Australia is changing course and embracing electric vehicles.
That was the message from the first National Electric Vehicle Summit in Canberra on Friday.
With speakers ranging from Robyn Denholm, President of Tesla, to Mike Cannon-Brookes, Co-Founder of Atlassian and Paul Sansom, Managing Director of Volkswagen Australia, the summit had a lot of ground to cover and a big void to to fill in .
Here are four things we learned:
There is hope for electric vehicles in Australia
Climate and Energy Minister Chris Bowen announced plans for a working paper next month to develop an EV strategy and explore “options for introducing energy efficiency standards”.
He said the consultation would usher in “a period of hope, that after a decade of denial and delay, after an era of demonizing innovations like zero-emission cars, after years of frustration, we now have a chance to give Australians access to the best transport technology in the world”.
With 2% of national passenger car sales, Australia lags behind most other developed countries in electric vehicle sales, with New Zealand already hitting 10%, the country’s transport minister said at the meeting. Summit.
But all is not lost. With the right policy parameters, Sweden has increased its proportion of electric vehicle sales from 18% to 62% in just two years, Bowen said.
Not everyone is happy with the pace
The prospect of greater consultation – which could be open for about five weeks for submissions – did not thrill the otherwise supportive public.
Volkswagen Group Australia chief executive Paul Sansom said most of what the government needs to know is already happening because state governments have taken the lead. And there is the experience of other countries which can be an advantage for a latecomer like Australia.
Sansom said the priorities are quite clear, such as the need to harmonize policies across states and territories; whether it’s coordinating the deployment of fast-charging sites for electric vehicles or how vehicles are taxed for road use. An educational campaign explaining the benefits of electric vehicles would also help, Sansom said.
Independent Goldstein MP Zoe Daniel said there was no particular reason to stop and she hopes Bowen can agree on new EV policies before the end of 2022.
Certainty for industry is needed, as is the reduction of bureaucracy. High gas costs have sparked conversations about electric vehicles everywhere, sparking a wave of support for fast-track electric vehicle policy. “It’s already in my community,” Daniel said.
“It’s understandable that this government is risk averse due to the various culture wars we’ve been stuck in for many years.”
The climate and electric vehicles are of course part of these battles.
“Things can change very quickly in politics,” Daniel said. “They came on this climatic wave, [and] the community is largely behind. Spend the political capital, do it.
The price is almost right
Sansom said the price gap is closing rapidly and incentives in the range of $5,000 to $10,000 would be enough to create a tipping point. He said these did not need to be in the form of cash, but could include the use of bus lanes or designated electric vehicle parking spaces, which could be phased out as demand would increase.
There’s already strong consumer interest, with half of potential customers walking into VW’s 180 showrooms across the country and now inquiring about electric vehicles, according to Sansom.
“In five or 10 years, no one will want to buy an internal combustion car – why would you?” said Kooyong Independent MP Monique Ryan. But “it needs to be something that brings Australians together,” she said, hence the need to provide support for wide adoption.
Chief executive of fast charger maker Tritium, Jane Hunter, said the opportunities were great but they weren’t necessarily going to land in Australia.
The company derives most of its revenue from outside the country and has opened a 30,000 magazine manufacturing facility in the US state of Tennessee, six times the capacity of its Brisbane plant.
US President Joe Biden’s Cut Inflation Act, which was largely climate-focused, had made America “incredibly attractive for businesses to build onshore”, and it will attract other related industries such as car and battery manufacturers. “Australia needs to take big legislative steps” to attract and retain these industries in the country, Hunter said.
Electric vehicles are not the only answer
Discussions at the summit went beyond electric vehicles, with several participants describing how vehicles – whether electric or internal combustion – contained large amounts of embodied energy – the total energy needed to make a product. If electric vehicles tapped into fossil fuels from lignite or another polluting fuel, they could actually increase emissions.
Gabrielle Kuiper, policy adviser to the Smart Energy Council – one of the organizers of the event – said electrifying half of the vehicle fleet should be the goal. She said the other half should be replaced where possible with walking, cycling and public transport. While e-bikes or three-wheelers could replace much of the demand for cars.