More efficient cars will help meet our 2030 climate target, and save money

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Vehicle efficiency by 50% would cut emissions by 9 million tonnes/year after 10 years, as well as save us money, and reduce our reliance on imported oil.

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The Conversation

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Better fuel efficiency means more money, less emissions. srv007/Flickr, CC BY-NC

How will Australia achieve its post-2020 climate target? In announcing the new target of 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Environment Minister Greg Hunt outlined a range of policies that could help achieve this target, including extending Direct Action, a yet-to-be-announced National Energy Productivity Plan and improved efficiency of vehicles.

ClimateWorks’ research suggests improving vehicle efficiency by 50% would cut emissions by 9 million tonnes each year after 10 years.

But vehicle efficiency isn’t just about reducing emissions. It can also save us money, and reduce our heavy reliance on imported oil.

How reliant are we on oil imports?

A recent Senate Committee report into Australia’s vulnerability to potential oil supply interruptions highlighted the intersection between energy security and environmental impacts.

According to a report from the National Road Motorists Association (NRMA), Australia’s reliance on imported oil and fuel has grown from 60% in 2000 to over 90% in 2014

What’s more, Australia is in breach of its obligations under the International Energy Agency (IEA) treaty to maintain a minimum of 90 days worth of stocks of oil. For instance, in January 2014 we had 60 days of oil stocks. This requirement is in place to manage the event of a severe disruption to global oil and fuel supplies such as was experienced in the 1973-74 oil crisis.

Maintaining reasonable supplies of oil also helps avoid the unlikely but catastrophic economic impacts of a country actually running out of oil. To give you an idea of what might happen if we ran out oil tomorrow, the NRMA’s submission states that Australia would run out of hospital medicines within three days, petrol at service stations within three days, retail pharmacy supplies within seven days, chilled and frozen goods (refrigerated food) within seven days, and dry goods (all other food) within nine days.

In other words, it would pose a serious threat to our economy, to essential services and to human health and well being.

While other submissions downplayed the risk, the committee was sufficiently concerned about “the fact that a substantial disruption in fuel supply would have serious consequences across the Australian community” to recommend further action be taken, including the development of a “comprehensive Transport Energy Plan directed to achieving a secure, affordable and sustainable transport energy supply”.

The multiple benefits of improving vehicle efficiency

This is fundamentally a problem of supply and demand. It can be fixed by either increasing supply, or decreasing demand – or both.

Increasing supply would involve expanding production of oil in Australia, which seems unlikely – with the possible exception of biofuels – given projections for declining oil production in Australia.

Building and maintaining more fuel storage tanks can also act as a short-term buffer in the event of supply interruption.

The other strategy is to decrease demand for oil. There are several options here, all of which not only help reduce our vulnerability to fuel supply interruptions, but have multiple other economic, social and environmental benefits.

The first option is to improve the fuel efficiency of our new cars and heavy vehicles. Australia happens to be one of the very few developed countries in the world that does not set a minimum standard for fuel efficiency of our new cars. Australia could move to introduce best practice vehicle fuel efficiency standards, targeting a 50% improvement within 10 years, similar to other markets.

 

Our research has shown that meeting this target would bring significant benefits to consumers who will be paying less in fuel bills, with net annual savings of approximately A$350 for average drivers over a five-year ownership period.

It would also address broader national issues such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions by almost 9 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year after 10 years, and reduce demand for oil by between 40 million and 66 million barrels per year.

 

These improvements will also help ensure that Australia keeps pace with productivity gains in other comparable countries.

The federal government is currently developing a National Energy Productivity Plan – part of its Energy White Paper – which could include measures to lay the groundwork for the introduction of fuel efficiency standards after 2017, when domestic auto manufacturing is planned to close, alongside complementary measures to drive consumer demand for more efficient vehicles, and to address any technical and infrastructure issues, including concerns raised about fuel quality in Australia.

The second option is to reduce the need for transport full stop, by encouraging the use of teleconferencing and videoconferencing and through better urban design to encourage walking, biking and use of public transport.

The final option is to encourage a shift from oil-based fuels to other fuels. In particular, a shift from petrol cars to hybrid, electric and fuel-cell cars, from diesel trucks to gas, and increased use of biofuels particularly for aviation – all of which reduces the demand for imported oil.

ClimateWorks’ energy and emissions calculator, which includes a fuel security feature built with support from NRMA, shows that Australia could reduce demand in 2030 for imported oil for transport by more than half and increase the number of days we could go without oil imports for transport from 14 to 32 days, even without building a single additional tank.

And of course, we’d be saving money, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving the quality of the air in our cities at the same time.

The ConversationSource: The Conversation. Reproduced with permission.

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13 Comments
  1. Glen S 4 years ago

    I envision petrol/diesel cars to be significantly outdated in ten years time. In my opinion money is better invested in getting electric charging infrastructure in place for the coming wave of pure EVs. ICE vehicles are near the end of their technological development. The laws of physics determine an ICE engine can never be more than 23% efficient.

    • suthnsun 4 years ago

      The PHEV I run is at >80% less petrol than previous car.

      • disqus_3PLIicDhUu 4 years ago

        That’s amazing, way to go.

