Electric vehicles can help Australia slash emissions at no extra cost

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It’s become clear that the energy future can and must include electric vehicles. A new report illustrates how they can help slash emissions.

Photo by Yuko Hirao
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Photo by Yuko Hirao
Photo by Yuko Hirao

Australian transport emissions are high and growing rapidly. At the same time renewables are steadily making their way into the national grid and people are actively reevaluating their personal ‘energy security’.

It is now very clear to everybody that energy storage – via the grid itself and via batteries and battery management – will be key to what happens in the energy sector next. What is also clear is that the energy future can and must include electric vehicles.

With trials already underway in Europe this northern summer there is no doubt we will see the widespread  incorporation of electric cars into the grid and into home, public and business power management and electricity budgets.

Already, AGL customers can add both a new EV purchase along charging credit to their power account. Businesses with fleets are starting to wake up to the value of EVs and might soon press for incentives to help them upgrade to EVs. If it’s inevitable – and nobody argues with this anymore  – the only remaining questions are – how fast and how costly will it be. 

This is the question answered by the latest report by climate think tank Beyond Zero Emissions – Zero Carbon Australia: Electric Vehicles – being launched in Brisbane on 12 August with a keynote presentation by Queensland Minister for Energy and Water Supply, the Hon Mark Bailey MP.

What the new study finds is that Australia could rapidly and fairly painlessly eliminate six per cent of Australia’s greenhouse emissions – the proportion currently attributed to urban cars – at no additional cost to the Australian economy.

This is the conclusion of the study’s so-called ‘Low Cost Scenario’ in which oil prices rise instead and EV technology and battery prices fall more steeply. Even though many expert commentators are predicting the Low Cost Scenario will be the most likely to occur, nonetheless BZE also modelled a ‘High Cost Scenario’.

In this scenario BZE found that the cost of a rapid 10 year transition to 100% electric cars powered by 100% renewable electricity was just 25% higher than BAU. Replacing buses costs at most only 10% more than BAU and, if the Low Cost scenario eventuates, it could be $15 billion less, saving billions as well as clearing the air. These costs factor in the costs of installing public charging infrastructure as well as the costs of powering the EVs with 100% renewable electricity.

The modelling by BZE and UNSW’s Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets also makes the conservative assumption that the total number of cars will continue to rise slowly. 

However, several factors could lead to overall demand for cars falling over the coming decades. The trend towards shared vehicles is expected to accelerate especially once autonomous vehicles become available and it is estimated that every new shared vehicle replaces up to 10 private cars. 

Assuming a fleet redundancy rate of 9-10% per year from 2015-2025 the ICE fleet quickly declines, meaning the fleet size is reduced, and also the total cost of the transition to a clean energy fleet. 

There is not much to be gained in terms of GHG reductions from EVs that are charged from coal- or gas- fired electricity.  This is why BZE’s costings include the additional cost of new-build renewable power.

Ignoring rooftop PV generation, to overestimate the demand, BZE calculated the extra load on the grid of 100% battery electric cars and buses at 43TWh per year in 2015, which represents an increase of about 18% on demand. 

The implementation of either intelligent time-of-use tariffs, which would provide a price signal to guide consumers on the optimal times to charge their car, or direct load control, would mean that the extra loads would occur primarily during off-peak periods.

The effect of this is that the additional electrical demand from electric cars and buses can be accommodated with the existing electricity generation and transmissions system, even with the transition to 100% renewable energy on the grid.

Even in the absence of renewable supply an option open to many EV users in Australia is to either use seasonal excess power from their rooftop solar arrays or to purchase 100% GreenPower, ensuring zero greenhouse emissions.

Incentives put into place now could allow businesses and individuals to buy, lease or otherwise access EVs for more trips. It would position Australia to stay in the game on the technology and ultimately allow Australia to take full advantage of rapidly falling EV prices.

It is clear that raising awareness about the suitability of EVs for the task of most urban travel is still a priority – EV trials such as those sponsored by some local governments are a great step in this direction. 99% of all passenger trips in Australia are satisfied by medium range EVs but incentives are needed now so that there is choice and a growing selection of great EVs in the Australian market.

