Enabling change in our Society, Environment and Economy (SEE)

Future with Electric Vehicles

Electric Dreams: Driving The Future with Electric Vehicles

by Anne Clarke, SEE-Change Executive Officer (until January 2014)

Back in August the ACT Electric Vehicle Council lent SEE-Change a Mitsubishi MiEv electric car for 5 days.

It was a revelation.  I couldn’t believe how simple it was to charge and how much fun it was to drive.  We calculated that the savings in fuel for just an average Canberra commute would pay back the extra purchase cost associated with first generation electric vehicles within the space of 5 years – and that period would be even shorter if you had your own solar panels to charge from.

There are some great reasons why we should be actively and aggressively promoting a transition to electric vehicles.  According to Pitt & Sherry’s 2011 research, transport contributes about 23% of Canberra’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, making it our second largest source of CO2 after electricity (and with lots more renewable energy generation planned over the next few years, that share is likely to increase).  In addition, petroleum based products make up more than 30% of Australia’s total imports, and that reliance on foreign oil supplies makes us extremely vulnerable to changes to supply.

With the MiEV’s battery range at about 80 km, it’s the perfect second car for most Canberra families (you may be interested to know that excluding work travel, 90% of car journeys taken in Canberra are less than 10km.)  So why haven’t electric vehicles taken off?  The documentary film of 2006, Who Killed the Electric Car? offered some ideas about what’s held back the uptake of electric cars in the United States, but what’s stopping us from moving forward with electric cars in the ACT?

In a word:   infrastructure.

According to Todd Eagles, Deputy Chair of the ACT Electric Vehicle Council, the ACT Government should be actively promoting the use of electric vehicles by legislating for charging points to be included in design regulations for new houses.  In my own experience, I was fortunate that I was able to charge at an external outlet with three-phase power, on a house with a 2kW solar array, but that was at a friend’s place – initial attempts at my duplex tripped the power until everything else was turned off.

EVStoryimage2Todd adds, “Canberra has some unique attributes that make the adoption of electric vehicles stack up from an economic and environmental perspective. The compressed geography of the area means more trips from a single charge which means if you forget to plug it overnight, you’re not stranded or getting the bus. Canberran families often have a primary car used for long weekend trips and a second car purely for commuting, with the operating costs of an electric car being more than 85% cheaper, purchasing electric for that second car just makes sense. Canberra has the cheapest electricity in the country and some of the most expensive petrol and these are the real factors which people should consider when making a car purchase. Finally, with ACT moving to increase electricity generation from renewable sources, like solar farms, Canberra will have less carbon intensive electricity, a feel good consideration when you plug in the car. I believe these factors should really drive decisions when we purchase our next car.””

Certainly if we look abroad we can see other countries taking steps to encourage electric car use.

The Scottish government has said it wants the country’s towns and cities to be free of emissions from petrol and diesel vehicles by 2050, and to that end has published a “roadmap” setting out its plans to help businesses and motorists switch to electric vehicles.

For starters the government is to spend more than AU$24M over the next two years replacing its fleet of petrol and diesel vehicles with electric alternatives.  It will also install charging points at all of its main buildings.

The Switched On Scotland document was produced alongside experts from industry, academia and environmental bodies, and sets out the plan to drive forward the uptake of electric vehicles in Scotland.  By 2040 almost all new vehicles sold will be near zero-emission at the tailpipe; and by 2030 half of all fossil-fuelled vehicles will be phased out of urban environments across Scotland.

EVStoryimage3Grants of up to £5,000 (AU$8,600) are available towards the purchase cost of an electric car, with up to £8,000 (AU$13,750) available for the purchase of an electric van.  In addition,

Scottish households that buy an electric vehicle will also continue to receive a 100% grant for a home charging point.  And discounted ferry fares for electric vehicles on all routes to Mull and Bute are being introduced as part of a pilot scheme.

Back at home, it could be time for the ACT Government to examine the possibility of converting more of its vehicles to electric; plans are afoot to purchase a small fleet of 10 cars, but that number could be higher.  Converting to electric vehicles is something that would quickly make a difference to the bottom line, with running costs of electric cars at least only a fifth (or less) of petrol driven models.

Our thanks to the Electric Vehicle Council for their help with this story, and for their generosity in lending us the car to test drive.

If you’d like to get behind electric vehicles in the ACT, you could start by visiting the Electric Vehicle Council’s website at www.electricvehiclecouncil.com.au.

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