Like it or not, electric cars will soon be everywhere. Will Australia be ready?
Australia is dragging its heels on the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) — but we are approaching a point where ultimately we will have no choice. We don’t mass-produce cars here anymore, so we are totally reliant on overseas markets to supply us with what we want.
The major international car makers are phasing out petrol and diesel models in favour of 100% electric vehicles, with electric/petrol hybrids as a waypoint. The rate of change is increasing, so expect car electrification to make serious gains by 2030. It’s not just family cars, either. SUVs, trucks and semi-trailers are in development and in production overseas.
Sadly though, as always happens when big changes are afoot, the naysayers come out of the woodwork, and vested interests start lobbying to prevent or slow down changes.
Electric cars can’t cope!
In the 2019 election Prime Minister Scott Morrison said:
“An electric vehicle won’t tow your trailer. It’s not going to tow your boat. It’s not going to get you out to your favourite camping spot with your family.”
The fact is that electric motors can be just as powerful as any petrol or diesel engine, and they are vastly more efficient than fossil fuel burners. The average petrol-burning car gets only 20–35% efficiency at the wheels, so for every ten dollars of petrol you put in your tank, only $3.50 at best, goes towards moving your car — the rest is wasted in generating heat. Electric motors, on the other hand are 80–90% efficient in getting power to the wheels.
By portraying EVs as underpowered and short-range, Morrison played upon commonly peddled misinformation. In doing so, he sacrificed integrity for political expediency — the exact opposite of leadership — and he did the country a great disservice.
They haven’t got the range!
The development of re-charging infrastructure often comes up in debate about electric cars — “there’s not enough of them” people say, “it’s too slow”.
But the infrastructure didn’t exist for horse-drawn carriages, until things like the proverbial surrey with the fringe on top became the in-thing. Then more and better roads, waystations and stables were built, and wagons could get around more easily.
There was no infrastructure for the horseless carriage either, until people started buying their Model T Fords and Austin 7s in big enough numbers to make petrol stations and sealed roads a necessity. Filling up was slow too, but hand-pump technology pretty soon gave way to powered pumps — supply following demand, as usual.
So too will it be for electric cars. Charging stations are being built — there are already enough for a trip from Cairns to Melbourne and Adelaide and on over to Perth. They will eventually incorporate hydrogen filling too, once that technology is sufficiently developed.
Despite the popular mythology about the great distances Aussies have to travel, the average Australian car goes about 13,000 kms a year — that’s around 35 kms a day. Most EVs sold in Australia will get 300–450 kms on one charge, so that’s just shy of 10 days of travel on one overnight charge. Let’s be on the cautious side and say you could probably get away with charging once a week.
On average, Australians spend about 90 minutes a day in their car, meaning it’s not used for 22½ of the 24 hours in a day — that’s time that can be spent charging. If you charge using off-peak power, it would cost around $7, and if you have solar panels, it’ll be practically free.
Of course, averages don’t tell the whole story, but they do give us a frame of reference. And don’t forget those stats already factor in the occasional driving weekend or longer holiday.
Let’s get a move on!
As I said at the beginning, very soon we won’t have a choice about using cars powered by electricity. If we don’t want to become a dumping ground for the unwanted leftovers of more progressive overseas markets, we need to actually plan for it, and not leave ourselves to play catch-up.