    • althom 4 years ago

      Yes, the inefficient ICE is progressively becoming redundant by new emerging efficient engine innovations. Be aware that there is a ‘market coming’ (non-ICE) silent, flexible-fuel (liquid or gaseous), fuel-efficient engine technology applicable for all vehicles types that indicatively can reduce diesel/petrol fuel consumption by up to 90% = 90% fuel cost saving = 90% exhaust emissions reduction and higher with natural gas fuel and with biodiesel 100% = operates as emission-efficient as an electric vehicle but with a higher driving range. Offers the desired increase in vehicle efficiency for emission targets. Also an engine suitable for marine and aviation applications. An engine for reversing Australia’s dependence on imported fuels and thereby increasing Australia’s fuel security.

      • Barri Mundee 4 years ago

        What is that non-IC technology ? Would you be able to supply more details and link?

  2. john 4 years ago

    As outlined in this article Australia is one of the very few countries that does not set guidelines for fuel efficiency.
    The country just allows any type of vehicle to be sold as long as it meets safety requirements
    There are some very efficient vehicles on sale that will achieve very low usage of fuel however they may be outsold by poorly achieving vehicles purely on price.
    The policy is let the consumer decide.
    Looking at the average mix of vehicles on the road the consumer is pretty dumb as judged by the number of large 4X4 and SUV vehicles.
    For a commute vehicle an EV can not be surpassed.
    However those who take 3 or 4 trips longer than 100 km per year they will buy some horribly inefficient vehicle that is costing them a lot of money.
    I can not see this changing frankly due to the myopic knowledge of the average person.

    • Barri Mundee 4 years ago

      I agree that there are a huge number of 4×4 and SUV’s of which a good percentage are not “required” in the sense that they do not go off-road but the industry has persuaded people to buy them over more fuel-efficient and lower emissions vehicles.
      I think the best way to address this is through mandatory world’s best practice fuel efficiency and emissions standards to gradually eliminate the gas guzzlers from the national fleet.

      • john 4 years ago

        I do not think this is going to happen because there is more profit in selling these vehicles than other vehicles people do have a perceptive problem you can not over come stupid

    • Smurf1976 4 years ago

      Cars are expensive to buy and it costs considerable money (registration, insurance etc) to simply have a vehicle. As such, most consumers will have no more vehicles than they actually need. There are exceptions of course, some people collect cars or otherwise own multiple vehicles, but for most that’s just not an option financially.

      As such, consumers will have a vehicle which meets most or all of their needs, not just some of their needs.

      Just about any car can be used for commuting to work, that’s the easy bit. The harder part is longer trips, carrying things and so on. Hence the popularity of vehicles suited to these purposes.

      In my case I’m extremely aware of the oil situation in the long term and have been so since the late 1980’s. But I won’t be buying an EV anytime soon for a very simple reason. Whilst my typical trips are 50km return, I also need to travel much longer distances from time to time. When someone can sell me an EV that reliably does 400 km on a charge, and there’s the ability to recharge it practically anywhere (eg on the street in a small town) in reasonable time (a couple of hours) and/or the ability to charge it at a “service station” in perhaps 15 minutes then I’ll be interested. Until that happens, my realistic choices are petrol, diesel or LPG.

      All that said, I do wonder at the approach taken in the design of hybrid vehicles as most (all?) seem to use the ICE to directly power the vehicle as such in addition to electric drive. Why not build an EV with an onboard generator that simply charges the batteries? That way the ICE runs at a constant speed (maximum efficiency), can be quite small since it only needs to produce a few kW and only needs to be used when genuinely needed.

      Normal running of such a vehicle = electric.

      Drive 300km and find there’s nowhere to recharge at your destination? Easy, start the ICE and it stays running to charge the batteries whilst the vehicle is stationary. Not an issue assuming the vehicle is parked somewhere outside.

      Want to drive a long distance, more than say 300km, with minimal stops? ICE runs whilst driving to supply much of the power needed, thus massively extending the range of the battery. The ICE doesn’t need to produce a huge output to go up steep hills, it just needs to cater for the average electricity use of the vehicle to keep the batteries charged.

      Such an approach would completely remove the need for petrol / diesel for everyday driving in cities and medium distance trips whilst overcoming the range problem for longer trips or where no charging infrastructure exists. Not perfect, some diesel / petrol is still needed, but it would cut consumption 90%+ I’d expect.

      With the low capacity of such an ICE and minimal use it ought to be fairly cheap to produce and maintain. A 1 or 2 cylinder diesel just running a generator – all pretty simple.

      Maybe it exists? But the hybrid vehicles I’m aware of generally seem to use the ICE to directly power the wheels rather than to simply generate electricity for long trips.

      • john 4 years ago

        You are on the money with the need for a vehicle that will do long trips especially in Australia where there are such long distances.

        The Tesla is presently rather expensive and while they are rolling out a supercharging network it is limited naturally to high density areas.

        Their new offering should be of interest as it is aimed to have simular distance ability but at a far cheaper price point.

        With all major manufacturers getting into EV or hybrids the offering coming are going to be very interesting.

        A site of interest to you may be http://evobsession.com/

      • trackdaze 4 years ago

        I see your future smurf as embodied in the mits outlander phev. Perfect for the 50k commute and the long haul.

    • trackdaze 4 years ago

      Trouble is that some large diesel 4×4 are more fuel efficient than quite a few smaller vehicles.

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