Climate explained: why switching to electric transport makes sense even if electricity is not fully renewable


Robert McLachlan, Massey University

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to

I have a question about the charging of electric cars. I understand New Zealand is not 100% self-sufficient in renewable energy (about 80%, supplemented by 20% generally produced by coal-fired stations). If I were to buy an electric vehicle it would add to the load on the national grid. Is the only way we are currently able to add the extra power to burn more coal? Does this not make these vehicles basically “coal fired”?

New Zealand is indeed well supplied with renewable electricity. In recent years, New Zealand has averaged 83% from renewable sources (including 60% hydropower, 17% geothermal, and 5% wind) and 17% from fossil fuels (4% coal and 13% gas).

In addition to being cheap and renewable, hydropower has another great advantage. Its production can ramp up and down very quickly (by turning the turbines on and off) during the day to match demand.

Looking at a typical winter’s day (I’ve taken July 4, 2018), demand at 3am was 3,480 megawatts (MW) and 85% was met by renewable sources. By the early evening peak, demand was up to 5,950MW, but was met by 88% renewable sources. Fossil fuel sources did ramp up, but hydropower ramped up much more.

Flipping the fleet

Even during periods of peak demand, our electricity is very clean. An electric vehicle (EV) charged during the evening would emit about 20 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre.

Even an EV charged purely on coal- or gas-fired electricity still has lower emissions than a petrol or diesel car, which comes to around 240g CO₂/km (if one includes the emissions needed to extract, refine, and transport the fuel).

An EV run on coal-fired electricity emits around 180g CO₂/km during use, while the figure for gas-fired electricity is about 90g CO₂/km. This is possible because internal combustion engines are less efficient than the turbines used in power stations.

Read more:
Climate explained: the environmental footprint of electric versus fossil cars

Looking longer term, a mass conversion of transport in New Zealand to walking, cycling and electric trains, buses, cars and trucks is one of the best and most urgent strategies to reduce emissions. It will take a few decades, but on balance it may not be too expensive, because of the fuel savings that will accrue (NZ$11 billion of fuel was imported in 2018.)

This conversion will increase electricity use by about a quarter. To meet it we can look at both supply and demand.

More renewable electricity

On the supply side, more renewable electricity is planned – construction of three large wind farms began in 2019, and more are expected. The potential supply is significant, especially considering that, compared to many other countries, we’ve hardly begun to start using solar power.

But at some point, adding too much of these intermittent sources starts to strain the ability of the hydro lakes to balance them. This is at the core of the present debate about whether New Zealand should be aiming for 100% or 95% renewable electricity.

There are various ways of dealing with this, including storage batteries, building more geothermal power stations or “pumped hydro” stations. In pumped hydro, water is pumped uphill into a storage lake when there is an excess of wind and solar electricity available, to be released later. If the lake is large enough, this technology can also address New Zealand’s persistent risk of dry years that can lead to a shortage of hydropower.

Read more:
Climate explained: why don’t we have electric aircraft?

Smarter electricity use

On the demand side, a survey is under way to measure the actual charging patterns of EV drivers. Information available so far suggests that many people charge their EV late at night to take advantage of cheap night rates.

If demand gets too high at certain times, then the cost of both generation and transmission will likely rise. To avoid this, electricity suppliers are exploring smart demand responses, based on the hot water ripple control New Zealand began using in the 1950s. This allows electricity suppliers to remotely turn off hot water heaters for a few hours to limit demand.

In modern versions, consumers or suppliers can moderate demand in response to price signals, either in real time using an app or ahead of time through a contract.

New Zealand’s emissions from land transport continue to rise, up by another 2% in 2018 and almost double on 1990 levels.

To address climate change, we have to stop burning fossil fuels. Passenger cars are among the biggest users and also one of the easiest to change. Fossil fuel cannot be recycled or made clean. In contrast, electricity is getting cleaner all the time, both in New Zealand and in car factories.

If you switch to an EV now, your impact is far greater than just your personal reduction in emissions. Early adopters are vital. The more EVs we have, the more people will get used to them, the easier it will be to counter misinformation, and the more pressure there will be to cater for them.