The BZE report also looks at policy incentives offered by leading countries on EVs.  Slashing the company car tax for EVs is a particularly common incentive offered globally and in Australia targeting this policy shift would have the added advantage of enabling EV fleet purchases.

This would lead to a knock-on effect of increasing choice in the whole market – something that is on the verge of collapsing in Australia, and along with it all the benefits of zero emissions personal transport.  

Dr Stephen Bygrave is CEO of climate think tank Beyond Zero Emissions.

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  1. Rod 3 years ago

    With the demise of auto making in this country I think there is a great opportunity to retain auto related skills and infrastructure by creating EV retrofitting capacity.
    Re-purposing some of the popular aging ICE fleet, say Toyota Yaris or Ford Fiesta, might be very affordable given the rapid cost declines in Lithium batteries.
    Also, don’t dismiss the opportunities and popularity of power assisted bicycles.

  2. Don McMillan 3 years ago

    First world nations have a habit of exporting environmental responsibility to developing nations. There is no such thing as zero carbon or zero emissions just like there is no such thing as self propulsion. [Laws of thermodynamics]. Batteries is a classic example of shifting emissions. Firstly manufacturing emissions & environmental impact are not considered which is why more and more factories are migrating developing nations. As per solar panels less regulation cheaper the price. Secondly they have to be charged from the grid especially people living in cities. The South Australian experience shows it is just a case of shifting the deck chairs. Thirdly the emissions for disposal or recycling are also forgotten about. So the article maybe correct we could reduce emissions by 6% in Australia by shifting them elsewhere.
    Interestingly the Natural gas industry is a great supporter of batteries for obvious reasons.

    • MikeH 3 years ago

      Tesla are building their battery Gigafactory in Nevada. Last time I looked that was not in a developing country. We can do some crowdfunding to buy you a map if that helps.

      We have had “solar panels don’t reduce emissions”, “wind turbines don’t reduce emissions” claims from the anti-renewables trolls. Both of those claims have been debunked by peer reviewed science.

      It was inevitable that the same people will make fact free, number free claims that electric vehicles using green power don’t reduce emissions.

      • Don McMillan 3 years ago

        Tesla Yes – Hope it works
        Solar power yes especially in OZ
        Windfarms no especially in OZ CCGG reduce emissions far more cost effectively.
        Cost of Natural gas and Electricity will increase until major users -factories etc move off-shore. Once these factories – e.g Aluminium [Vic] and fertiliser plans [IPL QLD] have moved off-shore then our emissions will drop.
        Time will tell how things work out, I just have an uncomfortable feeling the road will be bumpy, especially when I hear politicians’ speak the words “because of community concerns” which is code for ignoring Engineers, scientists etc.

        • Tom 3 years ago

          Windfarms reduce emissions by about 0.95t per MWh in Australia. CCGT reduces only by about 0.45t per MWh. At current gas prices CCGT is a much more expensive way to reduce emissions.

          • Don McMillan 3 years ago

            Windfarms emissions reduction is based on equivalent CO2 emissions if produced by fossil fuels. When windfarms are connected to the grid their reduction is negotiable as turndown potential of base-load is limited.
            You are probably correct regarding gas prices. East coast of Australia has chosen to have high gas price and future shortages with the banning of Natural Gas exploration in Tas, Vic, NSW and soon NT. This is why people like me have the unenviable task of saying to factories “sorry” – their choice switch to coal or move offshore.

          • Tom 3 years ago

            Most coal is not “baseload” in Australia. QLD and NSW black coal is intermediate and ramps significantly everyday. Because of the interconnected nature of the NEM wind farms usually cause NSW black coal to ramp down, even in electrically remote regions like SA and TAS. Hence the 0.95t figure.

          • Don McMillan 3 years ago

            Cannot turn coal on and off. They rotate. Interconnector means the windfarms act as a “noise” [electrical term] on the grid. The cost effectiveness of wind farms in OZ is poor. We are spending a lot of money reducing emissions base on perception rather than good science. In the end the big users of electricity and HC’s will have to move off-shore. Aluminium, Urea, ammonia nitrate plants are all preparing to exit. I see this a case of shifting the deck chairs. How this is going our economy time will tell.

