Negative charge: why is Australia so slow at adopting electric cars?



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Without a comprehensive network of recharging stations, like this one in Berlin, it’s little wonder that Australia is lagging behind other countries.
Author provided

Graciela Metternicht, UNSW and Danielle Drozdzewski, UNSW

In the race to adopt electric vehicles, Australia is sputtering along in the slow lane. Rather than growing, Australian sales of electric cars are actually in decline. In 2016 they represented just 0.02% of new car sales – even lower than in 2013.

Contrast that with Norway, the country with the highest levels of electric car adoption. Almost 30% of new cars sold there in 2016 were electric.


Read more: How electric cars can help save the grid


Why are Australian motorists rejecting electric cars while those in other advanced economies are embracing them? High vehicle prices are an obvious barrier, as are motorists’ perceptions about the adequacy of the range of fully electric cars, as the National Roads and Motorists’ Association has noted. But that is only part of the answer.

Our current research, in which we used online questionnaires to survey Australian motorists’ attitudes to electric vehicles, suggests that a comprehensive network of recharging stations, particularly on popular intercity routes, is essential to encourage drivers to go electric. This seems to be even more important than subsidising the cost of the cars themselves.

Rechargers on highways, in country towns and at service centres need to be fast and convenient, so that motorists aren’t unduly delayed. Without the right charging infrastructure, there is no foundation to allow Australian motorists to go electric with confidence.

The average Australian motorist drives 36km per day for all passenger vehicles (see table 8 here). This is well within the range of modern fully electric vehicles – more than 150km for the models on sale in Australia – and actually less than Norwegians, who drive more than 40km a day on average.

Norwegian drivers also enjoy the highest proportion of rechargers in the world. But on another criterion the world leader is Estonia. It’s credited as the first nation to build a country-wide network, with a recharging station every 50km on major roads, and one in every town with a population of at least 5,000.

Bumps in the road

Every country that has successfully adopted electric cars has done so by providing an effective recharging network. But we can learn from what has gone wrong in some of these places too.

Our research suggests that governments need to ensure that recharging stations work for motorists, rather than just for the network providers. Recharge points should have standardised fittings, easy payment options such as credit and debit card facilities, and prompt maintenance – all features of existing fuel stations.

Imagine if you could only fill up with petrol by pre-registering with a network, such as Caltex or Shell, and making sure you had paid in advance before taking a long trip. It sounds ridiculous, but that is the situation electric motorists face in some places.

Britain has multiple subscriber-only recharging networks, which frequently have chargers that are out of order. Recently, sales of fully electric vehicles have stagnated and it has only been a surge in sales of plug-in hybrids that boosted sales to 1.45% in 2016, up from 1.09% in 2015.

California has solved that problem by introducing legislation to ensure that motorists don’t have to join a network and can pay for the electricity by credit card. As a result of this and other measures, such as privileged lane access and support for workplace recharging, electric cars now represent 4.8% of Californian car sales, far outstripping the US average of 0.9% in 2016.

Another Californian law ensures that the 40% of Californians who live in rental properties can recharge their cars at home. As Australians are increasingly living in high-rise developments, ensuring car parks have the capacity to recharge cars overnight will be critical. The technology exists to enable separate billing for each car, so making sure strata management allows installation will be essential for people in units and flats to adopt this low-polluting technology.

Introducing such legislation will be a necessary first step. China recently announced that it is working towards a timetable to end production and sales of internal combustion engine vehicles. It’s a good example, which Australia would be wise to follow.

This will be critical if we are to reduce transport-related emissions, toxic air pollution and noise, and improve our fuel security in the face of increasingly unstable geopolitical circumstances and our growing dependence on imported fuel.


Read more: End of the road for traditional vehicles? Here are the facts


Without an adequate recharging network, Australian motorists risk being left in the rear-view mirror as the rest of the world’s drivers go electric. With electric cars forecast to reach price equivalency with petrol cars by 2025, we need to help Australians overcome their anxieties about running out of charge before they reach their destination.

Governments can do this by mandating a comprehensive open-access recharging network to speed the uptake of electric vehicles. We won’t be able to fix the problem overnight but we have to get started. There is no shortage of other countries to look to for ideas.


The ConversationThis article was coauthored by Gail Broadbent, a postgraduate researcher at UNSW’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Science.

