costs, vehicle range and the basic experience of driving an electric car, well before people arrive at the point of sale, is likely to increase their adoption.

We can’t rely on the market to create an “electric car revolution” in Australia. Funding infrastructure, creating industry standards, legislating to reward and cheapen less-polluting cars, and educating the public are all part of the challenge.

Source: The ConversationReproduced with permission.  

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  • Joe

    I hope the Joshie has a quiet word with Craig Kelly… to put him back in his box.The EV’s are coming and all the naysaying in the world from the Kelly ain’t gunna stop the EV’s. The smoke and mirrors argument from the Kelly about subsidies is just another distraction / diversion from the real issue.

    • technerdx6000

      Joshie is too scared he will lose his job if he doesn’t pander to the far right backbench

      • Joe

        ……”The Knuckle Draggers”….as Premier Jay likes to call The RWNJ’s in the COALition.

    • john

      I just heard Craig Kelly once again on RN and what a load of rubbish he had.
      EV vehicles are worse than any ICE and all the rest of his rubbish and this idiot is a spokesperson for the knowledge from the present government?
      For peats sake give me a break.

      • Joe

        …the Kelly….another hot air balloon who spits out lies and rubbish when he isn’t just making stuff up…like people dying in Winter because they couldn’t afford to turn the heater on….where is the Kelly’s ‘death toll’ ? The Kelly is one of the Abbott’s ‘Knuckle Draggers’ as Premier Jay loves to call them. Let’s not forgot those lies about $100.00 Roasts, Whyalla being wiped off the map and Manufacturing being devastated when Labor brought in The ETS. Now we hear it all over with EV’s…just cover your ears whenever the Kelly, the Abetz, the Canavan, the Abbott, the Joyce open their mouths on anything related to climate and energy policy. You can’t have a rational debate with these drongos.

    • JoeR_AUS

      BEV at 0.25 % are not coming at all.

      Even GM admitted (who make more BEV vehicles than Tesla X) that even by 2040 fuel will be still around!

      • Joe

        …2040….that’s 20 years from now….a brave prediction from GM. I’ll make a prediction that things will change very quickly within those 20 years and ICE vehicles won’t be cruising the streets anywhere anymore. The only place you will see an ICE vehicle is…in a museum.

  • Robert Westinghouse

    EV’s are great, but the LNP continue to distract us from the more important issue of Pollution. Let’s be smart…start will a tax on polluting cars such as SUV’s and Diesel vehicles and remove the luxury tax on EV’s. What about banning diesel vehicle in the CBD’s. London is putting in charging points in light poles at not much money. There are solutions, but the LNP continues to roll out lies and spin.

    • Joe

      Robert you are spot on about the SUV’s and the Diesels. They have no place on urban streets. The latest new car sales figures for 2017 showed some 39% of new car sales were SUV’s and guess where most of them are driven….city and suburban streets. Some 465,000 thousand new SUV’s were sold out of a total of some 1,189,000 new cars in 2017. This is madness!

    • john

      In Australia are you kidding we have to leave our V8 Diesel idling in an over cover car park while we shop so it will be cool when we get back in it bugger you as it puts out heaps of NX which will give you cancer.

    • JoeR_AUS

      Its already there as in excise and stamp duty on fuel is almost 40% of the retail price and it has nothing to do with you political alliance.

      Also London has almost the entire Australian population residing there….

      • Robert Westinghouse

        Shocking….So what are the kids doing with OUR money.

  • Ray Miller

    I think the transition is well underway, be it off a low base.
    While an EV option today is a bit of a challenge, I can and did change my lawnmower and whipper sniper to EM (electric mower). Less noise, and no fumes except the cut grass, the battery is 56V 420Wh, starting is all about turning it on and going, you can even hear the mobile phone ring while your mowing, for better or worse.
    And just ask any tradey how powerful all their cordless tools are, yes a quite revolution is taking place.
    I do think the EV revolution will take place faster than anyone can believe.

    • MaxG

      Same here; not buying any petrol tools anymore; blower, cutters, chain saw all 2x18V… and I am loving it every time I am recharging with my own energy 😀
      whe I have time, I will convert the lawn mower to 3 electric motors; no belts, just direct drives (2x blade, 1x drive)… next will be the diesel tractor.

      • It is a commendable activity. I applaud you.

      • Nick Kemp

        Good idea on the ride on mower – there could be a business proposition converting clapped out ride-ons to electric

  • john

    I just heard Craig Kelly a member of the Parliament saying ” electric cars are the worst thing possible for the environment”
    Considering Australia has the worst possible regulations for vehicle emissions in the world possibly.
    His statement is total rubbish.
    He said that an electric vehicle would be worse than any vehicle to use.
    Perhaps I am wrong.

