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EV take-up to be very slow in Australia

By Fraser Stronach, 14 Mar 2021 Opinion

Future Fuels Strategy discussion paper

What we learned from the Federal Government’s Future Fuels Strategy discussion paper

YOU may not have noticed but the Federal Government, yes, that’s ScoMo’s lot in Canberra, has recently released its Future Fuels Strategy discussion paper, which sets out the government’s thinking on electric vehicles and invites submissions on the same.

In the fashion that politicians so love, and crafted by bureaucrats in a way that only they know how, it uses many words to say little.

However, there are some take-home messages, perhaps the key being that private buyers won’t receive a subsidy to make electric vehicles cheaper to buy. Predictably, this has been labelled a ‘do-nothing policy’ by those pushing for a faster uptake of EVs.

OPEN-AIR: Hummer EV!

 

The discussion paper, though, does suggest incentives for the uptake of EVs for business and industry, which is again predictable given the government’s political leaning. The thinking here is that EVs bought by commercial fleet buyers will soon find their way into the hands of private buyers, given fleet buyers turn over new vehicles every couple of years. We will see.

Regardless of government policy, or lack of it, EV take-up is going to be very slow and you can be certain that diesel and petrol vehicles will be around for a good while yet. And while governments in some overseas countries have said they will ban the sales of petrol and electric vehicles by a certain date (in some cases as soon as 2030), for mine this is political posturing rather than hard policy.

Part of the problem in Australia will be that state governments will no doubt head in different directions from each other, and from the Federal Government when encouraging (or discouraging, as they have already done) EV take-up. The pandemic has already proved that Australia is a very fractured federation, as did the bushfires before that for those who were paying attention. Local government will also play a part in this – and hopefully a smarter one than allowing Tesla to install EV charging stations where you can only charge a Tesla! Ridiculous!

Here's what happens to old EV batteries

The relative merit of battery EVs versus hydrogen fuel-cell EVs isn’t discussed in the paper; although, both are mentioned as part of the future EV mix developing in parallel, market forces no doubt playing the major hand with the relative success of the two.

Hydrogen fuel-cell EVs have the advantage of quick refuelling times, but hydrogen-supply infrastructure will be expensive to roll out, even if existing service stations can be used. And hydrogen is problematic to transport by road in the way petrol and diesel are supplied to service stations far and wide.

Battery EVs are also very infrastructure-dependent; although, you can charge them at home if off-street parking (with a power point) is available. The key problem with battery EVs is very slow charging times, which will only be overcome with a significant technology breakthrough with batteries.

Installing battery-EV charging points in carparks of all descriptions, where cars are going to be parked anyway while you’re at work, or shopping, or doing whatever else, is of course the answer. That way, the slow charging time becomes largely irrelevant.

Battery EVs will also put significant demand on our national electricity grid that’s already stretched, with studies suggesting a doubling of electricity demand if there’s a 100 per cent swap from petrol/diesel vehicles to battery EVs.

The merit of charging battery EVs off a national grid that’s largely dependent on coal-generated power is also questionable and makes nonsense of the immediate call for EV subsidies. We need a grid powered by renewables to close the environmental loop with EVs.

The fastest-charging electric vehicles

The government paper also includes conventional hybrids (as against plug-in hybrids) as part of the discussion as if to suggest we are already someway down the road to ‘future fuels’. Given a conventional hybrid relies 100 per cent on ‘current fuel’, namely either petrol or diesel, for its energy source, this is nonsense too.

Make no mistake, EVs have much going for them, not the least being brilliant simplicity and greatly reduced maintenance. They are quiet and smooth running, too, while the nature of EV power delivery is well-suited to stop-start city driving. Making a proper go-anywhere 4x4 EV won’t be so simple.