A recent poll on Twitter has underlined how long it takes to get fossil-fuelled cars off the road, even in a country where the majority of car sales are now 100% battery electric.
It has also shown how far off the mark the general population – even those considered energy and transport savvy – is on how fast the transition to clean transport is happening.
Norway provides the perfect example. A pioneer in the transition to sustainability, it has encouraged EV uptake for three decades and is set to achieve 100% EV sales before 2025.
But according to Statistics Norway, in 2021 almost 6,000 million kilometres driven by passenger cars were powered by electricity. The total number of kilometres driven by passenger cars was 35,000 million, so EVs still account for less than 20%.
This percentage is a long way off the perception of how far Norway has come in the EV transition.
A poll posted by energy analyst and sometimes RenewEconomy author Ketan Joshi on Sunday asked followers to vote on what percentage of kilometres they thought were powered purely by electricity.
“For 2021, some percentage of total kilometres driven in passenger cars in Norway were driven in fully electric vehicles. What range does that percentage sit within?” he said to followers.
Joshi is well known in the Twitterverse as an energy transition specialist and author, and one can presume that the majority of his followers would at least be aware the percentage of new car sales in Norway is nearing eight in ten cars sold.
Interestingly, in response to Joshi’s question, the answer that most people clicked on was 50-75%.
Please don't answer this if you know!
For 2021, some percentage of total kilometres driven in passenger cars in Norway were driven in fully electric vehicles. What range does that percentage sit within?
— Ketan Joshi (@KetanJ0) October 15, 2022
As Joshi noted in a follow-up tweet, “While *sales* of new EVs is high in Norway, people don’t buy cars often, meaning this bleeds through only very slowly into kms driven, and resulting emissions.”
The huge disparity between what people thought and the actual percentage of kilometres driven by EVs shows public perception of the EV transition is clearly out of sync with reality.
Data collated by Joshi into the charts below highlight the disparity. Whilst Norway’s EV sales are tipped to reach 100% before its 2025 target, average fleet turnover means it will still be some time before fossil fuels are left behind by passenger cars.
Cash-for-clunkers can drive the switch
A research piece in March published by scientists at Pennsylvania State Univerity and MIT in Massachusetts looked at the huge task in front of the passenger transport industry to reach net zero.
Titled “Accelerating vehicle fleet turnover to achieve sustainable mobility goals,” it noted that “even if EV market share jumped dramatically, it would take decades to replace the existing vehicle fleet, during which time vehicle GHG emissions would continue, worsening climate change.”
It found that “cash-for-clunkers” (C4C) schemes were invaluable for encouraging drivers to switch from polluting combustion engine cars to clean, electric options.
“We find C4C policies can substantially reduce vehicle fleet emissions at reasonable cost per tonne of CO2. To meet emissions reductions goals, C4C policies should apply only when consumers replace their fossil-powered vehicles with EVs,” the researchers noted.
Importantly, it found that merely promoting EVs as an alternative transport solution would not be enough to meet 2050 climate goals.
It also found that C4C schemes was most effective when complemented by c”promoting renewable electricity production and a gas tax or carbon price.”
Australia’s long road to clean mobility
Last Friday, the Electric Vehicle Council released its latest “State of EVs” report for 2022. It showed that EV market share (including battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids) accounted for just 3.39% of new car sales so far in 2022.
Battery electric vehicles accounted for 2% in total, with the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y accounting for some 65% of these.
LATEST REPORT: State of EVs – Oct 22
⚡EVs now represent 3.39% of all 🇦🇺 vehicle sales, a 65% increase on 2021
🚘 45 #ElectricVehicle models, 95 variants available in Oz
🔌 3,669 public chargers across 2,147 locations in Australia
Read the full report: https://t.co/CVO4ezg5FE
— Electric Vehicle Council of Australia (@EVCouncil) October 13, 2022
Speaking to The Driven, EVC Head of Policy Jake Whitehead says that Australia may not even reach 100% EV kilometres by 2050, the year that sustainability goals target in order to limit catastrophic rises in global temperature.
“In terms of having a 100% zero emissions fleet – even if we act rapidly we are still talking around 2050,” he says.
“In Australia cars have an average life of 14-15 years. Assuming we sell the last petrol and diesel cars in the mid-2030s, it will take 14-15 years for the remainder of the fleet to turn over.”
“It’s not impossible but highlights the importance of acting today – we don’t have much time to spare.’
In terms of 2030 emissions reduction targets, Whitehead notes the federal government doesn’t have transport-specific targets, and says this makes it difficult to understand what the government wants to achieve.
Most important to drive Australia’s EV uptake is the introduction of fuel emissions standards in line with overseas. This would ensure that legacy carmakers prioritise EVs for Australia instead of continuing to promote combustion engine cars.
“If we put emissions standards in place, we have a chance of transport reaching a slight reduction in emissions,” Whitehead says.
Australian cash for clunkers scheme?
In regards to cash-for-clunkers schemes – such as that being eyed by New Zealand – Whitehead says that a similar scheme in Australia would go a long way to helping drivers access EVs and shorten the lifespan of combustion engine cars.
There are certainly cases where older cars – such as classic cars – will remain on the road for some time. But, as has been seen in Victorian where a similar scheme called “unsafe2safe” aims to get young people out of old dangerous guzzlers and into newer, safer cars, there are plenty of older cars that are better off the road.
“We would welcome through the national EV strategy some consideration of how we can increase turnover rates,” he says.
“If we’re smart about it we can do it in a way that will help drivers make switch to electric vehicles. There’s defientily a need to get petrol and diesel vehicles out of the fleet sooner. If we were to have rapid uptake, we’re probably still going to have 50-60% of cars on the road today still driving in 2030.”
He adds that there is an equity issue as well that needs to be addressed.
“We should be looking at how we can support people to reduce their fuel bills, but also have that opportunity to get into an EV in other ways – such as subsidised leases, subscription and broader public transport – it’s not just about having a car.”
Accelerating vehicle fleet turnover to achieve sustainable mobility goals
Sergey Naumov, David R. Keith, John D. Sterman
Bridie Schmidt is associate editor for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model Y and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.