Electric cars might finally be having their moment in Australia, after British billionaire Sanjeev Gupta approached the South Australian government about retooling Adelaide’s defunct Holden factories into a new manufacturing hub.
Last week federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg wrote that as costs fall, Australia will “inevitably” see an electric car revolution. He cited surveys showing up to half of Australian motorists would consider going electric the next time they buy a car.
But falling costs alone won’t convert consumer sentiment into actual sales. Our research – partly covered in a previous article on The Conversation – examines how different countries handle the three major issues: vehicle cost, recharger availability, and demystifying the public.
Our research shows that the most important factor that affects consumers’ decision to buy an electric car is the availability of a fast recharging network, especially on long trips away from home.
This was far more important than the availability of cheaper vehicles, the second most cited barrier to uptake.
Even if people can afford the available electric car models, they also need to be assured that they can recharge conveniently and quickly on those long journeys they occasionally make during the year. We need to be ready for this transition.
While there have been some commendable efforts to build infrastructure, including by Queensland’s Labor government and the NRMA, there needs to be some federal coordination, for several reasons.
First, standards are needed for the recharging plug; there are quite a few types out there, and to avoid having some very unhappy investors this issue needs to be urgently addressed.
Second, not all electric models can accept superfast direct current charge in addition to the usual alternating current used in household electricity supplies.
Third, having cars with a bigger range doesn’t mean you can do without rechargers on major intercity roads and in country towns.
Australia needs a comprehensive network. This means fast chargers with standardised fittings available every 50-100km on highways and in country towns. An app to help motorists find their nearest recharger – without locking them into membership of any particular company – are essential.
While a nationwide network of chargers is important, most people will be recharging their cars overnight. This raises another question: how many people have access to a power point within a few metres of where they park their car?
For people with garages, it is unlikely to be an issue. But apartment living is increasing every year in our big cities, and there are plenty of suburbs where off-street parking is not the norm.
Ideally, federal regulations would step in to ensure that apartment-dwellers don’t end up having to be electric car have-nots. We can look to California for an example of legislation that can inspire Australia.
Making it easy for people to recharge at night could also allay fears about increasing demand on the electricity grid. If the cost of off-peak power at night is lower than during the peak, people will get into the habit of flicking the recharger switch on when they go to bed.
It would make sense to ensure that everybody has access to off-peak pricing; people will then act in their own financial self-interest and recharge at night if they are given the opportunity.
In fact getting everyone to go electric as quickly as possible will save us billions of dollars in imported oil. In 2016 Australia imported almost A$15 billion worth of refined petroleum, much of it for road transport. We could fund a lot of infrastructure with the money saved.
As Frydenberg pointed out, electric cars are getting cheaper. The cost of batteries, the biggest single factor in the vehicle’s price, is falling. It is reasonable to predict that electric cars will cost the same as their conventional combustion counterparts within a few years.
Charging with electricity is also cheaper than filling up with petrol or diesel, especially once home solar is taken into account.
There are other hidden costs to conventional cars that we need to take into account. For example, fossil fuels are known to cause cancer and asthma. Australia is currently one of the only developed countries in the world without minimum fuel efficiency standards. This is an astonishing state of affairs.
One of the countries we studied was Norway, which has the highest sales of electric cars by a country mile. Nearly 35% of all new cars sold there in 2017 were electric, and Norway has the densest recharging network in the world.
Yet even in this environment, we found that when thinking about buying their next vehicle, Norwegians who had never owned an electric car were three times more concerned about running out of charge. What’s more, Norwegians who didn’t have any friends who owned an electric car were far less likely than others to consider buying one.
This highlights the importance of practical exposure to electric cars. We found that providing accurate information about costs, vehicle range and the basic experience of driving an electric car, well before people arrive at the point of sale, is likely to increase their adoption.
