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Australians may do 95% of car travel in autonomous EVs by 2030

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It’s almost impossible to imagine in a country with such an attachment to individual car ownership, petrol vehicles and long distances like Australia. But in little more than a decade, the way we travel in cars may be completely different.

A new study from EnergyLab in Sydney suggests that the arrival of autonomous driving and the introduction of shared vehicles, or “Transport As a Service”, could mean that by 2030 more than 95 per cent of kilometres travelled in cars could be in electric vehicles.

The “robo-taxis” are coming,

This, author James Tilbury says, could in turn accelerate another major transition – by using the combined capacity and flexibility of the battery storage resource of this electric car fleet to the push towards 100 per cent renewables for both electricity and transport.

This may sound all too ambitious and optimistic, and way too short a time-frame.

Forecasts for the uptake of electric vehicles are generally conservative – held back by the hefty up-front costs of the car that will not make the economics of EV travel and charging them obvious to many, even after capital costs fall. And then there’s the attachment to individual ownership.

The economics of shared vehicles, or TaaS, turns this concept on its head. It reduces the cost of car travel per kilometre to less than 50c – that’s cheaper than a petrol car, and much cheaper than Uber, public transport or taxis.

Within 10 years, this cost could fall to 38c/km, where it starts to match just the running costs of petrol and diesel cars.

“We argue that autonomous vehicles (AVs) should be considered cleantech and could be one of the most disruptive technologies in the energy transition,” the paper says

It says that AVs will “inadvertently and rapidly electrify Australia’s vehicle fleet”, with the resulting increase in energy storage and flexible demand helping facilitate a transition to 100% renewable electricity.

Why and how?

“We have estimated the potential cost of TaaS in Australia to be below 50c/km. This would make TaaS not only cheaper than using a taxi, but cheaper than buying a car, and cheaper than even using public transport in some instances.”

In fact, it says the most surprising result of its analysis is that TaaS could be comparable to the average annual marginal cost of owning a car. “As a result, TaaS use could quickly displace the use of personal vehicles, possibly becoming the dominant form of transport within a decade.”

The study was inspired by a report by RethinkX, led by Stanford University’s Tony Seba, whose conclusions we summed up in this story: Death spiral for cars. By 2030, you probably won’t own one.

That was followed more recently by the annual energy outlook for BP, which has a conservative outlook for EV ownership – only 15 per cent of all vehicles – but acknowledges that the arrival of “shared vehicles” means that total kilometres travelled by EVs could be twice that amount, 30 per cent.

“TaaS could electrify our personal transport systems much quicker than natural electric vehicle adoption,” the EnergyLab study says.

“Currently, optimistic estimates have EV uptake reaching 90 per cent of personal vehicles around 2085 under the normal model of personal vehicle ownership.

“One of the reasons for the slow change is that cars have high upfront costs and are retained for over a decade on average, resulting in a slow rate of turnover in the national fleet.

“TaaS won’t suffer from this turnover brake, with the addition of a new commercial TaaS fleet bypassing the regular replacement process and lowering barriers to consumer adoption.

“As result, some estimates project that TaaS could provide for 95 per cent of all passenger-kilometres by 2030 – mostly with EVs.”

The reason that studies like RethinkX and Energy Lab push a much tighter timeframe is not just one of economics and regulations, but also driven by factors such as health and insurance.

Consider this. If Automated Driving does deliver the technology and the safety it promises, and is allowed by governments and regulators, how long will it take before insurers price human drivers out of the market?

The study notes that – unlike climate change – politicians appear to like the idea of AVs, and Australian state and federal transport ministers have already agreed to a phased reform program allowing AVs on Australian roads from 2020.

“There is a surprising level of political support for AVs in Australia,” the study says. And it is bipartisan.

“This pace of reform is a breath of fresh air for anyone who has lived through over a decade of climate policy gridlock. Perhaps the road to AVs has been smooth so far because the topic hasn’t been tarred by the climate brush, in which case it might be prudent not to send this paper to any politicians…”

So how exactly would the transition occur? Here, in regional NSW, I cannot imagine a “robo-taxi” fleet filling in the needs of the locals, travelling between towns.

