Electric vehicles have finally become a topic worthy of attention from the Coalition government, and it is a complete turnaround from the blatant hatchet job the then incumbent party did on EVs prior to the 2019 federal election.
The Technology Investment Roadmap discussion paper released on Thursday by energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor puts electric vehicles front and centre of the transport portion of the roadmap, and confirms an Electric Vehicle Strategy is “forthcoming” (last we heard this is still expected in mid-2020 – so anytime over the next two months).
As The Driven and RenewEconomy editor Giles Parkinson points out, “That strategy is already on hold. It will be interesting to see what it delivers.”
The Coalition has itself dialled in a 50% renewables target by 2030 that it ridiculed when proposed by Labor, and it is not out of the question that it will make a similar assumption about the equally disparaged Labor target of a 50% share for EVs in new car sales by 2030.
Given the Coalition’s past attitude to electric vehicles, is it really giving the zero emissions form of transport the right kind of attention?
It does, as Parkinson points out, acknowledge the lack of affordable consumer choice in the Australian auto market, and the potential that electric vehicles have to play in helping to smooth the grid as a distributed energy resource.
It also notes the need for adequate electric vehicle charging infrastructure if drivers are to be able to adopt electric vehicles without a substantive step change in where they can drive.
Given there is already a change in thinking needed for taking 30-45 minutes in charging instead of filling up within a few minutes, this is important.
There are red flags though. It refers to hybrids as a key part of the solution as they are “technology neutral because reduced energy consumption and emissions will result irrespective of fuel and power source,” which ignores the fact it is the electric portion of the drivetrain that is delivering the majority of savings in fuel and emissions.
It says “Low Emissions Technology Statements” will be published each year to communicate progress towards goals defined in the roadmap, but not once are the terms “vehicle emissions” or “emissions standards” mentioned in the document – terms which one would expect if transport emissions were a priority.
The focus is, of course, on technology but from the get go the roadmap makes it clear that, apart from the leading role that electric vehicle charging providers such as Tritium, Chargefox and Evie Networks are taking in Australia (and overseas as far as Tritium is concerned), Australia will continue to be a taker, not a giver.
“Electric vehicles are another key technology where Australia is likely to be a technology taker,” it says, “with some local capabilities to supply components for global supply chains (for example, Australian businesses are recognised world-leading designers and manufacturers of electric vehicle technology such as fast chargers and vehicle retrofits).”
It’s disappointing because if the Covid-19 crisis has taught us anything, it is that Australia would be better placed if it produced anything really, other than just pulling minerals (and oil) out of the ground.
There are startups (eg ACE-EV) and automotive drivetrain developers (eg SEA Electric) in Australia keen to get an Australian auto manufacturing going again. Let’s not forget the remaining remnants of the formerly strong Australian carmaking industry, Holden, now also thrown under the bus by GM either.
Yet electric vehicles are at the top of the list in the technology roadmap discussion paper, which shares the International Energy Agency’s view in figure 12 that EVs are “on track”.
But Australia is far behind other developed countries in terms of adoption of electric vehicles, so an international outlook is hardly relevant.
Its outlook is long term, also.
“Closer to 2030, increased adoption of electric vehicles would provide emissions reduction and cost savings, together with improved urban air quality and other benefits,” it says.
“In the transport sector, hybrids, alternative fuels and electric vehicles present opportunities to improve road transport efficiency and reduce emissions, although pre-2030 abatement potential is limited by the turnover of Australia’s light vehicle fleet (average age of 10 years) and the readiness of these technologies to support emissions reduction in the heavy vehicle fleet.”
Yes, Australia’s fleet is an average of 10 years old. It will take at least decade for the industry to truly start shifting, yet without the support of vehicle emissions standards and incentives such as in China, the US, Norway – will the shift happen quickly enough?
A lack of fuel emissions standards already means Australia will continue to be a dumping ground for older technologies and less efficient vehicles.
There are opportunities in nurturing an electric vehicle industry, that offers not only jobs but ongoing stability and future growth for the Australian transport economy, while delivering emissions.
Perhaps the upcoming strategy will address some of these concerns. But the real question is, having already done hatchet job on wider public attitude to EVs – can the Coalition now reverse it?
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.