Graciela Metternicht, Professor of Environmental Geography, School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW and Danielle Drozdzewski, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Australian farmers are adapting to climate change



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REUTERS/David Gray

Neal Hughes, Australian National University

2016-17 has been a great year for Australian farmers, with record production, exports and profits. These records have been driven largely by good weather, in particular a wet winter in 2016, which led to exceptional yields for major crops. The Conversation

Unfortunately, these good conditions go very much against the long-term trend. Recent CSIRO modelling suggests that changes in climate have reduced potential Australian wheat yields by around 27% since 1990.

While rising temperatures have caused global wheat yields to drop by around 5.5% between 1980 and 2008, the effects in Australia have been larger, as a result of major changes in rain patterns. Declines in winter rainfall in southern Australia have particularly hit major broadacre crops (like wheat, barley and canola) in the key southeastern and southwestern cropping zones. There is strong evidence that these changes are at least partly due to climate change.

Climate change is affecting farm productivity

A recent study by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) confirms that changes in climate have had a negative effect on the productivity of cropping farms, particularly in southwestern Australia and southeastern Australia.

In general, the drier inland parts of the cropping zone have been more heavily affected, partly because these areas are more sensitive to rainfall decline. Smaller effects have occurred in the wetter zones closer to the coast. Here less rain can have little effect on – and can even improve – crop productivity.

Key southwestern and southeastern agricultural zones have been especially impacted by climate change.
ABARES

Farmers are reacting

However, it’s not all bad news. The study finds that Australian farmers are making great strides in adapting to climate change.

Much has been written about the fact that farm productivity in Australia has essentially flatlined since the 1990s, after several decades of consistent growth. The ABARES research suggests that changes in climate go some way towards explaining this slowdown.

After controlling for climate, there has been relatively strong productivity growth on cropping farms over the past decade. However, while farms have been improving, these gains have been offset by deteriorating conditions. The net result has been stagnant productivity.


ABARES

Furthermore, there is evidence that this resurgence in productivity growth is a direct result of adaptation to the changing climate. Our study found that over the past decade cropping farms have improved productivity under dry conditions and minimised their exposure to climate variability.

This contrasts with the 1990s, when farms focused more on maximising performance in good conditions at the expense of increasing their exposure to drought.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that winter cropping farms have made a range of changes over the last decade, to better exploit soil moisture left from the summer period. The most obvious is the shift toward conservation tillage during the 2000s, where some or all of a previous crop’s residue (such as wheat stubble) is left in a field when planting the new crop.

It seems that farmers are adapting to new seasonal trends of rainfall, which for most cropping farms means less rain in winter and more in summer.

Is the Australian cropping belt moving south?

Previous research has suggested that the zone of Australia suitable for growing broadacre crops, known as the cropping belt, appears to be shifting south.

Our study found evidence to support this, with ABARES and ABS data showing increased cropping activity in the wetter southern fringe of the cropping belt in Western Australia and Victoria. At the same time, there have been declines in some more inland areas, which have been heavily affected by the climate downturn.

The cropping belt appears to be moving south. The blue represent increases in cropping farms in the 2000s relative to the 1990s, and red represents decreases.
ABARES, Author provided

These shifts may be partly due to other factors – such as commodity prices and technology – but it’s likely that climate is playing a role. Similar changes have already been observed in other agricultural sectors, including the shift of wine grapes into Tasmania in response to rising temperatures.

What does this mean for the future?

At present there remains much uncertainty over future rainfall patterns. While climate models and recent experience suggest a clear direction of change, there is little agreement over the magnitude.

On the positive side, we know that farmers are successfully adapting to the changes in climate and have been for some time. However, so far at least, farmers have only been able to tread water: improving productivity just fast enough to offset the decline in climate. To remain competitive, we need to find ways to improve productivity faster, especially if current climate trends continue or worsen.


Neal Hughes is Director, Water and Climate, at the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, and a visiting fellow at the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy.

Neal Hughes, Visiting Fellow, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Coastal councils are already adapting to rising seas – we’ve built a website to help


Sarah Boulter, Griffith University

The wild storms that lashed eastern Australia earlier this year damaged property and eroded beaches, causing millions of dollars’ worth of damage. As sea levels rise, the impact of storms will threaten more and more homes, businesses and services along the coastline.

