I have a mate who – in normal times, anyway – gives me a lift to the gym in his new all-electric Mercedes. He loves its lack of engine noise and amazingly fast acceleration when the lights change (not that I’m implying he’s a rev-head hoon the police should be watching). I’m no car lover, but it’s certainly a smooth, quiet ride.
Most of us accept that, as part of the world’s move to net-zero emissions by 2050, we’ll all be moving to electric cars. Other countries are already further down this road than us.
We’ve made big strides in shifting electricity generation to renewables, and our emissions are falling. But electricity production accounts for only a third of our total emissions. Transport, in all its forms, accounts for about 20 per cent of total emissions, so its move away from fossil fuels is another part of the transition we should get on with.
In all the years we’ve been arguing about climate change, people have tried to convince us how costly it will be. How disruptive to industry and our way of life. All the higher prices, the tax we’ll pay, the jobs we’ll lose.
So far, however, there’s been little extra cost or disruption. The rise of wind and solar power has happened without much pain. And a report this week from Tony Wood and colleagues at the Grattan Institute think tank suggests the move to electric vehicles can be achieved without angst.
More than 60 per cent of the transport sector’s 20 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions comes from the tailpipes of cars and light commercial vehicles, including our two biggest selling cars, Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger utes. That leaves trucks accounting for 20 per cent of the sector’s emissions and domestic aviation for about 10 per cent.
Australia has about 18 million light vehicles, up from fewer than 15 million in 2010. And we’re driving bigger, heavier cars than we were a decade ago. (All those appalling SUVs. One day they’ll run over my little Toyota Yaris.)
At present, electric vehicles make up just 0.7 per cent of new sales in Australia. This doesn’t count hybrid electric/petrol cars which, because of their continued use of fossil fuel, can’t be a lasting part of the shift, Wood says.
Our tiny all-electric share of new sales compares with 2 per cent in the US, 3 per cent in New Zealand, 11 per cent in Britain and 75 per cent in Norway.
Because it takes more than 20 years to replace our light vehicle fleet, for our transport sector to make a sufficient contribution to the target of net-zero total emissions by 2050 we’ll need to get to the point where all new light vehicles are electric by about 2035, he estimates.
Government projections suggest that, if the market is left to itself, the move to electric vehicles will cause light vehicle emissions in 2030 to be 7 per cent lower than they were in 2019. This isn’t good enough.
So what can be done to speed the shift? Wood says governments should reduce the main barriers to buying an electric car. First, the high cost of switching and limited choice and, second, the lack of charging points.
We pay an average of about $40,000 for a new car. But we have fewer than 30 electric models to choose from – much lower than overseas – and of these, just three models retail for less than $50,000.
As with all innovative products, the price of electric cars is coming down as the novelty wears off and sales increase. They’ll fall further as batteries become cheaper to make. But the point where the price of an electric car falls below an equivalent conventional car is still some years away.
So Wood proposes removing several taxes on the purchase of new electric cars. Scrapping state stamp duty would cut the price by up to 6.5 per cent, he estimates. Remembering that, these days, all vehicles are imported, removing federal import duty would cut the cost by up to a further 5 per cent.
Exempting electric cars from the federal luxury car tax – a tax of 33 per cent of the price exceeding the first $80,000 – until 2030 would also help.
Australia is alone among the rich countries in not having mandatory fuel efficiency and emissions standards. And there’s a suspicion some foreign makers send us only the high-emissions conventional models they have trouble flogging in other markets.
So to these carrots, Wood adds a stick: to phase out petrol and diesel cars, the feds should impose an emissions limit on light vehicles and reduce it to zero by 2035.
Many people hesitate to buy an electric vehicle because they worry about finding places to recharge. Wood says governments should require all new buildings with off-street parking to make provision for vehicle charging.
Getting everyone into electric vehicles wouldn’t solve our emissions problem, but it would help. And it’s another indication that the fears of huge costs and disruption are greatly exaggerated.
Extracted from The Sydney Morning Herald