Get set for take-off in electric aircraft, the next transport disruption


Jake Whitehead, The University of Queensland and Michael Kane, Curtin University

Move aside electric cars, another disruption set to occur in the next decade is being ignored in current Australian transport infrastructure debates: electric aviation. Electric aircraft technology is rapidly developing locally and overseas, with the aim of potentially reducing emissions and operating costs by over 75%. Other countries are already planning for 100% electric short-haul plane fleets within a couple of decades.

Australia relies heavily on air transport. The country has the most domestic airline seats per person in the world. We have also witnessed flight passenger numbers double over the past 20 years.

Infrastructure projects are typically planned 20 or more years ahead. This makes it more important than ever that we start to adopt a disruptive lens in planning. It’s time to start accounting for electric aviation if we are to capitalise on its potential economic and environmental benefits.




Read more:
Why aren’t there electric airplanes yet?


What can these aircraft do?

There are two main types of electric aircraft: short-haul planes and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles, including drones.

The key issue affecting the uptake of electric aircraft is the need to ensure enough battery energy density to support commercial flights. While some major impediments are still to be overcome, we are likely to see short-haul electric flights locally before 2030. Small, two-to-four-seat, electric planes are already flying in Australia today.

An electric plane service has been launched in Perth.

A scan of global electric aircraft development suggests rapid advancements are likely over the coming decade. By 2022, nine-seat planes could be doing short-haul (500-1,000km) flights. Before 2030, small-to-medium 150-seat planes could be flying up to 500 kilometres. Short-range (100250 km) VTOL aircraft could also become viable in the 2020s.

If these breakthroughs occur, we could see small, commercial, electric aircraft operating on some of Australia’s busiest air routes, including Sydney-Melbourne or Brisbane, as well as opening up new, cost-effective travel routes to and from regional Australia.

Possible short-haul electric aircraft ranges of 500km and 1,000km around Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Author provided

Why go electric?

In addition to new export opportunities, as shown by MagniX, electric aviation could greatly reduce the financial and environmental costs of air transport in Australia.

Two major components of current airline costs
are fuel (27%) and maintenance (11%). Electric aircraft could deliver significant price reductions through reduced energy and maintenance costs.

Short-haul electric aircraft are particularly compelling given the inherent energy efficiency, simplicity and longevity of the battery-powered motor and drivetrain. No alternative fuel sources can deliver the same level of savings.

With conventional planes, a high-passenger, high-frequency model comes with a limiting environmental cost of burning fuel. Smaller electric aircraft can avoid the fuel costs and emissions resulting from high-frequency service models. This can lead to increased competition between airlines and between airports, further lowering costs.




Read more:
Don’t trust the environmental hype about electric vehicles? The economic benefits might convince you


What are the implications of this disruption?

Air transport is generally organised in combinations of hub-and-spoke or point-to-point models. Smaller, more energy-efficient planes encourage point-to-point flights, which can also be the spokes on long-haul hub models. This means electric aircraft could lead to higher-frequency services, enabling more competitive point-to-point flights, and increase the dispersion of air services to smaller airports.

While benefiting smaller airports, electric aircraft could also improve the efficiency of some larger constrained airports.

For example, Australia’s largest airport, Sydney Airport, is efficient in both operations and costs. However, due to noise and pollution, physical and regulatory constraints – mainly aircraft movement caps and a curfew – can lead to congestion. With a significant number of sub-1,000km flights originating from Sydney, low-noise, zero-emission, electric aircraft could overcome some of these constraints, increasing airport efficiency and lowering costs.

The increased availability of short-haul, affordable air travel could actively compete with other transport services, including high-speed rail (HSR). Alternatively, if the planning of HSR projects takes account of electric aviation, these services could improve connectivity at regional rail hubs. This could strengthen the business cases for HSR projects by reducing the number of stops and travel times, and increasing overall network coverage.

Synchronised air and rail services could improve connections for travellers.
Chuyuss/Shutterstock

What about air freight?

