Timid steps in decarbonising transport with National Electric Vehicle Strategy

April 21, 2023 at 2:22 pm Leave a comment

The National Electric Vehicle Strategy (NEVS) launched by Climate Minister Chris Bowen and Transport Minister Catherine King is an important first step to decarbonising vehicle transport in Australia. It provides a vision for transitioning Australia’s light vehicle fleet to zero emissions. The policy appears relatively timid lacking specific targets for phaseout of new petrol/diesel vehicles.

Much will depend on the formulation of the Fuel Emission Standards and how much ambition is encompassed in those standards. Whether certain stakeholders such as the Fossil fuel sector or the Motor Industry can successfully lobby for loopholes or watered down standards.

The major active part of the National Electric Vehicle strategy is setting Fuel Emissions Standards. This is still dependant on industry and public consultation for the next 6 weeks (See Consultation paper). It is hoped to have standards in place by end of 2023 or early 2024.

And hopefully firm targets for a ban on new petrol/diesel light vehicle sales.

In February this year, Europe confirmed a 2035 petrol and diesel new car ban. This adds to United Kingdom ban from 2030, and a hybrid ban from 2035; Canada, New Zealand, South Korea, Chile, California ban from 2035; Singapore ban from 2025; in the USA the Biden administration have proposed two pollution rules which would effectively mandate two-thirds of new cars and a quarter of new heavy trucks sold in the United States by 2032 are all-electric. (NY Times). Here in Australia, the ACT to ban petrol and diesel cars from 2035.

The standards need to be ambituous and on par with vehicle emission standards in New Zealand or Europe. Ambitious mandatory Fuel Emission Standards will drive manufacturers to providing more EV cars and greater variety of models for sale in the Australian market.

The only other major industrial country without fuel emission standards is Russia. “On average, new cars in Australia use 40% more fuel than the European Union, 20% more than the United States, and 15% more than New Zealand.” At the moment Australia is a target for dumping high emissions vehicles.

We should have had fuel emission standards at least a decade ago but the Coalition parties were too busy playing ideological climate wars to put the health and hip pocket of Australians first.

Transport Emissions Targets

Transport makes up 19% of Australia’s emissions. Passenger cars and light commercial vehicles alone contribute 60% of our transport emissions and over 10% of Australia’s total emissions. Transport is projected to be Australia’s largest source of emissions by 2030.

According to the media release the strategy will help cut our emissions by at least 3 million tonnes of carbon by 2030, and over 10 million tonnes to 2035, and help to meet Australia’s legislated 43 percent emissions reduction target by 2030.

Weighing up the positives and negatives

Much of the strategy document is visioning statements, and many of the actions have a high reliance on existing State Government and Territory Initiatives.

Positive outcomes include:

  • Roll out of public charging infrastructure network,
  • national mapping tool for EV charging infrastructure
  • charging options for renters and people living in apartment buildings.
  • Australian made battery plan
  • Critical minerals Strategy.
  • EV and other large format battery recycling, reuse and stewardship initiative

Concerns include: 

  • Nothing on bidirectional and smart charging, 
  • Lack of overall transport decarbonisation strategy apart from Fuel Emission Standards and light vehicle fleet transition. 
  • nothing on addressing equity
  • Scant detail on funding, timing, accountability
  • little on electrifying public transport, except in supporting some state based electic buses programs, 
  • Nothing on reforming the tax settings that favour fuel-guzzling Utes and SUVs.
  • Support for Hydrogen Highways infrastructure with the first phase being provision of refeulling stations along the Hume Highway.
  • Limited mention of e-Busses (State Government initiatives)
  • Nothing on e-bikes and Light Electric Vehicles despite this being in the terms of reference. Feedback identified that “The Strategy should consider the use of other forms of transport and options to convert public transport to low- or zero-emissions alternatives.” The Strategy failed to do this, except for State Government e-bus programs.

You can read Hussein Dia, Professor of Future Urban Mobility, Swinburne University of Technology, assessment of the strategy at The Conversation: Australia finally has an electric vehicle strategy. How does it stack up?

He outlines many of the same positives and negatives saying that “In short, the strategy represents a step in the right direction but falls short of introducing meaningful new measures to speed up this transition, at a time when urgent interventions are needed.”