Many people have found that switching to an electric car has been empowering and has galvanised them to start taking other actions for the climate.The Conversation

Robert McLachlan, Professor in Applied Mathematics, Massey University

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

Chief Scientist: we need to transform our world into a sustainable ‘electric planet’

Alan Finkel, Office of the Chief Scientist

I want you to imagine a highway exclusively devoted to delivering the world’s energy.

Each lane is restricted to trucks that carry one of the world’s seven large-scale sources of primary energy: coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, solar and wind.

Our current energy security comes at a price, the carbon dioxide emissions from the trucks in the three busiest lanes: the ones for coal, oil and natural gas.

We can’t just put up roadblocks overnight to stop these trucks; they are carrying the overwhelming majority of the world’s energy supply.

But what if we expand clean electricity production carried by the trucks in the solar and wind lanes — three or four times over — into an economically efficient clean energy future?

Think electric cars instead of petrol cars. Think electric factories instead of oil-burning factories. Cleaner and cheaper to run. A technology-driven orderly transition. Problems wrought by technology, solved by technology.

Read more:
How to transition from coal: 4 lessons for Australia from around the world

Make no mistake, this will be the biggest engineering challenge ever undertaken. The energy system is huge, and even with an internationally committed and focused effort the transition will take many decades.

It will also require respectful planning and retraining to ensure affected individuals and communities, who have fuelled our energy progress for generations, are supported throughout the transition.

As Tony, a worker from a Gippsland coal-fired power station, noted from the audience on this week’s Q+A program:

The workforce is highly innovative, we are up for the challenge, we will adapt to whatever is put in front of us and we have proven that in the past.

This is a reminder that if governments, industry, communities and individuals share a vision, a positive transition can be achieved.

The stunning technology advances I have witnessed in the past ten years make me optimistic.

Renewable energy is booming worldwide, and is now being delivered at a markedly lower cost than ever before.

In Australia, the cost of producing electricity from wind and solar is now around A$50 per megawatt-hour.

Even when the variability is firmed with storage, the price of solar and wind electricity is lower than existing gas-fired electricity generation and similar to new-build coal-fired electricity generation.

This has resulted in substantial solar and wind electricity uptake in Australia and, most importantly, projections of a 33% cut in emissions in the electricity sector by 2030, when compared to 2005 levels.

And this pricing trend will only continue, with a recent United Nations report noting that, in the last decade alone, the cost of solar electricity fell by 80%, and is set to drop even further.

So we’re on our way. We can do this. Time and again we have demonstrated that no challenge to humanity is beyond humanity.

Ultimately, we will need to complement solar and wind with a range of technologies such as high levels of storage, long-distance transmission, and much better efficiency in the way we use energy.

But while these technologies are being scaled up, we need an energy companion today that can react rapidly to changes in solar and wind output. An energy companion that is itself relatively low in emissions, and that only operates when needed.

In the short term, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison and energy minister Angus Taylor have previously stated, natural gas will play that critical role.

In fact, natural gas is already making it possible for nations to transition to a reliable, and relatively low-emissions, electricity supply.

Look at Britain, where coal-fired electricity generation has plummeted from 75% in 1990 to just 2% in 2019.

Driving this has been an increase in solar, wind, and hydro electricity, up from 2% to 27%. At the same time, and this is key to the delivery of a reliable electricity supply, electricity from natural gas increased from virtually zero in 1990 to more than 38% in 2019.

I am aware that building new natural gas generators may be seen as problematic, but for now let’s assume that with solar, wind and natural gas, we will achieve a reliable, low-emissions electricity supply.

Is this enough? Not really.

We still need a high-density source of transportable fuel for long-distance, heavy-duty trucks.

We still need an alternative chemical feedstock to make the ammonia used to produce fertilisers.

We still need a means to carry clean energy from one continent to another.

Enter the hero: hydrogen.

Hydrogen is abundant. In fact, it’s the most abundant element in the Universe. The only problem is that there is nowhere on Earth that you can drill a well and find hydrogen gas.

Don’t panic. Fortunately, hydrogen is bound up in other substances. One we all know: water, the H in H₂O.

We have two viable ways to extract hydrogen, with near-zero emissions.

First, we can split water in a process called electrolysis, using renewable electricity.