But as Seba suggested in his study for RethinkX, this transition will be driven by inner-city and then suburban dwellers – most of whom need a car for only minutes a day, and can’t find or afford a permanent parking spot anyway.

This latest report suggests that in Australia, with two-car families more or less standard, it could be the second car that goes first.

“It’s hard to escape the conclusion that robotaxis could be cheap enough to quickly gain a large share of the transportation market. The current taxi and Uber fleet would quickly be replaced, as it is very unlikely they could ever compete with TaaS providers,” the report says.

“The impact on car ownership is less certain but still appears likely to be significantly impacted. If nothing else, the argument for owning more than one car could quickly fall over.

“For low-utilisation vehicles, it might be cheaper to just leave them in the garage and hail an AV. Buying a new car will become uneconomical by our estimates, which we believe will have at least a similar impact as the price of EVs suddenly dropping to half that of an equivalent ICE vehicle.”

It goes through the economics.

“If you already own a car, with the registration and insurance paid, then it will probably be cheaper to use it than order a lift with a TaaS provider.

“Fuel and wear-and-tear cost about $0.25/km, significantly lower than even our 2030 TaaS estimate of $0.38/km.

“However, when it comes time to renew registration and insurance, many might hesitate. Considering these costs increases the rate to a comparable level to our TaaS estimate.”

These rates assume the car is driven 15,000 km per year and increase significantly with lower usage. That means that cars that aren’t used very often, such as second cars, could be particularly uneconomical to keep registered and insured.

However, the real impact comes at the point that people would normally buy a new car because adding the upfront cost of a vehicle makes it significantly more expensive than using TaaS.

And for the grid?

The rapid electrification of transport is likely to help facilitate the transition to 100 per cent renewable energy because the storage capacity that could be made available by a TaaS fleet would help balance out the intermittency of renewable energy, and provide system services.

“As a result, our grid would be able to handle a greater amount of clean energy, which in turn would decrease the carbon intensity of electric vehicle use. This dual potential to help decarbonise transport and the grid simultaneously makes TaaS highly significant for the energy transition.”

  

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  • ben

    Bring it on. If anything can make Adelaide drivers better, I’m all for it.

    • Alan S

      Indeed. A car that doesn’t swing into the other lane when turning, queues at the lights without sitting 3 m behind the car in front and moves off when they change will be an improvement.

      • ben

        Not to mention

        – re-purposing all those roads into cycle-ways.

        – reduction in air pollution

        – reduction in deaths

        – reduction in high rise car parks required

  • MaxG

    Same here: bring it on; I can hardly wait; I am already driving an ICE car which is semi-autonomous. Would love to switch for fully autonomous.

  • Carl Raymond S

    Fascinating. In order to save the planet we have to trick politicians into thinking that the beneficial change they support has nothing to do with saving the planet. It’s like all-bran, don’t tell them it’s healthy…

    • Ian

      Why are legacy car companies running with this ball so enthusiastically? Maybe you and I are the ones being tricked here. Remember how computers and printers were supposed to save paper and create the paperless office but became more efficient at producing printed documents? Autonomous cars could become so ubiquitous doing pointless driverless errands like collecting a bottle of milk or fetching the dry cleaning or taking each child in a family to different activities or delivering junk mail to houses more efficiently, or delivering individual hot lunches to commuters, or delivering a forgotten part to a tradesman. Families may not bother parking at the Mall together to buy clothes, eat some lunch, get some soft furnishings, then take in a movie. Each will take their own individual Taas, choose entirely different destinations, maybe meet at a common lunch place and then head off in different directions again.you think congestion on the roads is bad now, imagine hundreds of driverless cars carrying one passenger or even just one burger from place to place. These autonomous vehicles will be free from human driver constraints and be limited to one or 2 hours travel a day but will be able to travel constantly , here , there and everywhere, all the time . Say 20 hrs driving time verses 2 hours for today’s driver-dependent vehicles. Australia’s 16 million vehicles currently occupy the roads for 32 million hours . In the future the same number of autonomous cars could occupy the roads for 320 million hours!

