OPINION

Eco Living Festival hosts workshop about electric vehicles

Australia is dragging its feet on electric vehicles

As Australia hurtles precariously to the international Climate Change talks in November and the position it will represent on the global stage, there is no shortage of solutions at the local scale that individuals themselves can take and are taking. From rooftop solar PV (photovoltaic) panels to the take-up of electric vehicles (EVs). While one is a runaway success story for Australia with 30 per cent energy coming from renewable sources the other we are told is leaving us as laggards against other nations across the world.

Recent surveys continue to demonstrate Australians are ready to embrace EV technology as one of the serious solutions to Climate Change. Why wouldn't they be ready, willing and able when EV's save thousands of dollars in running costs and generate 40 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions over internal combustion engine vehicles?

Vehicle manufacturers around the world have themselves painted the future for vehicle transportation with most manufacturers and many countries announcing the dates from which they will only produce electric vehicles, or the year in which internal combustion engine vehicles will begin to be phased out from road systems.

No such transition in Australia. Our 2021 State of Electric Vehicles report shows that in 2020, less than one per cent of all vehicles sold in Australia were electric. This compares to European nations showing around 11 per cent of vehicles sold over the past 12 months were electric, right up to the highest EU nation, Norway, where more than 74 per cent of market share is electric.

This sad and sorry trend for Australia in EV take-up is almost at the opposite end of both interest and commitment by Australians for rooftop solar or PV panels. Figures for Australia show that almost one in five Australian homes are benefiting from up to $1000 off their energy bills each year by having solar installed on their rooftops. In fact, Australians have overtaken most countries internationally in the number of rooftop solar panels installed as a means of generating their own electricity. With increased market uptake, installation costs have dropped 60 per cent and payback periods for residents are often between three and five years.

It doesn't appear that it's only differences in costs and savings that have created this enormous gulf between EVs and PVs in Australia? From about 2009, the Commonwealth Government mandated a revised Renewable Energy Target, or RET, as it was known. The RET stimulated Australia's renewable energy sector by creating a target of 20 per cent of Australia's electricity being sourced from renewable sources by 2020, to be met at both the large scale, i.e. power stations, and at the smaller scale i.e. householders placing solar PV on their rooftops.

In sharp contrast to EV take-up, Australian householders have increasingly embraced the renewable energy revolution with the latest solar report for Australia showing where each state and territory is in relation to rooftop solar installations. Solar installations around the country in 2020/21 soared by 373,000 over the previous financial year (up from 323,500 in 2019/20). One third of all installations occurred in NSW (116,000) while a total of 212,000 installations occurred in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia.

And despite relatively diminishing costs for installing solar in contrast to the continuing high costs for solar battery storage off these rooftop systems, current figures indicate the positive influence of financial incentives (and perhaps increasing energy costs) enabling combined rooftop solar arrays with battery storage. New solar in NSW saw battery storage systems increasing as part of rooftop solar by 27 per cent in the first half of 2021 alone. When South Australia decreased their home battery grants in 2021, their battery storage installations with new rooftop solar fell from 39 percent in 2020 to 22 per cent, still a respectable level of battery storage. Combined rooftop solar and battery storage installations increased by 77 per cent in Western Australia over the same timeframe.

So why not aren't similar pricing mechanisms or strategic frameworks driving similar opportunities for an EV revolution as seems to be underway for rooftop solar? Let's look no further than our New Zealand neighbour to clarify what a national approach can do to incentivising the rapid take up of EV's? In 2016, New Zealand announced a goal of 64,000 EV's on roads by 2021. By 2019, there were 18,700 EV's using NZ roads and estimates are indicating 100 percent of all vehicles could be electric by 2030 through the strategic drivers being supported and implemented by the NZ government. With one fifth of Australia's population, New Zealand has an enviable 50 per cent higher number of electric vehicles than we do within our own shores. In the absence of a national framework and incentives for electric car take-up in Australia, a number of states, South Australia and Victoria, have actually announced a new user pays tax to accompany new electric vehicle purchases, moves lambasted by many and looked on internationally as a backward step in the transition from internal combustion engine vehicles to EVs.

Of course, other factors remain in play for Australia's dubious and very slow adoption of EV technology compared with solar even with the substantial annual savings from owning an electric vehicle.

While Australia can expect to have almost 60 different electric vehicle models on the market by the end of 2022, only about 14 vehicle models remain under $65,000. World markets for EVs indicate a likely price parity between internal combustion engine vehicles and electric vehicles by around 2023 and driving distances for EVs seem to be increasing with every new model.

Even the perception of EV 'charging anxiety' is changing with energy utilities, industry players and even local Councils increasing exponentially the number of public electric vehicle charging stations available - with more than 4000 available in Australia. Though Australians drive 32km per day, you can drive up to 400km without charging your EV so you may need to do this once per week. Even with small numbers of EVs on the road, the number of electric vehicle charging sessions in public charging stations in Sydney's eastern suburbs have been found to increase by 380 per cent over the previous 12 months. Perhaps Randwick Council in Sydney's east is showing the way of the future with financial rebates being provided for those in houses and apartments installing their own electric vehicle charging stations and annual targets for the number of new public charging stations installed each year.

While the cost of an EV might seem expensive, there are many benefits given it is half the running cost of a medium size car and averaging 70 per cent cheaper fuel that would pay back over time quickly. Some states beneficial strategies also include no stamp duty for cars under certain prices, use of car pool lanes and priority parking spaces and even EV superhighways.

The greatest benefit to combining EV technology with solar and battery storage is the huge potential for householders and motorists to bring together the renewable energy revolution and use excess solar energy to charge their electric vehicles and even enable their EV battery to be used to provide renewable energy to power their home or unit.

Find out more about at Eco Living Festival's free, online solar and battery storage workshops (October 19 at 12.30pm) or All-about EV's (October 20 at midday). A variety of climate change events will be available with experts like Dr Karl and Dr Jonica Newby until October 24,2021. For more information, visit Eco Living Festival 2021's website. Online sessions are recorded and will be available afterwards.

  • Peter Maganov is Manager Sustainability at Randwick Council in Sydney's eastern suburbs.
This story Australia is dragging its feet on electric vehicles first appeared on The Canberra Times.