Hosted by our very own Dr Eleanor (Elly) Short; Senior Principal Net Zero – WSP (AU), we held a panel event with AITPM Queensland. Panellists included Daniel Quan; Associate Director, Transport Planning – WSP (UK); Vibeke Matthews, Program Manager for Future Vehicles & Technology, Environment and Sustainability – Austroads; Michael Taylor, Director (Policy Integration), Transport Policy Branch – Department of Transport and Main Roads Queensland; and Tim Camilleri, E-mobility Solutions Manager – Volvo Group Australia.
As part of the agenda, the panel deliberated over questions concerning the various aspects of the EV puzzle.
Australia’s journey with EVs
While Australia has historically lagged behind much of the world in EV uptake, adoption is rapidly accelerating. Demand for EVs is exceeding supply supported by government initiatives, ever improving technology, soaring fuel prices, and an increased focus on net zero.
The recently released National Electric Vehicle Strategy (NEVS) aims to further increase the adoption and boost supply of EVs in order to decrease our emissions and improve the well-being of Australians. The NEVS will focus on overcoming obstacles to enable rapid EV uptake, including development of infrastructure, systems, and resources like tools and guidance, to provide consumers more cost-effective and readily available EV options. The strategy also includes plans for a recycling program for EV and other large batteries.
A key objective of the NEVS is to increase the supply of EVs, and critical to achieving this is the introduction of a national Fuel Efficiency Standard (FES). The FES will set overall targets for the amount of carbon dioxide per km new light vehicles sold in Australia can emit, which reduce over time. This standard aims to make more efficient vehicles accessible to Australians, to reduce overall emissions and fuel costs.
“Having a national EV strategy is brilliant progress, however there is a lot to do to move quickly beyond consulting on the FES to implementing it,” says Elly Short - Senior Principal, Net Zero – WSP (AU). “A robust and ambitious FES is essential to increase the supply of EVs to Australia to catch up to customer demand and reduce the overall emissions from our fleet to reach net zero. With 85% of vehicle sales in markets with a FES, Australia is playing catch-up. We need a strong start to the average annual emissions ceiling, and to match the ambition of other markets globally, or we risk staying at the back of the queue for EVs.”
Tim Camilleri, E-mobility Solutions Manager – Volvo Group says, “The Australian market has quickly adopted to new technologies…but we are struggling to keep up with the growth at this point of time in terms of wanting to get EVs on the road.”
EV purchases in Australia have grown significantly in the past year, and the pace continues to accelerate. According to a report by the Electric Vehicle Council in October 2022, EVs represented 3.39% of all vehicle sales in 2022, a 65% increase on 2021. By March 2023 this was up to 6.8% of new car sales. According to the NEVS strategy, at December 2022 there were 4,900 public chargers at 2,390 sites across Australia.
The ACT has the largest portion of new car EV sales at 18 % for the period leading up to up to May 2023. Victoria aims to make half of all light vehicle sales zero emission by 2030, while NSW has made significant investments in the area, including removing stamp duty from EVs under $78,000 and from all other EVs and plug-in hybrids from July 1, 2027.
According to Michael Taylor, Director (Policy Integration), Transport Policy Branch – Department of Transport and Main Roads Queensland (QLD), as of 31 March 2022, there are nearly 20,000 EVs registered in the state. “That’s full battery electric vehicles and does not include hybrids, which is pleasing to see, but we still need to see higher rates of uptake.”
In March 2022, the Queensland Government released Queensland's Zero Emission Vehicle Strategy 2022-2032 and the first Zero Emission Vehicle Action Plan 2022-2024. “It’s a 10-year strategy,” says Michael, “so we have the ability to be flexible and amend our targets through iterations in successive Action Plans.” A key initiative outlined in the Action Plan is making EVs more affordable by reducing upfront costs. Buyers of new eligible zero emission vehicles with a purchase price (dutiable value) of up to $58,000 (including GST) were initially eligible for a $3,000 rebate and continue to receive existing benefits like discounted vehicle registration and registration duty costs. In April 2023 this was doubled to $6,000 and the eligibility threshold extended to support Queensland families in getting access to cheaper and cleaner vehicles.
