National fuel security can be enhanced by EVs & PHEVs

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Recent Al Qaeda threat to disrupt Australian fuel supplies is fuel for thoughtful action on an issue of national importance. EVs may be the answer.

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The recent reports of an Al Qaeda threat to disrupt Australian fuel supplies is fuel for thoughtful action on an issue of national importance. International press reported on the weekend that this Al Qaeda-published map or plan showed the way to ‘choke’ Western economies. (Al Qaeda Resurgence Magazine, p.96, reproduced in Business Insider, Australia, 1 Nov)


Australia currently imports 91% of its petrol and diesel, already refined overseas, and has been closing its refineries. Over 50% of Australia’s fuel comes by ship from a single refinery in Singapore, thus offering a significant threat to national security.

The NRMA has expressed concern that Australia has only 14-20 days’ fuel supply on shore in Australia (plus 3 days in cars’ petrol tanks, on average), in contrast with Europe which has between 90 and 200 days’ supply, Japan which has 171 days and Korea which has 222 days’ supply (2013 figures).

Former deputy chief of the Airforce, Air Vice-Marshall John Blackburn, says that any interruption to fuel supply would be “catastrophic” with food and pharmaceuticals running short within 3 to 4 days. Some businesses would close and would not re-open.

Reliance on fuel from a couple of vulnerable sources is clearly risky. Diversification of fuel supply would appear to be in the national interest to increase resilience.  The NRMA also reports that Australia is in breach of its requirement to hold at least 90 days’ supply of fuel but government appears content to let business and the market manage the problem.

While short-term action is needed to address this specific threat, a medium term perspective should include diversification of energy sources for transport. Electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) offer the potential for replacement of dependence on imported fuels with the independence and resilience of domestic electricity. This extra electricity can be generated from the grid via fossil fuels or renewables (wind), from local PV or ubiquitous GreenPower.

A side benefit is the reduction of emissions from transport – 12% of Australia’s emissions are from passenger and light commercial transport. The Electricity Supply Association of Australia points to the strategic benefits of EVs/PHEVs through scaled-up demand, especially at off-peak, improved grid utilization and reduced exposure to oil price vulnerability. Renewables can be net suppliers if the right policy is put in place.

Australia is currently bereft of policy to increase the adoption of EVs and PHEVs. Europe, China and the US all have strong policies which are achieving significant penetration (up to 14% of all new sales in some countries). Some of these policies use various subsidies as an incentive but some of the more successful policies are cost-neutral. Policy is often enacted at international, national, provincial/state and local government level.  For example, the city of Indianapolis in the US has a policy to switch its entire fleet of essential services and other government vehicles from gasoline and diesel to EV/PHEV by 2025, starting with 425 police vehicles. Other US states are cooperating in a variety of ways to fine-tune existing regulations and policy. The EU has a policy relating to transport emissions which is arguably driving manufacturers to offer PHEVs/EVs right across their model ranges e.g. Audi’s commitment to do so by 2020. (They launch their A3 e-Tron PHEV in Australia this week).

EVs and PHEVs can provide diversification of fuel supply, improved resilience, reduced economic risk, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and reduced pollution. But decisive and cost-neutral or cost-effective policy at all levels of government is required to make it happen.

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  1. Miles Harding 4 years ago

    Is Al Quaeda a distraction and threat of convenience? Australia has also shut down all of its refineries, so is highly dependent on off-shore refineries for the finished product we buy. Storms and fires (remember longford) are more likely sources for a disruption, as is a financial meltdown and being unable to pay for a tanker load.

    The wider question of the overall oil availability situation remains unanswered. Exactly when the oil producers will be unable to keep up with demand is unclear. I suspect that a turning point will be the burn-out of the US shale oil industry, which may occur a lot earlier than is generally thought, due to the very high decline rates of the (fracked) wells and lower quality new wells being opened.

    I am not comfortable with including PHEVs in the mitigation category due to their poor electrical autonomy, typically less than 50 km. They are still effectively obligate fossil fuel users and only serve to cloud the issue with a false sense of security.

    As a policy maker, I would be very concerned with the almost zero penetration of electric vehicles and the most probable timing of the leading edge of the inexorable liquid fuels crisis, which may occur before 2020, and is certain to be underway before 2030. If deep changes are not well progressed before this time, the evolving situation will prove to be extremely difficult to navigate.

    • Farmer Dave 4 years ago

      Miles, I agree completely with your deep concern about the absence of efforts from Federal and State Governments to reduce our reliance on liquid fossil fuels. However, I disagree with you about the potential benefits of PHEVs. We have just purchased an Outlander PHEV and indeed its all-electric range is under 50 km. However, the two major locations we travel to more than 5 times per week are both 30 km away. In the absence of charging facilities at those locations, these are one-way trips on batteries; if charging were available at both places, depending on how much time is available for charging, most of the trips would be all-electric. I don’t think our travel pattern is unusual.

      In other words, the charging infrastructure is important. If available, it would improve the use of PHEVs and reduce reliance on petroleum – the point Bede was making.

      • tsport100 4 years ago

        The obvious solution is to buy an EV with greater range. Although the Outlander is a great PHEV, 50 km plug-in range is at the low end of the market!

        • Peter Campbell 4 years ago

          A friend got one recently. She got well to over her first thousand km on only a quarter of a tank. You would be amazed how those short trips of <50km add up.

          • tsport100 4 years ago

            I test drove an Outlander PHEV for 7 days, covered 700 km of city driving and the fuel tank was still no-where near empty when I returned it. The official ADR fuel economy rating for the PHEV is 1.9L/100km

        • Peter Campbell 4 years ago

          I think the ideal candidate for a BEV (fully battery electric vehicle) is the two car family. One car can be PHEV while the other is BEV. Take the BEV for the longer local trips while the person with the shorter commutes and errands takes the PHEV. Only when you need to go on a longer trip out of town does the PHEV use fossil fuel.
          My wife and I do all our local driving in the BEV I converted 6 years ago or the iMiEV we bought a year ago. The petrol car stays at home except for trips out of town or my daughter uses it occasionally. Eventually I expect we will be back to two cars, one BEV and one PHEV.

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