          • Tom 3 years ago

            You can turn coal on and off, it is just very expensive to restart. They can happily ramp down to 50% capacity and do so regularly (daily).
            Windfarms reducing emissions isn’t perception, it’s fact. Coal consumption is down, mainly due to the RET.
            Read the RET review done under Abbott. Medium term projection is that the RET reduces consumer costs, and even better in the long term. Well worth the increased costs in short term.
            Urea and ammonia produced from nat gas. Unrelated to the RET, windfarms, or electricity. Gas is simply cheaper in the US.

          • Don McMillan 3 years ago

            Baseload plants are generally combine cycle which take days to start/shutdown. It is the gas [& some countries oil] plants do the peaking. You are correct about the cost so it is often cheaper to keep them rotating. Inevitably economics are into play. AGL has stated the NEM is now not a competitive market and we may have to subsidise Fossil fuel plants. Same debate is happening in Germany. How this will eventually work out I do not know.
            Not long ago Gas was cheaper in Australia but the success of the anti-gas activists have devastated the industry. What concerns me that for example NSW there are 84,000 manufacturing jobs directly reliant on natural gas. Activists & the Greens are happy to import rather than manufacture here. So Gas for generation is just going to get more and more expensive until manufactures move offshore. Everything is interlinked.
            Everything we do here is piecemeal and political decisions are made based on “community concerns” which is code for ignoring engineers scientists & economist etc advice. I see nothing stopping the experiment. My preference is to do things in measured steps see the repercussions modify and take the next step. Unfortunately we are jumping in the deep end, may work, time will tell. All the best

          • Rod 3 years ago

            That’s the second time in this thread you have suggested Fracking as a solution. I heard the same BS from a Shell exec the other day. The problem is our idiot politicians believe it.

            We have plenty of gas. We just choose to give it away.

          • Don McMillan 3 years ago

            We have got plenty of gas. The big domestic users are in Sydney and Melbourne. The early 2000’s the Domestic users realised that with NSW and possibly Vic CSG the over-supply due to the Ramp-up for LNG would decimate the gas price. So they choose not to sign up for gas from QLD. Why should they as pipeline tariffs from QLD to Moomba to Sydney to Vic would make gas very expensive. At the time Gas producers proposed a PL from Wallumbilla to Sydney that fell over as with CSG. You must agree that locally produce Gas is always cheaper. Now politicians want to build a pipeline to NT. Pipeline tariff [NT to Moomba-Syd] makes these industries uncompetitive anyhow. I doubt if this pipeline will be built as it is highly likely Labor will win in NT and they propose to ban Frac Stim which is required in their tight and shale gas reservoirs. I have the ultimate solution – places that ban FracStim & CSG or Natural gas exploration should also ban the importation of Natural Gas [Vic, Tas, NSW at soon NT]. [We ban ivory, shark fins, child labour etc for very good reasons. If you believe in Banning Gas then ban the import]] That solves the supply problem.

          • Tom 3 years ago

            You are clearly not experienced in the energy industry. CCGT never runs baseload and doesn’t take days to start. Even the slowest coal plant takes no more than 6 hours to start.
            Gas is expensive because 75% of East Aust. production is being exported – nothing to do with ineffective Greens activism.
            Please do something else with your retirement.

          • Don McMillan 3 years ago

            Remember NSW was planning a LNG plant at Newcastle. So if they want cheap gas they can find it under their own feet. The solution is those who ban gas exploration should ban the import of gas. [We ban ivory, shark fins, child labour etc for very good reasons. If you believe in Banning Gas then ban the import]]

    • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

      I am sick and tired of this sort of nonsense, masquerading as “reality”.

  3. I attended the launch of this policy on Friday night, and would like to congratulate Stephen Bygrave and his team at Beyond Zero Emissions for their great work. I drive an electric car, and they are fun, zippy, and quiet. Like a petrol or diesel car, these cars have emissions embodied in their manufacture, but when run with renewable energy are much cleaner during their life. The lithium batteries can be reused for stationary storage once no longer in the car, and fully recycled later. I think they are especially suited to town and city driving, and with enough of them, our roads would be quieter and we wouldn’t be expecting pedestrians and other drivers to breathe in our tailpipe pollution.

  4. BeyondZeroEmissions 3 years ago

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