We need political will to move from lag to lead in Australia’s e-mobility movement

The underlying influencer of change is government policy. Without this, the future for electric vehicles will be unnecessarily stunted.

On a global stage, we face a critical need to reduce air and noise pollution, and the waste and impacts of urban congestion, among other immediate environmental challenges. Long-term, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as part of our climate change imperative. Today, and for the future, these are necessary changes for liveability to improve worldwide.

When considering pollution alone, according to research commissioned by the Electric Vehicle Council, air pollution from motor vehicles kills more than 1,700 Australians every year and vehicle emissions are cited as being responsible for 21,000 serious health impacts annually and 60% more deaths than motor vehicle crashes[1]. Each internal combustion engine vehicle is estimated to cause $7,110 in average health costs over a 10-year period, based on research by Cleaner and Safer Roads for NSW. With electric vehicles producing zero exhaust emissions, widespread adoption is exactly what we need.

ABB shares a vision for a sustainable, emission-free future. With transport accounting for nearly 20% of Australia’s greenhouse emissions[2], e-mobility offers significant environmental value alongside economic and social benefits. While our market is already showing an appetite for e-mobility, we need to make greater headway. Long-term, an improved mix of public-private transport, a significantly greater share of vehicles being electric, and increasingly synchronised and optimised traffic management via vehicle-to-infrastructure technology, would all help to drive an overall climate change response strategy.

National leadership is vital

The underlying influencer of change is government policy. Without this, the future for electric vehicles will be unnecessarily stunted. We currently have no concerted, coordinated approach at a national level and, most importantly, no national policy. This is splintering efforts and investments and risking the benefits that a unified strategy would accrue. It is also exacerbating a disconnected and lower-priority response at a state and local level. Commitments are slight – and they show in our country’s slight take-up.

There are a few key areas where decision-makers can make a measurable difference – the first being to set strong targets for change. Some governments are taking an aggressive pathway including the likes of London, Brussels and Madrid that have announced ‘zero emission zones’, restricting city centre traffic to pedestrians, bicycles, private and commercial electric vehicles, and electrified public transport. Norway boasts 60% of new vehicle sales as battery electric vehicles and has committed to ban the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2025. These are just a few examples of government leadership.

On the home front, New South Wales is an example of government leadership through its Net Zero Plan, which includes a program to support the co-funding of fast electric vehicle charging infrastructure and incentives for vehicle fleet owners. While in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), the government is set to incentivise the uptake of electric vehicles with the proposal to introduce free registration and interest-free loans for new electric car buyers.

 On the flipside and in a surprising move, South Australia and Victoria recently announced the introduction of a road usage tax on electric vehicles, making them the only jurisdictions in the world to impose such a tax on EVs. This will likely discourage people from making the switch from petrol cars to EVs, and put Australia even further behind the transition to sustainable transport.

Australia needs federal leadership and direction – a national vision for electric vehicles, rather than the black hole we currently have, with no discernible policy. And we need that vision supported by real targets and investment in infrastructure, consumer and business incentives, rebates and subsidies, and even special parking for electric vehicles. The world is moving and the availability of petrol vehicles in the future will reduce. Volvo is just one car manufacturer with plans to produce only electric vehicles by 2030. Ford now has 16 factories devoted to electric vehicles. The change is in motion and, if we don’t move, we will be left behind. We need to embrace the change and set the course for the country.

Infrastructure is always at the centre

The next area of need is in infrastructure. We need greater investment in charging infrastructure and in electricity grids and broader power networks that embed the smarts to smooth the impacts of peak demand. This includes leadership to achieve cross-border and regional grid upgrades and expansions to enable the exchange of renewably generated energy nation-wide. We believe modifying and improving today’s generation, transmission and local distribution infrastructure to support the future is possible without undue expense or disruption. What we need to see is decision-makers encouraging innovation to close the gap between demand and supply. The technologies needed to support electric vehicles go hand-in-hand with the technologies needed to support smart building infrastructure and a range of other advanced technologies that are key to Australia’s long-term competitiveness in a wide range of industries and sectors.

Government-led change

The third key area relates to walking the talk and one obvious avenue is via the government’s own procurement. With government fleets representing major investments, a commitment to moving to electric vehicles would be a major signal to the market that Australia wants to lead the shift to electric vehicles. Based on research from the Electric Vehicle Council, in 2018, business fleets were the largest buyer of electric vehicles at 63% of total sales, followed by private purchases at 33% of sales, and government fleets at a mere 4%[3]. This is simply not good enough. We need action. Government efleets, supported by greater electrification of public transport, are practical ways our governments can show leadership – and deliver cost savings to taxpayers.

A unified approach for better outcomes

The fourth area of need is for a national approach to standardisation and interoperability. We need governments to work with industry to ensure we don’t go down the path of competing charging standards. ABB has been driving the development of common charging standards for the last decade in all of our operating regions and will continue to work with industry and government stakeholders to support and inform smart decisions for a sustainable future. We are encouraged by the industry collaboration we are seeing, which is vital for new technology and new directions like those presented by electric vehicles. Industry is getting on with it. However, the vacuum of federal policy and direction risks missing out on the benefits of a clear decision on standards.

An Australia that genuinely backs electric vehicle commitments with action is an Australia that will see a rise in innovation and even new start-up enterprises able to support an economy ‘moved’ by electric vehicles. It is an Australia with more efficient transport infrastructure and a healthier environment, improving productivity and wellbeing outcomes. Positioning Australia as a leader in this space only affords us more capacity as a nation – but we need the right push from government at a national level to see that take-up increase dramatically. With our commitment to safe, smart and sustainable electrification, we look forward to playing our part in Australia’s progress.

 [1] Cleaner and Safe Roads for NSW, 2019, Electric Vehicle Council

[2] https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/CC_MVSA0143-Briefing-Paper-Australias-Rising-Emissions_V8-FA_Low-Res_Single-Pages3.pdf

[3] State of Electric Vehicles, Electric Vehicle Council, August 2019

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About the author

David Sullivan

David Sullivan is the Head of Electrification business for ABB in Australia. He leads a technology portfolio that covers the full electrical value chain from substation to the point of consumption, enabling safer and more reliable power. He also oversees ABB Australia’s Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure and is a former Board Member of the Electrical Vehicle Council of Australia. David was appointed Head of Electrification in 2016 after leading the Medium Voltage business for three years and, prior to this, managing national sales and account management for the Power divisions. David has more than 20 years’ experience, both locally and internationally, in the electrical supply industry as it relates to Utilities, Process Industries and Minerals. He holds an Electrical Engineering Degree from University of NSW and a Masters of Business Administration from Open University UK.
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