We can’t rely on the market to create an “electric car revolution” in Australia. Funding infrastructure, creating industry standards, legislating to reward and cheapen less-polluting cars, and educating the public are all part of the challenge.
The authors would like to acknowledge the contribution of Danielle Drozdzewski to this article.
We are bathed in starlight. During the day we see the Sun, light reflected off the surface of the Earth and blue sunlight scattered by the air. At night we see the stars, as well as sunlight reflected off the Moon and the planets.
But there are more ways of seeing the universe. Beyond visible light there are gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet light, infrared light, and radio waves. They provide us with new ways of appreciating the universe.
What to look for when buying a telescope
Have you looked at the Moon during the daytime? You will see part of the Moon bathed in sunlight and the Earth’s blue sky in front of the Moon.
Now put on your X-ray specs, courtesy of the ROSAT satellite, and you will see something intriguing.
The Sun emits X-rays, so you can see the daytime side of the Moon easily enough. But the night time side of the Moon is silhouetted against the X-ray sky. The X-ray sky is behind the Moon!
Just what is the X-ray sky? Well, X-rays are more energetic than visible light photons, so X-rays often come from the hottest and most violent celestial objects. Much of the X-ray sky is produced by active galactic nuclei, which are powered by matter falling towards black holes.
In X-rays, the Moon is silhouetted against many millions of celestial sources, powered by black holes, scattered across billions of light years of space.
If you’re in the southern sky and away from light pollution (including the Moon), then you can see the Small Magellanic Cloud. This is a companion galaxy to our own Milky Way. With the unaided eye it looks like a diffuse cloud, but what we are actually seeing is the combined light of millions of distant stars.
Radio waves provide a very different view of the Small Magellanic Cloud. Using the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, tuned to 1,420.4MHz, we no longer see stars but instead see atomic hydrogen gas.
The hydrogen gas is cold enough that the atoms hang onto their electrons (unlike ionised hydrogen). It can also cool further and collapse (under the force of gravity) to produce clouds of molecular hydrogen gas and eventually new stars.
Radio waves thus allow us to see the fuel for star formation, and the Small Magellanic Cloud is indeed producing new stars right now.
If the universe were infinitely large and infinitely old, then presumably every direction would eventually lead the surface of a star. This would lead to a rather bright night sky. The German astronomer Heinrich Olbers, among others, recognised this “paradox” centuries ago.
When we look up at the night sky, we can see the stars, planets and Milky Way. But most of the night sky is black, and this tells us something important.
But lets take a look at the universe in microwave light. The Planck satellite reveals glowing gas and dust in the Milky Way. Beyond that, in every direction, there is light! Where does it come from?
At microwave wavelengths we can observe the afterglow of the Big Bang. This afterglow was produced 380,000 years after the Big Bang, when the universe had a temperature of roughly 2,700℃.
But the afterglow we see now doesn’t look like a 2,700℃ ball of gas. Instead, we see a glow equivalent to -270℃. Why? Because we live in an expanding universe. The light we observe now from the Big Bang’s afterglow has been stretched from visible light into lower-energy microwave light, resulting in the colder observed temperature.
Jupiter is one of the most rewarding planets to observe with a small telescope – you can see the cloud bands stretching across the giant planet. Even binoculars can reveal the four moons discovered by Galileo centuries ago.
But you get a less familiar view of Jupiter when you switch to radio waves. A radio telescope reveals the dull warm glow of the planet itself. But what really stands out are radio waves coming from above the planet.
Much of the radio emission from Jupiter is produced by synchrotron and cyclotron radiation, which results from speeding electrons spiralling in a magnetic field.
On Earth we use particle accelerators to produce such radiation. But in Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field it occurs naturally (and copiously).
The synchrotron produced by Jupiter is so powerful that you can detect it on Earth – not just with multimillion-dollar radio telescopes, but with equipment that can be bought for several hundred dollars. You don’t need to be a professional astronomer to expand your view of the universe beyond visible light.