Charging infrastructure and 'Queue Anxiety'
The Queensland Government is also extending the Queensland Electric Super Highway (QESH) under a Phase 3 program to add 24 charging sites across Western Regional Qld. The highway connects EV drivers across Queensland and includes fast charging locations to a range of coastal and inland locations. Once completed, QESH Phase 3 will enable Queenslanders and tourists to use any of the 55 fast charging sites along the way.
The panellists all agreed that while most EV charging occurs at home, a well-designed EV charging network needs to have a range of locations, charger types, and associated speeds to support a wide range of different use cases. Michael says factors such as the density, the number of chargers at each location and increasing EV uptake is shifting thinking from ‘range anxiety’ to ‘queue anxiety’ amongst EV users, particularly at busy holiday periods. “Anxiety is still out there but it is now about availability and accessibility in terms of the charging infrastructure…so it’s about getting that balance between EV uptake in terms of numbers and supporting infrastructure that the government and industry is investing in.”
One solution to ‘queue anxiety’ that the panellists discussed is the use of centralised online platforms which bring together information from multiple charger providers in one place for users.
Daniel Quan, Associate Director, Transport Planning for WSP says the UK has online platforms that can show the live status of a charging point and detail whether it is available, being used or out of service. Daniel gave the example of one particular app, Zap Map, which allows users to search for available charging points, book for up to 30 minutes, pay for charging, and share updates on charging availabilities with other EV drivers.
While private companies like Zap Map can provide EV drivers with a peace of mind and confidence to drive any length of journey in their EV, Vibeke Matthews, Program Manager for Future Vehicles & Technology, Environment and Sustainability – Austroads, argues that a national online platform that contains all the information in one place will greatly reduce user anxiety.
“We need a platform where you can view all of the private chargers in one spot instead of having to go into the individual Telsa app, Volvo app, etc to find the chargers,” she says.
Eleanor adds "In New Zealand, Waka Kotahi the Government agency has worked with the energy industry to develop EVRoam, a live database of EV charging infrastructure across the country, with the status of chargers and linked to a journey planner.”
Vibeke also argues that a universal approach towards signage for EV charging stations will provide consistency for all EV users and improve overall public awareness. Recently, Austroads published a report that proposed a set of symbols for electric-powered and hydrogen fuel-cell powered vehicles and their charging/refuelling infrastructure. Testing was conducted according to the Australian Standards, and it was concluded that the electric-powered vehicle and charging station symbols are considered suitable for use on future road signage and pavement markings.
With transport accounting for 18% of Australia’s carbon emissions, and 38% of that coming from road freight, the focus on freight and heavy vehicles making the shift to electric is starting to increase.
“By 2040 we want to sell Volvo Group vehicles that have a 100% CO2 reduction”, says Tim. “Everything we do at Volvo Group goes back to how we are achieving our zero emissions goals. By 2050, our running fleet needs to be Net Zero from a CO2 reduction aspect.”
Australian express freight company, Team Global Express, recently placed an order for 36 Volvo FL Electric trucks. This is Volvo’s largest electric truck order to date globally. These electric trucks produce less noise than conventional trucks, can operate a total weight of 16 tonnes, and are equipped with four 66 kWh battery packs for increased range and improved charging performance.
Tim says the uptake of zero emission (battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell) trucks has been slow so far in Australia. Zero emission heavy vehicles have a greater mass than their internal combustion engine (ICE) equivalents and are wider. Existing regulations mean there are challenges with introducing these on our roads. For example, while there are no electric heavy duty, long-haul trucks in Australia, Volvo has two demonstration prime movers on the way to Australia, but under current regulations, they can't be driven on the country's roads without applying for exemptions for the specific routes they would take.