He goes on to articulate:

“The strategy also falls short on measures to accelerate the adoption of electric trucks and heavy commercial vehicles. Freight transport networks and supply chains present particular challenges for reducing emissions. It is equally important to incentivise adoption by providing cheap loans and increasing supply of reliable, sustainable and cost-effective alternatives to diesel trucks. Importantly, too, the strategy does not stop subsidies and incentives for fossil fuel vehicles.”

Alternative Urban mobility not considered

There was little in the strategy to encourage alternative mobilities. While the strategy mentions various state initiatives for electric busess, there was nothing on expanding electric rail or tram networks, or on encouraging e-bikes and Light Electric vehicles, and active transport.

This is despite much of the acknowledged feedback saying: “The Strategy should consider the use of other forms of transport
and options to convert public transport to low- or zero-emissions alternatives.” (pp 16)

Around half of all trips every day in Australia are just 5km or less. Many of these trips can be undertaken by walking or cycling. There was a missed opportunity for infrastructure and subsidy support for cycling, e-bikes and Light Electric vehicles and changing urban mobility behaviours. See WE Ride Australia statement.

Risks in Hydrogen Fuel Cell Infrastructure

Hydrogen fuel cell light vehicles are likely to remain an expensive and small niche market in comparison to Battery electric light vehicles. Use of green hydrogen for light vehicles ia a very inefficient use of green hydrogen according to Michael Liebreich’s Clean Hydrogen Ladder.

Long haul Hydrogen fuel cell freight trucks make medium efficiency sense, but will compete with battery electric long haul frieght trucks. This includes battery-swapping and heavy truck conversion actions of Janus Electric which the Strategy failed to mention. Battery Swapping has just completed a successful trial in South East Queensland, according to the Australian Financial Review report.

Charging infrastructure for EVs can be built relatively easily, whereas hydrogen fuel infrastructure will be limited in its use and hydrogen will need to be regularly transported to the refuelling stops (or produced locally from the electrolysis of water via solar or wind energy). This adds more inefficiency and complexity.

“The Victorian and New South Wales governments are investing $10 million each in grant funding to co-deliver the Hume Hydrogen Highway initiative. This supports the design and delivery of the Hume Hydrogen Highway between Melbourne and Sydney – Australia’s busiest freight corridor. The initiative aims to support development of at least four hydrogen refuelling stations and approximately 25 hydrogen-powered longhaul heavy freight vehicles.”

National Electric Vehicle Strategy pp28

Really Australia? We should be upgrading the freight capacity of Sydney-Melbourne rail instead. Which would remove some of the heavy freight trucks from the Hume Highway, reducing road maintenance and increasing safety. We are already committed to the Inland freight rail project linking Melbourne to Brisbane, which will now cost in excess of $31 billion, almost doubling in cost over 3 years. Although Inland rail will provide long term freight emissions reduction.

If you read Liebreich’s comments on use of green hydrogen for land transport the hydrogen highways east coast network infrastructure as part of the National Electric Vehicle Strategy, seems questionable at best.

“Long-distance trucks are a D. Wait, you cry, everyone has been saying that hydrogen is the only solution here. Sure, you could build a whole hydrogen infrastructure just for the 15% of trucks that do thunder across continents, but equally you could just invest in a bunch of high-capacity charging. Once you realise that all local trucks are going to be BEVs, along with anything doing up to 500km a day, the infrastructure for electric long distance trucks is much easier to envisage. Intermittent catenary or contactless charging in the road surface would combine elegantly with platooning autonomous operation on remote highway stretches. Long-distance coaches will go the same way as trucks.”

Michael Liebreich, The Clean Hydrogen Ladder (August 2021)

Lack of any Equity Lens in the Strategy

ACOSS has suggested that rebates for EVs and e-bikes could be means tested and for transport policies to prioritise addressing transport disadvantage. The current strategy has no disadvantage/equity lens.

Professor Hussein Dia says “There is also no mention of targeted subsidies or measures to ensure equity.”

Measuring Success

Initial performance indicators include:

  • greater availability of affordable EVs in Australia,
  • convenient and easy access to charging infrastructure, and
  • reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Progress against outcomes will be reported via annual updates, including in existing Commonwealth reports and statements, such as Australia’s annual emissions projections and the Minister for Climate Change and Energy’s annual statement to Parliament.

A comprehensive and in-depth review of the Strategy is promised for 2026.


Entry filed under: cycling, Labors Climate Record, news, Policy, public transport, transport. Tags: , , , .

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