Electric aircraft could also help air freight. International air freight volumes have increased by 80% in the last 20 years. Electric aircraft provide an opportunity to efficiently transport high-value products to key regional transport hubs, as well as directly to consumers via VTOL vehicles or drones.

If properly planned, electric aviation could complement existing freight services, including road, sea and air services. This would reduce the overall cost of transporting high-value goods.

Plan now for the coming disruption

Electric aircraft could significantly disrupt short-haul air transport within the next decade. How quickly will this technology affect conventional infrastructure? It is difficult to say given the many unknown factors. The uncertainties include step-change technologies, such as solid-state batteries, that could radically
accelerate the uptake and capabilities of electric aircraft.

What we do know today is that Australia is already struggling with disruptive technological changes in energy, telecommunications and even other transport segments. These challenges highlight the need to start taking account of disruptive technology when planning infrastructure. Where we see billions of dollars being invested in technological transformation, we need to assume disruption is coming.

With electric aircraft we have some time to prepare, so let’s not fall behind the eight ball again – as has happened with electric cars – and start to plan ahead.




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


The Conversation


Jake Whitehead, Research Fellow, The University of Queensland and Michael Kane, Research Associate, Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute,, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Delaying shutting power stations will bring big disruption later: Climate Institute research


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Modelling done for the Climate Institute indicates that without big policy changes Australia’s path to zero emissions from the electricity sector by 2050 would mean huge disruption after 2030.

The report, “A Switch in Time: Enabling the electricity sector’s transition to net zero emissions”, warns that a weak policy now means big adjustments later, and calls for a range of initiatives including a program to progressively shut down power stations.

Electricity emissions are about 30% of Australia’s total emissions. They have risen by 5.5% in the past two years due to some increasing demand and the scrapping of Labor’s carbon price.

Climate Institute CEO John Connor said the modelling found that a modest carbon price rising to $40 per tonne by 2030 would result in emissions reductions similar to the Coalition government’s 2030 target of 26-28% below 2005 levels.

But “this would result in almost no replacement of existing high-carbon power stations with clean energy; a 60% collapse in projected clean energy growth from 2020 followed by stagnation through most of the 2020s, and 98% of the sector’s 30 year carbon budget used up in the first 10 years”.

This meant that the action on climate after 2030 would have to be more extreme, Connor said.

“More than 80% of the coal-fired generation fleet would have to be closed in less than five years, and new clean energy capacity would have to jump four fold and keep rising. The impact of such a disruptive shift would be felt across the economy.”

The government currently has a “direct action” policy, while Labor is crafting a new version of emissions trading and related policies with the details still to be announced. The government plans a 2017 review of the policies needed for its 2030 and longer term targets.

The Climate Institute calls for the systematic retiring of existing high carbon generators on a timeline that would have them all stopped by 2035. The policy should facilitate replacing them with zero or near zero emission energy, it says.

There should be a well funded structural adjustment package for communities affected by the closures; energy efficient policies to minimise costs to energy users and further reduce emissions; and a carbon pricing mechanism capable of scaling up over time that provides a signal to investors.

“There is a low probability that a price of sufficient strength and reliability will emerge quickly”, so the other measures proposed would be needed to deliver a timely transition, the report says.

The report estimates the additional cost to build and operate the new power infrastructure would be about $50 billion over the 30 years 2020-2050. But it argues the disruptive costs to jobs, communities and energy security of other approaches would be more than this.

The preferred approach would represent an increase in retail energy prices of 3% a year although bills would not go up by this much if energy efficiency was improved.

The report says that while both major political parties “have acknowledged the need to achieve net zero emissions, existing climate and energy policies provide no prospect of reaching this goal”.

The research was done by leading electricity market modeller Jacobs to test the ability of policy options under discussion to reduce electricity emissions in line with the Paris commitment to limit global warming to 1.5-2°C.

– Reporting with James Whitmore

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/xdwwc-5e609a?from=yiiadmin

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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