"These demo vehicles would be able to travel 300 kilometres and carry 44 tonnes, but they would have more than 6.5 tonnes of weight on their front axle, which is more than is allowed under the Australian Design Rules.”
Tim says regulations need to change, and although work is underway nationally this is taking some time.
Global challenges and opportunities
The session also featured audience interaction where interesting issues were raised by the crowd including the question of why EV uptake in Australia is further behind than the rest of the world. According to the International Energy Agency, there were 16.5 million EVs on the road globally in 2021, a tripling in just three years.
In 2020, the UK took an historic step in its contribution to climate change, announcing the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. This includes a two-phased approach that will see the phase-out date for the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans brought forward to 2030 and all new cars and vans be fully zero emission from 2035.According to Daniel, this policy changed people’s attitudes and accelerated EV uptake in the UK.
“This decision meant that local authorities, developers, and even asset owners, started asking about opportunities,” says Daniel. “We started to see that even the likes of large operators realised they were going to have to change soon. So, where it used to be that we were knocking on people’s doors asking if we could help them transition to EVs, its slowly swung the other way and people are now coming to consultancies across the UK acknowledging that the industry is changing and needing help.”
Michael says it is important to remember that many factors need to be considered when analysing EV uptake in Australia.
"The geographical consideration is something that often gets overlooked. It’s not just a matter of adopting what Europe has done - it’s a completely different size and scale when you come to Australia,” says Michael. “There is a lot of nuancing that needs to be looked at and we’ve seen some challenges through the rolling out the Queensland Electric Super Highway. Some locations don’t have the power to sustain fast charging…so there needs to be a balance between fast and slow charging as well. We don’t have the grid capability today for everyone to be fast charging at the same time so there needs to be a mix of different types of charging and at different points across the day to minimise impact on the energy network.”
An electric future
The panel also dissected what was in store for the future of EVs and the challenges that come with the idea that EVs are currently seen by some as a luxury car.
“I think over time as the manufacturers start releasing new models to Australia, the perception that EVs are seen as a luxury item will start to change,” says Daniel. “With my experience in London, EVs are rapidly getting cheaper - there are more vehicles available, different models, and all at different price points.”
Tim adds, “While EVs are expensive up front, it’s important to think about the total cost of emissions and the running costs. Electricity is much cheaper because it is a much more efficient way of transferring energy compared to diesel, so that is another consideration that needs to be made to normalise these vehicles as not a luxury item.”
Vibeke says that in New Zealand, the second-hand EV market has helped lower their cost and break down the barrier to adoption as they become more attainable for the community.
“If we continue to get that uptake happening from the top-end then it will slowly trickle down and start that second-hand market,” says Michael. “The government also has a role to play in that space as well in terms of transitioning our vehicles into the second-hand market and encouraging industry, particularly fleets, who do turn the vehicles over quicker than private users which will stimulate that second-hand market sooner rather than later.”
Nevertheless, walkability and mass transit are incredibly important to decarbonisation, and Daniel believes that it is important to approach EVs as a final option.
“In the wider Net Zero context, we need to consider what opportunities we have to shift modes…which trips can be walked, cycled, or done by public transport,” he says.
Elly agrees, adding “The best way to reduce our transport emissions is to walk, cycle or use public transport.”
“EVs are not the silver bullet to our Net Zero target.” Says Vibeke. “The best way to reduce emissions is to not generate them, do only the car trips that are necessary.”
We are starting to see more initiatives to support the decarbonisation of transport in Australia, for example Brisbane City Council’s Green Bridges – one of which WSP is designing. WSP was also engaged as the Sustainability Consultant for the Leppington and Edmondson Park South commuter car parks - two car parks that incorporate of rooftop solar PV and electric vehicle charging stations.
To find out more about how WSP is decarbonising transport, explore our Zero Emission Vehicles page, or contact Elly Short.
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