Electric cars can help spark post-Covid clean energy economy

Electric vehicles should play a key role in kickstarting a post-Covid economy, and investment in industries around clean transport will build a stronger, more resilient, and ultimately sustainable Australia for the long term.

This was the message from Tim Washington, CEO of electric car charging solutions provider Jetcharge on Wednesday’s Stimulus Summit co-hosted by the Smart Energy Council and The Driven’s parent company RenewEconomy.

Washington outlined three key points that investment in an electric vehicle (EV) industry in Australia should underpin: a focus on new industries that also create jobs, the value of long-term contribution to the economy by those industries, and the co-benefits of those industries such as encouraging domestic tourism to bushfire-affected areas.

“The EV industry in Australia is going to be a vital part of the renewables story,” said Washington. “We need to focus more on long term industries and the development of those industries.”

“Let’s focus on why we’re providing stimulus to certain areas. What I’d really love to see a focus on building a new industry that creates its own feedback loop that creates long term prospects and long term job,” he said.

“The reason we say industries are better (than just jobs) is that it doesn’t require ongoing attention from the government, and ongoing support to keep those jobs propped up.

“If we create an ecosystem that allows high EV growth adoption, which is not possible under current legislative environment… you’ll contribute substantially to GDP and create a lot of direct jobs,” Washington said.

In Australia the electric vehicle industry is still in its infancy, but it is a transition that is inevitable as car makers turn focus to electric drive-trains in order to meet tightening vehicle emissions regulation overseas.

Australia does not have similar vehicle emissions regulations and is therefore at risk of becoming a dumping ground for less efficient vehicles, but a stimulus that focused on a clean transport economy should also inevitably force a change in Australian policy and regulations on these matters.

The upshot of a stimulus package that invested in a clean economy would be long term, continuing contribution to a new Australia, says Washington.

“I think we should focus on building industries and obviously the EV charging industry should be one of those things … those industries should be long term contributors to the Australian economy, said Washington.

Investing in a clean transport economy would reap other rewards, too. A transition to electric vehicles would in part be pushed along with a “keeping up with the Jones'” approach.

“Let’s focus on co-benefits – if were going to stimulating EV charging infrastructure, if we’re going to be providing money into those areas, how does it pair with something else, how does it deliver those co-benefits?” Washington said.

According to Washington, it is imperative that electric vehicles are seen on the road by more people, normalising what was unfairly lambasted by prime minister Morrison’s Coalition government prior to the 2019 federal election as “ruining the weekend”. Instead, clean transport should be foremost on people’s minds as a viable and critical part of a clean energy future.

And it is already beginning to happen, with the introduction of several electric vehicles in 2018/2019 that have resulted in a tripling of electric cars on Australian roads.

“The reality that most people don’t talk about things until we can see them. It’s no surprise more people are talking about eclectic cars because Tesla, Nissan and Hyundai are delivering them,” says Washington.

“It means that the next generation of entrepreneurs are seeing these cars on the roads, investors are seeing theses cars on the road and we need to encourage that.

“It means that when you’re thinking of your next big business idea instead of creating a startup to help me get champagne easier you think … maybe I should invest in these industries.”

“The next generation of software developers and hardware engineers are going to be in a low emissions transport story rather than a digital services story,” he says.

One example of how to get electric vehicles on roads, and at the forefront of people’s minds, at the same as delivering co-benefits, is regional tourism, says Washington.

“EVs and low emissions transport has a opportunity to change how Australia plays its role in environmental story … around the world.

“We need to encourage low emissions road tourism to those regional towns that have been hit first by bushfires, and now by Covid.

“It’s no surprise that domestic tourism is going to be a kickstart to the tourism industry in this country,” says Washington.

There have been many misconceptions bandied about in mainstream media about the ability of electric cars to drive long distances, such as from Sydney to Melbourne as covered by The Driven, and as Washington points, this is simply not true.

“Can you go on road trips with low emissions transport?” he asks.

“The answer is yes.”

Pointing to EV charging infrastructure maps such as on Plugshare, Washington says, “We have a long way to go but the reality is you can drive to a lot of places in Australia.”

“We need to encourage more of this to happen so those regional towns don’t miss out.”

And longer time needed to recharge an electric vehicle is actually a benefit to those towns, says Washington.

“Unlike petrol where you basically go to a petrol station and fill up and move on, EV charging allows us to encourage a “dwell and spend” mentality when you stay overnight or you stay for lunch while you’re charging.”

“By investing in EV charging infrastructure you’re able to help regional and domestic tourism,” says Washington.

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