Electric Cars

I have an opinion piece in the Canberra Times today on the benefits of electric cars.
Driving a clean, green future, Canberra Times, 3 April 2012


Last month another charge spot was added to Canberra’s growing charge network. In addition to their charge locations at the Belconnen Markets, National Convention Centre, and Crowne Plaza, Better Place opened a new spot at the Novotel Hotel on Northbourne Avenue. Across the ACT there are now 14 charge spot locations.

Electric cars have the potential to benefit Australia’s economy, health and environment. With global oil prices steadily creeping upwards (due to growing demand in China and other emerging economies), average Australians are now paying over $1.40 per litre for unleaded petrol.

Petrol-consuming passenger vehicles account for nearly half of Australia’s liquid fuel consumption. Hybrid and electric cars offer the chance to reduce our dependence on the global oil market.

Using current national electricity generation methods, producing electricity for travel in hybrid and electric cars releases less greenhouse gas emissions than combustion in petrol cars. This is true even if the electricity is produced using ‘dirty’ technology. For example, an electric car powered by electricity from a coal fired power station emits less greenhouse gas than a petrol car.

If the electricity comes from renewables, we can do even better. In 2010, Australia generated 15,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy, sufficient to supply a fleet of five million electric cars without any ‘well to wheel’ greenhouse gas emissions. The Australian government is committed to generating 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020, which equates to 45,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy annually. That’s enough to supply an entire national electric car fleet with zero greenhouse gas emissions.

The health benefits of electric cars are also significant. Unlike petrol vehicles, electric cars have no tailpipe emissions, only pre-combustion emissions. Unlike those from petrol vehicles, these include virtually no carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons or particulate matter emissions and only a quarter of the nitrogen oxides released by petrol vehicles. The total reduction of air pollutants in electric vehicles’ emissions compared to petrol vehicles’ emissions ranges between 10 and 20 grams per kilometre.

Electric vehicles also require less maintenance, as they have 70 per cent fewer moving and consumable parts. This is estimated to halve maintenance costs over a ten year period.

Research from RMIT finds that electric cars require 20 per cent less lifecycle energy and associated greenhouse gas emissions than petrol vehicles. Indeed, because they’re so cheap to run and maintain, the only risk that I can see being posed by electric cars is that they could encourage more people to commute by car, thereby increasing traffic congestion.

One of the great advantages of electric cars comes because the wholesale cost of electricity varies dramatically over the course of a day. Electric cars can take advantage of this by charging when electricity is cheapest (and putting power back into the grid when it is most expensive). This minimises the impact of electric cars on the energy infrastructure and allows them to collect and store up to seven kilowatts of energy, generated in times of low electricity demand, which would otherwise be wasted. A car can then later return any surplus energy to the grid in periods of high demand to power the community or other cars that require immediate charging, greatly reducing the demand for additional energy generation.

By capturing, saving and returning excess energy to the grid, electric cars are a neat complement to energy production sources like wind generation. On one estimate, each electric car could enable the retention of 43 megawatt hours of renewable wind energy annually. Because each electric vehicle would require only 2.7 megawatt hours of electricity to recharge over a year, this means that each car is effectively saving 40 megawatt hours of energy that would otherwise be lost. This means that a fleet of one million electric vehicles would allow us to achieve the 45,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy required by the national Renewable Energy Target.

With the charging network now in operation, having more electric cars in Canberra offers us an opportunity to save money, increase the health of our community, and decrease car maintenance costs. By reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, we have the opportunity to charge towards a new cleaner, healthier and more sustainable future. Now that’s the kind of change we’re driving towards.

Andrew Leigh is the Federal Member for Fraser, and his website is www.andrewleigh.com.

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8/1 Torrens Street, Braddon ACT 2612 | 02 6247 4396 | Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au