The electrification of the transport sector is likely to be one of the most fundamental developments of the 21st century, that will reshape the way we use energy, the way we plan transport systems throughout our cities and require the creation of new skills and industries.
Attendees at the UNSW’s Electrifying Transportation forum this week made clear that they understand the issues and are already working quickly to take the challenges head on, and are keen to share their findings and seek out opportunities to collaborate on crucial solutions.
The forum, an initiative of the University’s Digital Grid Futures Institute, was designed to stimulate greater cooperation between researchers and emerging technology companies to solve challenges that are being discovered through the electrification of transport systems, at the same time as there is an accelerating shift towards transport automation.
The forum heard from high profile academics at the UNSW, as well as representatives of Tesla, AGL Energy, NRMA, Tritium, and consultancy Aurecon.
There was common consensus amongst speakers on the three core barriers to people adopting electric vehicles at this point in time; the availability of public charging infrastructure, prices compared to petrol vehicles and ongoing concerns about range.
Thankfully, one of the key takeaways from the forum is that both the industry and academia are deeply aware of these issues, and solutions are well on the way to solving each of these problems.
UNSW has been a leader in global renewable energy research, following decades of record breaking research that has taken solar energy out of the lab, having developed and pioneered solar cell designs that are set to dominate the global solar PV market.
The leader of that research, professor Martin Green, told the forum that solar energy technologies also had a role to play in the transport sector, with the potential for solar technologies to directly solve the concerns about vehicle range and access to charging facilities.
The integration of solar modules into vehicle design could provide the means for to source enough of their own power for most people’s day to day needs.
“Those of you that have seen solar cars are going to say ‘well, that’s not going to work’. You’ve seen these little light cars covered with solar cells with enough space for one person and no room for luggage. But those cars are designed to travel 1,000 kilometres in a day, and the average Australian commuter travels less than 30 kilometres in a day.”
Michael Mazengarb is a journalist with RenewEconomy, based in Sydney. Before joining RenewEconomy, Michael worked in the renewable energy sector for more than a decade.