Will the vogue for government bans on future fossil-fuel vehicles, currently sweeping Europe, reach Australia as well? Some observers fear that, with its size as an excuse, Australia will remain stuck in the combustion-engine era. But size can also be an advantage for transition to the future – as in the Australian state of Queensland.
France recently announced that it would ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040, and the UK was quick to replicate that ambition. Meanwhile, similar bans are considered in Norway and Austria, proposed in Switzerland, and no doubt soon the sublect of fierce debate in many other countries.
While India has also made a similar pledge, the trend for governments to speed up the transition to a post-fossil future for the automotive industry by announcing the ban on the sale of new combustion-engine vehicles is a mainly European one.
In Australia, it's a different story. The wild variations in the forecasts for the future of powertrains is an indication of the reigning confusion. While the Australian Energy Market Operator suggests that up to 45% of new cars will be electric by 2036. But other projections from the CSIRO, Australian National Uuniversity, the Department of Environment and Energy and others put the number at between 15% and 100%.
Even with the direction of the trend clear, Australia's politicians are still debating relatively how to fiscally encourage relatively small cuts in vehicle emissions. Policy proposals to promote zero-emission vehicles are even rarer.
Faced with such uncertainty and inaction, even those who accept that the future of mobility is electric will tend to wait out the change, rather than take an active part in bringing it about.
Especially since some observers tend to think Australia is ill suited for a transition to an electric future. In a recent article, the Guardian quotes Australian Automobile Association CEO Michael Bradley as saying that due to the large distances typical for Australia, as well as the country's reliance on coal for its electricity grid, electric cars are neither convenient for consumers, nor a solution for climate change.
The statistics confirm Australia's less than lukewarm embrace of electric mobility. Last year, just 1,369 electric vehicles were sold in the whole of Australia – 0.1% of total automobile sales, and even less than the figure for the previous year. And most of these cars were hybrids, with a minority being full-electrics.
So, does the land Down Under risk being left behind in a waft of petrol fumes, as the rest of the world transitions to electric mobility? Fortunately, there is some cause for optimism as well.
While range anxiety is slowly being overcome in Europe, thanks to the steady increase in EV autonomy between charges, it remains a real worry in Australia, a much bigger, less densely populated place than any European country.
But that worry is misplaced: last year, most Australians drove less than 30 km a day – and 99% drove less than 160 km a day. That's a distance any modern EV can easily do on one charge.
Howeve, Australia's size does matter when it comes to installing the charging infrastructure required to make electric mobility a realistic proposition beyond the urban centres.
Cue the government of Queensland, which has unveiled its plans for an electric superhighway – a 1,600-km stretch of road amply provisioned with 18 fast-charging stations, to be completed over the next six months. The stations will be installed along the main coastal highway, eventually allowing EV drivers to travel all the way from the tropical north of the state down to the state border with New South Wales without ever being further than 100 km from a recharging station.
When finished, the Queensland EV Superhighway will be one of the longest such stretches in the world. The fast-chargers, which can recharge an EV within half an hour, would remain free for the time being, in order to encourage the uptake of EVs.
Will the EV Superhighway be Australia's springboard to an electric future? EV advocates point to the need for affordable electric cars, and a sufficient level of government subsidies could help achieve this. It may be some time yet before Oz becomes a South Pacific version of Norway, the world champion in EV uptake. But Queensland's EV Superhighway may prove to be a turning point in dragging the country towards its electric future.
| 03/08/2017 | Frank Jacobs