Second, we can use coal and natural gas to split the water, and capture and permanently bury the carbon dioxide emitted along the way.

I know some may be sceptical, because carbon capture and permanent storage has not been commercially viable in the electricity generation industry.

But the process for hydrogen production is significantly more cost-effective, for two crucial reasons.

First, since carbon dioxide is left behind as a residual part of the hydrogen production process, there is no additional step, and little added cost, for its extraction.

And second, because the process operates at much higher pressure, the extraction of the carbon dioxide is more energy-efficient and it is easier to store.

Returning to the electrolysis production route, we must also recognise that if hydrogen is produced exclusively from solar and wind electricity, we will exacerbate the load on the renewable lanes of our energy highway.

Think for a moment of the vast amounts of steel, aluminium and concrete needed to support, build and service solar and wind structures. And the copper and rare earth metals needed for the wires and motors. And the lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese and other battery materials needed to stabilise the system.

It would be prudent, therefore, to safeguard against any potential resource limitations with another energy source.

Well, by producing hydrogen from natural gas or coal, using carbon capture and permanent storage, we can add back two more lanes to our energy highway, ensuring we have four primary energy sources to meet the needs of the future: solar, wind, hydrogen from natural gas, and hydrogen from coal.

Read more:
145 years after Jules Verne dreamed up a hydrogen future, it has arrived

Furthermore, once extracted, hydrogen provides unique solutions to the remaining challenges we face in our future electric planet.

First, in the transport sector, Australia’s largest end-user of energy.

Because hydrogen fuel carries much more energy than the equivalent weight of batteries, it provides a viable, longer-range alternative for powering long-haul buses, B-double trucks, trains that travel from mines in central Australia to coastal ports, and ships that carry passengers and goods around the world.

Second, in industry, where hydrogen can help solve some of the largest emissions challenges.

Take steel manufacturing. In today’s world, the use of coal in steel manufacturing is responsible for a staggering 7% of carbon dioxide emissions.

Persisting with this form of steel production will result in this percentage growing frustratingly higher as we make progress decarbonising other sectors of the economy.

Fortunately, clean hydrogen can not only provide the energy that is needed to heat the blast furnaces, it can also replace the carbon in coal used to reduce iron oxide to the pure iron from which steel is made. And with hydrogen as the reducing agent the only byproduct is water vapour.

This would have a revolutionary impact on cutting global emissions.

Third, hydrogen can store energy, not only for a rainy day, but also to ship sunshine from our shores, where it is abundant, to countries where it is needed.

Let me illustrate this point. In December last year, I was privileged to witness the launch of the world’s first liquefied hydrogen carrier ship in Japan.

As the vessel slipped into the water I saw it not only as the launch of the first ship of its type to ever be built, but as the launch of a new era in which clean energy will be routinely transported between the continents. Shipping sunshine.

And, finally, because hydrogen operates in a similar way to natural gas, our natural gas generators can be reconfigured in the future to run on hydrogen — neatly turning a potential legacy into an added bonus.

Hydrogen-powered economy

We truly are at the dawn of a new, thriving industry.

There’s a nearly A$2 trillion global market for hydrogen come 2050, assuming that we can drive the price of producing hydrogen to substantially lower than A$2 per kilogram.

In Australia, we’ve got the available land, the natural resources, the technology smarts, the global networks, and the industry expertise.

And we now have the commitment, with the National Hydrogen Strategy unanimously adopted at a meeting by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments late last year.

Indeed, as I reflect upon my term as Chief Scientist, in this my last year, chairing the development of this strategy has been one of my proudest achievements.

The full results will not be seen overnight, but it has sown the seeds, and if we continue to tend to them, they will grow into a whole new realm of practical applications and unimagined possibilities.

This is an edited extract of a speech to the National Press Club of Australia on February 12, 2020. The full speech is available here.The Conversation

Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Office of the Chief Scientist

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

Climate explained: why don’t we have electric aircraft?

Dries Verstraete, University of Sydney


Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to

Electric cars, trains, trams and boats already exist. That logically leads to the question: why are we not seeing large electric aircraft? And will we see them any time soon?

