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Australia’s electric vehicle strategy is a mess

07/05/21

Australian Financial Review

Australia lags the world in the adoption of electric vehicles, despite compelling arguments in favour of reducing carbon emissions and weaning the country off imported fuel.

Australia’s fragmented and dysfunctional approach to the introduction of electric vehicles is a source of enormous frustration for Nick Deeks, the managing director of quantity surveyors WT Australia.

Deeks, whose firm is involved in the costing of about 90 per cent of the country’s large scale infrastructure and construction projects, is staggered that no provision has been made for electric vehicle charging stations in any of the country’s major government-funded road projects.

He says the following roads being built in NSW have no EV station planning: the $603 million Singleton Bypass, the $360 million Newcastle Inner City Bypass, the $120 million Prospect Highway Upgrade and the $491 million upgrade of the Coffs Harbour Bypass.

Deeks also says there are nine road-widening projects in Australia under way with a complete lack of consideration for EVs.

Complacency around EVs at the federal level probably stems from a combination of the fact that only 0.7 per cent of new cars sold in Australia are electric and only about 18 per cent of carbon emissions come from transport.

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But developments overseas show that when governments encourage EV uptake, the progress can be dramatic, as is happening in China and Europe. About 11 per cent of vehicles in Norway are electric.

There are widely varying forecasts for EV uptake. The forecasts for 2040 range from 20 million globally, according to the US Energy Information Administration, to 500 million according to Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance.

A country caught on either side of the upper end of this spectrum of forecasts could pay a heavy price. Either way, doing little or nothing in the way of planning does not seem like a smart strategy.

Deeks attributes the EV mess in Australia to the “complete lack of forward thinking” in the federal government’s national EV strategy. Data compiled by the Blueprint Institute shows Australia’s EV infrastructure lags the world.

“The strategy does not include financial incentives for motorists to purchase electric vehicles, targets for new electric car sales, or even minimum fuel emissions standards,” he says.

He says the lack of planning for EV chargers on our major roads is only part of the short-sighted approach. He says we need to consider how EV charging infrastructure is integrated into new housing developments.

Without a co-ordinated national approach to EVs, the country risks fragmented rule-making, including conflicting state-based taxes that will encourage regulatory arbitrage.

South Australia leads the way in terms of support for EVs, closely followed by the Queensland and ACT governments, which are testing electric vehicle fleets. Victoria and NSW are lifting their game, but ever so slowly.

Chanticleer agrees with Deeks that Australia needs to develop a co-ordinated EV strategy as part of a more enlightened approach to the electrification of the economy.

The release last month of an energy security consultation paper by the NSW government highlighted the role EVs will play in the National Electricity Market, which is increasingly a distributed network of mini-power stations.

As the NEM evolves it will likely include peer-to-peer trading of solar energy based around community batteries that, according to the NSW energy security paper, will include EVs as a source of power during peak demand.

The words “energy security” are usually used in relation to keeping energy reliable and affordable. In military and intelligence circles, energy security is used in relation to national resilience and building the capacity to function when a nation’s external sources of energy are suddenly curtailed.

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