    • john

      What really annoys me about Craig Kelly statement is that the country has pathetic do nothing standards.

      • JoeR_AUS

        Its called reality were not Norway who quote

        “The $1 trillion fund that Norway has amassed pumping oil and gas over the past two decades wants out of petroleum stocks.”

        • Alex Hromas

          Because the same geniuses who stopped the resource wealth tax are now in charge. The savings on health alone make the transition worth while

    • JoeR_AUS

      Australia does not have the worst regulations in the world – do you make things up as you write?

      The C02e for a car charged from the East coast grid (70% coal) is around 292gm of C02 per km – much higher than diesel or petrol.

      So, Australian as a hole, needs to transition to clean energy before BEV makes any sense – unless you have a Solar roof and excess batteries to charge you own BEV

  • trackdaze

    In markets with decent ev sales well over 80% of charging is done at home. A chevy volt plug in with 70km+ ev range does within 6% of a full Electric nissan leafs electric miles in a given year.

    Australia is perfect for Phev adoption now.

    • JoeR_AUS

      My home is powered by 70% coal, so a PHEV will generate around 292gm of C02 per km

      • trackdaze

        Nice try using 2009 figures.

        • JoeR_AUS

          I wish

          NEM NSW right now:

          Coal 8310 MW
          Rest 2002 MW – Gas, Solar, Hydro

          • trackdaze

            NSW is very much so last decade.
            2009 also preceeds huge efficiency gains from the vehicles.

            Study in the USA had 32% of EV owners also having solar either before or aftwr vehicle purchase.

            Charging stations overwhelmingly use green power.

      • Alex Hromas

        If you go back to the future and drive in 1999

  • Robin_Harrison

    Price won’t be an obstacle for long, the key is comparable convenience. The legacy makers can’t do that yet as it will cannibalise their ICEV sales. As a dedicated EV maker Tesla has no such restrictions and neither would Sanjeev.

    • JoeR_AUS

      BEV needs the Iphone moment – which is not just the evolution of the smart phone but supporting infrastructure.

      to Succed they need:

      1. Electricity prices to fall and become cheaper
      2. The grid to be generated by clean power
      3. The recharge time to be in minutes
      4 . The purchase price to be at least equal of a ICE vehicle

      Once the above happens, BEV will have the environment to succeed!

      • Alex Hromas

        Joe you exhibit a total inability to see a future different from the present.
        Right now I recharge my Outlander PEHV at shoulder rates or off peak and make a huge saving in dollars and time. When counting refuel times you need to account for standing at the pump and paying they all add up. With a well designed recharge station you could plug in get a coffee and pay with your mobile in about the same time as filling the tank.

        • JoeR_AUS

          Right now I sit on my bike and ride or run to work!

          For the future you need many events to fall into place to generate wholesale change, its not about changing your life to accommodate one bit of technology – you can but it like my first paragraph.

          That’s why I choose the IPhone as back in 1999 I had a Nokia 9110 with 8mb memory, monochrome small screen, poor internet connection speed, poor browser technology – which was not a problem as there were not many sites to visit and the network cost, price of phone $2000 made it a irrelevant to 99.9% of people – a bit like Tesla

          When, the other factors evolve the technology will take off but with BEV at 0.25% of the market we not even close!

      • Robin_Harrison

        All within the next 7 years.

  • phred01

    most of my car purchases have been Oz made except for 4×4. Will consider Oz made EV

  • Robert Comerford

    The only chance for some leadership on this issue is a change of government but anyone who thinks that is done and dusted should take a deep breath.
    Only today I had someone telling me that climate change is just a money making scam….. these people vote!
    Only chances for some action are currently restricted to state level and below.

    While a single fast charge standard would be ideal, given we just take cars that are on offer from overseas perhaps just legislate that every public fast charger have a CCS plug on one side and a Chademo the other. I understand that is the policy adopted by the NRMA.

    Put a decent tax on fossil fuels and see how many Toorak tractors are really needed by their owners.

  • Rob

    I agree that, not being able to conveniently recharge, is the main obstacle to the uptake of electric cars in Australia. I’m glad your article pointed out that there are a lot of people who do not have off street parking and therefore cannot recharge an EV overnight. Once this problem is resolved I believe there will be nothing holding back the transition to EVs in Australia. Yes there are other issues but this is the major one. I know most of my friends would like their current ICE vehicle to be their last. I was pleased to note that the NRMA has plans to roll out a fast-charging network in NSW. But we need more action and quicker otherwise we will be left behind again.