      Gesundheit! It’s an autonomous car future!

      • Carl Raymond S

        True, inventing better technology, while hard, is easier than inventing better people. But both are required, so we have to do it just in case those better people arise.
        I am currently inspired by the youth of America taking on the NRA. Sometimes people surprise us.
        I don’t own a printer, by choice.

  • Brunel

    When are the Greens going to have UBI in their manifesto?

    Or an EITC that the ALP took to the 1998 election.

  • JoeR_AUS

    The story should read:

    “how we are going to change peak hour, major events and public/school holidays so a smaller fleet of vehicles could be used to travel”

    The major limitation with the article is we all want access to cars at a similar time, peak hr to work, schools and back and then travel to major sporting, show events and holidays to travel afar.

    Its more likely that people could own there vehicles or lease them and while there at work they could send the car out to work but again this would favor a few.

    Once you worked this out…. we can start now and don’t have to wait for BEV’s

    • Barri Mundee

      I have some similar reservations.

  • John Gardner

    My understanding is that the use of AV’s is going to be limited for some time because they can’t handle mixing with us unpredictable humans, so they would need separate lanes of their own in which to operate, which would be tricky to create.

  • Jolly Roger

    This is looking like the debate surrounding house prices. For every article proclaiming the impending take over of EV’s and AV’s there is an article detailing the reasons why that can’t or won’t happen here in Australia. I suppose like most things the truth will be found somewhere in the middle.

  • Do it. This will be best. Labor’s left faction will explain it to the mechanics union. All for the common good. Its going to be quieter, safer and not quite as hot.

  • Eric

    Good article. If anything can bring on the rapid transformation to electric vehicles it will be autonomous vehicles.
    The only issues being- when will we have safe fully autonomous vehicles for most applications and when will those vehicles be built in sufficient volume?

    Let’s say it is between Seba’s aggressive target and BP’s conservative one. 2035.
    I reckon that is about right. Only 17 years away too, which means I’m cool for driving in my old age 🙂

  • itdoesntaddup

    TaaS will surely compete with public transport – buses, light rail – because those users do not care whether their transport also holds the golf clubs for a quick round after work. I’d expect buses and light rail to become uneconomic very fast, because TaaS also has potential to handle congestion far better than they do, as well as providing individualised journeys from door to door, rather than having to go to a stop or station and perhaps change routes along the way with waits at every stage. Of course, if the vehicle fleet has to park up and discharge on wet, windless cloudy days it will not prove quite as attractive as its proponents suggest.

    • Ren Stimpy

      On the wet windless cloudy days TaaS will utilise the extremely cheap energy stores available (by then).

      • itdoesntaddup

        But they ARE the “extremely cheap” energy stores.

        • Ren Stimpy

          I just can’t see it happening. i.e. that operational EVs will discharge their power reserves back into the grid, costing time and opportunity in the transport sector on top of the cost of that power

          It’s safe to assume that when battery modules are cheap enough to power a full TaaS model, they will also be cheap enough for a large enough reserve bank of powerwalls and grid-scale batteries to power EVs (along with everything else) on the few wet windless days we have each year.

  • Jordan Moulds

    I’ve calculated my own lifecycle cost of car ownership as less than 27.5c/km.
    Small ICE car ($16k new in 2007); av. $40/week on fuel (av. 400km @ $1.30/L approx 13km/L); $2.6k pa for all other costs (rego, compr insurance & repairs). Total is $86k over 15 years expected vehicle life. Same car bought today would be about $20k new ($90k ~ still only about 29c/km TCO).

