The task of “electrifying” the more than 10,000 vehicles that make up the federal government fleet could be done at a fraction of of the $200 million cost recently projected by the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO), according to one electric vehicle and energy consultancy firm.
In the wake of the bold plan by newly inaugurated US president Joe Biden to electrify the entire US government fleet – of more than 670,000 vehicles – to stimulate the economy and accelerate the electrification of the US auto market, The Greens released an analysis they had commissioned of how much it would cost to do the same in Australia.
That analysis – based on transitioning all 10,253 light commercial and passenger vehicles in federal government fleets by 2030 over seven years from 2024 – suggests the cost would be in the vicinity of $200 million.
Australian Greens senator and spokesperson for transport Janet Rice says the benefits of transitioning to electric vehicles would be more widespread than just reducing fleet’s transport-related emissions, which in Australia contributes nearly 20% of all carbon emissions.
“As well as cleaning up the commonwealth fleet it would lower the cost of EVs for second-hand consumers by creating a regular supply.
“Within 5 years of the policy starting, electric vehicles would flow into the second-hand market and make EVs cheaper for Australians,” Rice said in remarks.
But Evenergi CEO Daniel Hilson says that based on numerous consultancy projects the firm has been involved in, he can confidently put the cost of the entire fleet electrification at a fraction of that estimated by the PBO (its work was actually done in April last year).
Government fleets are usually leased, so the lower operating costs (charging and maintenance) from an EV should offset much of the up-front cost of an EV. Some analyses show that over a four-year lease, there is no difference for some vehicles.
In his initial calculations shared with The Driven, Hilson says cost could be as little as $20 million. Even without certain “optimisations” taken into account such as factoring in shifts to car-pooling and encouraging high vehicle utilisation rates, it should cost no more than $50 million.
Adding that it is “not possible to provide an accurate estimate without working more closely with the fleet team,” Hilson says that those numbers should be considerably less for several reasons.
The PBO costing assumes a high cost for charging infrastructure, and does not consider the falling price of electric vehicles over the next decade as battery manufacturing costs decline, says Hilson.
The budget office analysis, noted as “conservative” by Rice, is based on $8,000 per vehicle for charging units, and $11,500 gap per vehicle-based on additional leasing costs and includes servicing, electricity and other running costs.
Hilson says there is no need to install one charging unit per vehicle, and that if staff were to garage the vehicles at night as per usual, a home charging scheme in partnership with energy retailers would slash this cost to just $2,500 per vehicle.
Hilson also says that once electric vehicle costs drop in coming years, the gap in leasing should be only $4,000. Given the PBO analysis itself admits transitioning the entire fleet with the seven-year window, if 80% of the fleet were electric the cost would come to just a little over $50 million.
“I agree that the PBO costing likely represents a conservative estimate for converting the commonwealth fleet to electric vehicles,” said Rice in a note to The Driven.
Rice says the Australian Greens are encouraged that projections coming out of the ACT that the state’s fleet could result in a possible net-saving.
“I urge the Federal government to look into these figures and embark on expert consultation to immediately begin turning the federal fleet electric, and for the lowest cost.”
No Australian politician, apart from NSW energy minister Matt Kean, has an EV as his work car. He has a Tesla Model 3. In 2020, the federal Coalition government initially considered two Tesla vehicles for its Comcar fleet but ultimately cut them from a final shortlist.
A federal electric vehicle strategy continues to be missing in action despite being promised in 2019. It is understood it will now form part of a “future fuels” strategy, for which a discussion paper was leaked in late 2020, and this will include the testing of electrics for the Comcar fleet.
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.