It used to be claimed that if you chose to charge your electric vehicle to the old Hazelwood brown coal power generator, then your emissions would likely be more than a comparative petrol or diesel car.
It’s a dumb idea – EV owners are more inclined to plug into wind farms or solar farms, including their own rooftop arrays, or ensure they source green energy.
Anyway the claim is academic now, because Hazelwood, once Australia’s most polluting power station, is closed. But still, the Australian government is giving emissions data for EVs to consumers as if it was still operating. And consumers are being sold a lie.
Craig Kelly, who doubles as the head of the Coalition’s environment and energy committee, and its technology-troll-in-chief, has been grabbing headlines in the past week with some ridiculous claims about the emissions of electric vehicles, and how they are more polluting than petrol and diesel cars.
“The risk here is you’ll have the rich person in Balmain buying a Tesla, subsidised by a bloke in Penrith who’s driving a Corolla and the Tesla will have more carbon emissions than the Corolla,” Kelly this week told The Australian, and went on to repeat it ad infinitum on radio, TV and in other media.
There’s a whole bunch of issues with this, not least because it’s absurd to compare Corolla with a high performance, and bloody expensive Tesla Model S, and it simply ignores the data.
First let’s look at a fair like-for like comparison. If you compare a Corolla to a comparable car, say a Nissan Leaf, even the federal government’s own Green Vehicle Guide that Kelly cites shows the EV coming out ahead.
And that is even with the dodgy data used for the GVG calculations, which have several glaring errors, and numerous small ones with the way they ascribe emissions to EVs.
Firstly, it uses emissions data from 2015, before the closure of Hazelwood, Northern and other small polluting coal plants. That puts the emissions data well out of date and inflates the counting of emissions for EVs.
What’s more, it doesn’t account for the life of the battery and the huge amount of renewable energy that is and will be added to the grid during that time.
Some 10GW of renewable energy, notes Tristan Edis from Green Energy Markets, will likely be added from the 2015 accounts until 2020, bringing down the emissions intensity of the grid.
Edis suggests the government should do two things: Update the emissions data and provide an estimate, taking into account the influx of renewables on to the grid, of the likely CO2 impact of such a car which will operate for at least another 8 years. It shouldn’t be too hard.
Behyad Jafari, from the Electric Vehicle Council, says adjusting the Co2 calculations just to 2016 data shows EVs in much better light, at a quarter less emissions than the GVG estimates, and well ahead of petrol cars.
Jafari’s calculations – using NEM-wide grid averages – show a Nissan Leaf at 115 grams of Co2 per kilometre, Tesla Model S at 136g, and a Corolla at 167g (less than the GVG estimates), and an “average petrol car” at 184g. That results in this graph below.
And that doesn’t account for current and future reductions in grid emissions as more renewables are added, or the options for EV owners to source their power from renewables – which would slash those emissions from charging to zero.
Nor does it account for other issues – notably the sometimes dubious manufacturer claims for fuel efficiency on petrol cars, and the assumption that emissions for the deliver of the fuel to the pump are somehow lower in Australia, which relies on imports, than they are in other countries.
Finally, Jafari notes that the claim by Kelly that a government report showed that EVs would be more polluting than petrol cars is also dubious.
The report cited was done for the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development by a consultancy called Abmark.
It is a two year old report that focused on emissions standards for light vehicles, and the only reference to an EV comparison is this one paragraph in the 111-page report:
“A challenge to the uptake of EVs in Australia may be due to the fact that the primary fuel source used in power generation is coal. Coal currently provides around 61% of Australia’s electricity requirements. Power derived from coal is highest in Victoria, NSW and Queensland where approximately 80 to 90% of electricity is produced from coal. Electric vehicles driven in these states, and not using green electricity, have a higher CO2 output than those emitted from the tailpipes of comparative petrol cars.”
There is no source for the claims, no analysis, and no further explanation or comment.
Jafari also says it is extraordinary for Kelly, and the Coalition government, to be talking down the prospects of using the old Holden factory and some of its machinery to develop an EV manufacturing base in Australia – a prospect raised by UK billionaire Sanjeev Gupta.
“Here is a successful businessman saying it might make sense and we have the materials and expertise and talent to do it,” Jafari told Reneweconomy. “How ideologically driven could you be that would seek to talk down such projects and deprive Australians of jobs?”
Environment and energy minister Josh Frydenberg, who is sounding a lot more enthusiastic about EVs than he has been about renewable energy or the Tesla big battery, has sought to play down Kelly’s comments, disputing the Tesla vs Corolla comparison.
But here’s the thing. Kelly is a modern-day denier of anything that might trouble the fossil fuel industry and right wing ideology.
He has fought against climate science, renewables (he claims they can kill pensioners), and now electric vehicles. While it might be easy to dismiss his comments as those of a barking mad technology troglodyte, the views of his camp hold sway over the Coalition government.
Just look at the government’s policies on climate, renewables and efficiency. None of them have yet budged from the hard-line Tony Abbott administration.
EVs provide an opportunity to begin that shift. It would justify and perhaps encourage policies and future plans that encourage more wind and solar.
And they could start by fixing the Green Vehicle Guide – there’s not a lot of choice about EVs at the moment for consumers. But sometime very soon there will be.