CSIRO projections suggest that seas may rise by as much 82cm by the end of the century. When added to high tides, and with the influence of winds and associated storms, this can mean inundation by waters as high as a couple of metres.

As a community, we have to start deciding what must be protected, and how and when; where we will let nature take its course; how and if we need to modify the way we live and work near the coast; and so on. Many of these decisions fall largely to local governments.

We have launched a website to help local councils and Australians prepare for a climate change future. CoastAdapt lets you find maps of your local area under future sea-level scenarios, read case studies, and make adaptation plans.

How will sea-level rise affect you?

Using sea-level rise modelling from John Church and his team at CSIRO, CoastAdapt provides sea-level projections for four greenhouse gas scenarios, for individual local government areas. This also provides a set of inundation maps for the selected local government area.

Sydney’s possible sea level in 2100 under a worst-case scenario. Inundated areas shown in pale blue.
NCCARF

The inundation maps (developed by the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information) show the average projected sea-level rise for a particular climate change scenario, combined with the highest tide. The method provides an approximation of where flooding may occur.

Because water is simply filled onto the map according to elevation, it doesn’t account for things like estuary shapes and water movement, the behaviour of waves and so on.

Brisbane’s possible sea level in 2100 under a worst-case scenario. Inundated areas shown in pale blue.
NCCARF

But both the maps and the sea-level projections are a useful way to start thinking about where risks may lie in any given local government area.

CoastAdapt also looks at what we know about coastal processes in the present day. Understanding these characteristics helps us understand where and why the coast is vulnerable to inundation and erosion.

For instance, sandy coasts are much more vulnerable to erosion than rocky coasts. The information will help decision-makers understand the behaviour of their coasts and their susceptibility to erosion under sea-level rise.

Darwin’s possible sea level in 2100 under a worst-case scenario. Inundated areas shown in pale blue.
NCCARF

Local councils already adapting

Adaptation is already happening on the ground around Australian local councils. We have highlighted several of these on CoastAdapt.

In the small seaside town of Port Fairy in southeast Victoria, for example, an active community group is monitoring the accelerated erosion of dunes on one of their beaches. The council and community have worked together to prioritise protecting dune areas with decommissioned landfill to prevent this rubbish tip being exposed to the beach.

Other councils have already undertaken the process of assessing their risks and drafting adaptation plans.

Low-lying areas in the City of Lake Macquarie already experience occasional flooding from high seas. This is expected to become more common and more severe.

Lake Macquarie Council has successfully worked with the local community to come up with 39 possible management actions, which the community then assessed against social, economic and environmental criteria. The area now has a strategy for dealing with current flooding and for gradually building protection for future sea-level rise.

This approach has engaged community members and given them the opportunity to help decide the future of their community.

Melbourne’s possible sea level in 2100 under a worst-case scenario. Inundated areas shown in pale blue.
NCCARF

Getting prepared

What stumps councils and other coastal decision-makers is the scale and complexity of the problem. Each decision-maker needs to have some sense of the risk of future climate change to their interests, then develop plans that will help them to cope or adapt to these risks. Planners and adaptors must navigate uncertainty in where, when and how much change they must consider, and how these changes interact with other issues that must be managed.

To better understand the risk, decision-makers need access to timely, authoritative advice presented in ways and levels that are useful for their needs. This is particularly true for an issue such as climate science, which is technically complex.

Climate projections, particularly at the local level, come with a level of certainty and probability. The further we look into the future, the more extraneous factors are unknown – for example, will global policy succeed in bringing down greenhouse emissions? Or will these keep increasing, which will necessitate planning for worst-case scenarios?

Add to this the questions around legal risk, financing adaptation measures, accommodating community views and so on, and the task is daunting.

That’s the thinking behind CoastAdapt – the first national attempt to create a platform that brings together a range of data, tools and research that have been developing and growing over the last decade. As well as maps and case studies, we’ve also built an adaptation planning framework (Coastal Climate Adaptation Decision Support) and set up an online forum for people to ask questions, exchange ideas and even pose questions to our panel of experts.

The author would like to acknowledge the work of staff of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility. CoastAdapt is in beta version and is seeking feedback. The final version will be released in early 2017.

The Conversation

Sarah Boulter, Research Fellow, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.