An entirely electrified fleet of passenger vehicles would substantially reduce Australia’s emissions even if the electricity grid was entirely powered by coal, according to new research that exposes yet more holes in the federal government’s Future Fuels Strategy (FFS).
The study, published in December by Transport Energy/Emission Research, makes a detailed comparison of emissions from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, and battery electric vehicles (BEVs). It finds that, with the 2018 energy mix of around 80 per cent fuel (mostly coal) and 20 per cent renewables, transport emissions would fall by between 16 and 40 per cent.
For a grid that was 90 per cent renewably generated, an electrified passenger fleet would reduce transport emissions by 70-80 per cent. Even on an entirely coal-powered grid – an irrelevant prospect but an instructive thought experiment – an electrified passenger fleet would reduce emissions by between 5 and 29 per cent.
The reports findings contrast starkly with the government’s EV strategy, unveiled 10 days ago. That study cast major doubt over the benefits of switching to battery electric vehicles, claiming hybrid electric vehicles, which run on both petrol and electricity, would have a bigger impact on emissions that battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in states where there is not a high penetration of renewables in the grid.
But it made a number of omissions. Crucially, it failed to include figures for a progressively decarbonsied grid, an inexplicable omission given all models show Australia’s energy networks decarbonising at a rapid rate. The paper also failed to take into account all scope 3 emissions from internal combustion engine (ICE) and hybrid vehicles, most notably emissions from transport and refining of oil used in petrol cars.
It also drew criticism for its calculation that carbon abatement cost of subsidising BEVs was $750, compared to the emissions reduction fund price of $16 per tonne of carbon – a figure which failed to take into account the capacity to charge EVs using renewables.
The government also weighed up the benefits of emissions reduction against cost and consumer choice – a trade off that is incompatible with the goal of net zero emissions.
Robin Smit, director of Transport Energy/Emission Research and author of the report, said the full electrification was unequevically am effective emissions reduction strategy.
“Rapid electrification of the Australian passenger vehicle fleet is a robust way to substantially reduce life-cycle GHG emissions from road transport,” he wrote.
“For each BEV sold, it would immediately provide significant reductions in GHG emissions per passenger vehicle kilometre travelled.It is therefore essential that BEV sales are promoted nowto ensure that a significant level of electrification is achieved in 2030in the Australian on-road fleet. The GHG emission benefits of electric vehicles will only increase further over time as the Australian electricity grid becomes decarbonised.”
James Fernyhough is a reporter at RenewEconomy. He has worked at The Australian Financial Review and the Financial Times, and is interested in all things related to climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy.