SPEECH: Electric Vehicles

Mark spoke today about Australia's first electronic vehicle transition conference which he attended. Presentations aimed at myth busting around electric vehicles showed that the range is now hundreds of kilometres per charge and when it comes to costs, electric vehicles are already cheaper than petrol vehicles for fleet owners. 

Last month, I attended Australia's first electric vehicle transition conference held in Sydney. Over two days, experts from all aspects of the industry shared insights into not whether but how and when Australia would catch up with the rest of the world and embrace the electric vehicle revolution. There were representatives from vehicle manufacturers, power companies, charging station installers and various levels of government.

The electric vehicle transition conference was organised by the online electric vehicle news platform The Driven, which is an offshoot from the popular and influential online news service RenewEconomy, whose editor, Giles Parkinson, in my view is Australia's most knowledgeable energy journalist and commentator.

It was no surprise that the appalling debate around electric vehicles during the last federal election campaign featured prominently at the conference. The diatribe coming from Liberal and National MPs was gobsmacking in its ignorance and its vehemence against anything that might be seen to be green or good for the environment. For example, Barnaby Joyce suggested that electric vehicles were so small they would be crushed by kangaroos.

Barry O'Sullivan, who was then the chair of the Senate transport committee, had said that he would rather die in a ditch than drive an electric vehicle. Energy minister Angus Taylor, despite announcing deals for ultrafast charging equipment, warned of the hours and days it took to charge an electric vehicle and claimed that they had no range. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said electric vehicles were an attack on the Australian weekend. Michaelia Cash had promised to defend the tradie and the ute. Even usually moderate MP Dave Sharma compared electric vehicle policies to Soviet-style policies, while finance minister Mathias Cormann compared the opposition and Greens' electric vehicle policies to mandating the consumption of brussels sprouts.

Regardless of the rhetoric, electric vehicles are coming. Australia no longer makes cars, so we are a technology taker in this space, but electric vehicles are already beginning to dominate new sales in some other countries. For example, in Norway around 60 per cent of new vehicle registrations were plug-in electric vehicles.

As for utes and tradies, the new Tesla electric ute will be on sale in Australia from November. But it is not just utes, there are now electric trucks and buses. Electric buses are in use around the world. For example, China has around 480,000 electric buses—nearly half a million electric buses. In Australia you can count the number of electric buses without taking off your socks, because there were less than 10 at last count. As a final embarrassing put down for the electric vehicle knockers, a report was published on The Driven website yesterday that the Australian Army is now looking at the advantages of electric vehicles for their substantial fleet of transport and even combat vehicles.

The conference included a number of presentations aimed at myth busting around electric vehicles, particularly in relation to cost and range. The range is now hundreds of kilometres per charge—much greater than the very early models. But when it comes to costs, electric vehicles are already cheaper than petrol vehicles for fleet owners. Climate Works CEO, Anna Skarbek, told the conference that savings from lower fuel (or, rather, energy) and maintenance costs meant that councils and organisations can benefit financially when choosing to go electric. It is all about the whole-of-life cost of the vehicle.

So what about South Australia? Over the last few months I have been asking questions in this place about what the government is doing to promote electric vehicles, in particular when we might see an electric vehicle strategy for South Australia. What I will say was encouraging is that the South Australian government sent at least two representatives to this conference, and I am looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

In terms of take-home messages, when something is new and it is big and it is coming, you need to plan for it. When it comes to electric vehicles, the big difference is charging. Of course, every home or building with access to electricity potentially is an electric vehicle charging station, but to make the most of it we need to embrace the new fast-charging technology. That means that whenever a developer builds a new multistorey, multidwelling building we need to make sure that the electricity connections and the wiring, to the car park in particular, are suitable to cope with electric vehicles because even if the current residents do not have them the next set will and they will become ubiquitous in coming years.