    • MaxG

      Taking your data, the cost for 11 years equates to 29C/km, that is without depreciation, which would otherwise bring it to 36Cents/km. this isa really low cost, which doe snto reflect reality for most. The reason being, ATO allows 50-something Cent per km. And the ATO is the last mob to allow more than minimum average cost per km. So for all intents and purposes, while individuals can achieve a lower cost per km, the ATO value should be used for comparison.
      For those interested, the German Auto Club has the numbers for most cars on their website: https://www.adac.de/infotestrat/autodatenbank/autokosten/default.aspx — it is in German, but one should be able to figure it out. 🙂

  • Michael Dufty

    I can see it replacing some second cars and taxi/uber use, but seems very unlikely to be 95%. Cheaper is not a good enough incentive – how many people currently drive the cheapest car that will do what they need?

    • Ren Stimpy

      Tony Seba has predicted that after one fully autonomous car is on the road (he estimates by 2021) the disruption will be complete within ten years hence i.e. every car on the road will be fully autonomous. All due to cost.

      • Michael Dufty

        And a lot of people think he is wrong. There is more to car ownership than cost.

        • Ren Stimpy

          And “a lot of people” voted for Trump – or didn’t even bother to vote.
          What do “a lot of people” know exactly?

          There is more to cost than car ownership – wait and see when there’s a large cost difference with autonomous, with car ownership on the negative side of the comparison.

          • GregS

            Agree with Michael that this could replace a lot of second cars, but that personal car ownership will still have a lot of advantages and that folks will still want to keep one car.

          • Ren Stimpy

            They won’t have a choice (of personal cars) in the cities because the infrastructure will rapidly adapt for autonomous vehicles. Governments will want this transition because of the massive reduction in roads and traffic spending when personal owners/drivers are removed from the picture. Not to mention the massive reduction in congestion, and the massive utilisation of previously ‘wasted space’. For example, when TaaS really gets going all the large shopping centres will build shops where their car parks once were. The personal car owner won’t have the choice of driving there. That’s just one example. Piece by piece personal car ownership will be phased out of the cities and probably even the regions. All due to the lower cost to budgets and higher utilisation of space that TaaS will bring. There’s a lot more to it than just the lower cost of car travel for the individual.

          • GregS

            Well I’ll believe the “no personal cars” when I see it, and I’m doubting it will happen in 10 years. Still skeptical on this one.

          • Ren Stimpy

            Tony Seba says in about 13 years … 2021 thru 2031 will be the disruption period for TaaS.

            You go ahead and believe what you like. But please Greg S, stay alive, stay healthy, stay sane, etc. so that in 13 years’ time you can admit in a loud clear voice that you were wrong.

            It’s the same hope for longevity that I have for Rupert Murdoch the ignorant old twat. I only hope he’s alive long enough to admit how wrong he is before he takes his last dying gasp.

  • Jorome

    Before leaping into EV/AV heaven don’t forget the most efficient, healthy, environmentally and socially responsible and ethical form of personal and light goods transportation is the bicycle. It has the lightest footprint and just needs safe convenient passage.

  • Ian

    The graph of the S curves for Taas show a 50% mark at 2026 and 2046. These vehicles will solve all our transport woes. No more need to park cars at home or at work at the local centres or in the city. No need to ferry children to school or to extramural activities. No need for buses, light rail, trains, subways. The roads will be under-utilised and empty . All will be sorted. Taking the average between 2026 and 2046 =2036 in 18 years our public transport infrastructure will be defunct. Our investment in subways, highways, park and ride parking lots etc will be stranded.

    Clearly all investment in highway construction, public transport etc must be halted immediately. All new suburban developments must exclude housing with parking or the double garage or even any garage at all. This will allow smaller houses on smaller lots with narrower service roads. Town planning must be modified immediately to allow these savings to take effect.

  • Robert Comerford

    Here is one of those chicken and egg situations. To make not owning a car a viable choice for city dwellers there needs to be a viable alternative. Currently there is not, and to get to the autonomous vehicle era requires the removal of human driven cars on the roads they use. To remove those human driven cars requires the alternative to be in place.
    Perhaps what is needed is for a new carless city to be built first, have the inhabitants move from the old city and then demolish it. :>)

  • GregS

    I’m still skeptical about the whole autonomous driving thing. It might work well for mild climates and for places with well marked roads, but I’m not sure how well it would cope with snow covered roads, or where the lane markers are so worn as to be almost invisible.