Why do we have electric cars and trains, but few electric planes? The main reason is that it’s much simpler to radically modify a car or train, even if they look very similar to traditional fossil-fuel vehicles on the outside.

Land vehicles can easily cope with the extra mass from electricity storage or electrical propulsion systems, but aircraft are much more sensitive.

Read more:
Zero-carbon electric transport is already in reach for small islands

For instance, increasing the mass of a car by 35% leads to an increase in energy use of 13-20%. But for a plane, energy use is directly proportional to mass: increasing its mass by 35% means it needs 35% more energy (all other things being equal).

But that is only part of the story. Aircraft also travel much further than ground vehicles, which means a flight requires far more energy than an average road trip. Aircraft must store onboard all the energy needed to move its mass for each flight (unlike a train connected to an electrical grid). Using a heavy energy source thus means more energy is needed for a flight, which leads to extra mass, and so on and on.

For an aircraft, mass is crucial, which is why airlines fastidiously weigh luggage. Electric planes need batteries with enough energy per kilogram of battery, or the mass penalty means they simply can’t fly long distances.

Read more:
Why battery-powered vehicles stack up better than hydrogen

Short-range planes

Despite this, electric aircraft are on the horizon – but you won’t be seeing electric 747s any time soon.

Today’s best available lithium ion battery packs provide around 200 watt-hours (Wh) per kilogram, about 60 times less than current aircraft fuel. This type of battery can power small electric air taxis with up to four passengers over a distance of around 100km. For longer trips, more energy-dense cells are needed.

Short-range electric commuter aircraft that carry up to 30 people for less than 800km, for instance, specifically require between 750 and 2,000Wh/kg, which is some 6-17% of kerosene-based jet fuel’s energy content. Even larger aircraft require increasingly lighter batteries. For example, a plane carrying 140 passengers for 1,500km consumes about 30kg of kerosene per passenger. With current battery technology, almost 1,000kg of batteries is needed per passenger.

To make regional commuter aircraft fully electric requires a four- to tenfold reduction in battery weight. The long-term historical rate of improvement in battery energy has been around 3-4% per year, doubling roughly every two decades. Based on a continuation of this historical trend, the fourfold improvement needed for a fully electric commuter aircraft could potentially be reached around mid-century.

While this may seem an incredibly long wait, this is consistent with the timescale of change in the aviation industry for both the infrastructure and aircraft design lifecycles. A new aircraft takes around 5-10 years to design, and will then remain in service for two to three decades. Some aircraft are still flying 50 years after their first flight.

Read more:
We can’t expand airports after declaring a climate emergency – let’s shift to low-carbon transport instead

Here come the hybrids

Does this mean long-distance flying will always rely on fossil fuels? Not necessarily.

While fully electric large aircraft require a major, yet-to-be-invented shift in energy storage, there are other ways to reduce the environmental impact of flying.

Hybrid-electric aircraft combine fuels with electric propulsion. This class of aircraft includes design without batteries, where the electric propulsion system serves to improve the thrust efficiency, reducing the amount of fuel needed.

Hybrid-electric aircraft with batteries are also in development, where the batteries may provide extra power in specific circumstances. Batteries can then, for instance, provide clean take-off and landing to reduce emissions near airports.

Electric planes are also not the only way to reduce the direct carbon footprint of flying. Alternative fuels, such as biofuels and hydrogen, are also being investigated.

Biofuels, which are fuels derived from plants or algae, were first used on a commercial flight in 2008 and several airlines have performed trials with them. While not widely adopted, significant research is currently investigating sustainable biofuels that do not impact freshwater sources or food production.

Read more:
Explainer: what are biofuels?

While biofuels do still produce CO₂, they don’t require significant changes to existing aircraft or airport infrastructure. Hydrogen, on the other hand, requires a complete redesign of the fuelling infrastructure of the airport and also has a significant impact on the design of the aircraft itself.

While hydrogen is very light – hydrogen contains three times more energy per kilogram than kerosene – its density is very low, even when stored as a liquid at -250℃. This means that fuel can no longer be stored in the wing but needs to be moved to relatively heavy and bulky tanks inside the fuselage. Despite these drawbacks, hydrogen-fuelled long-distance flights can consume up to 12% less energy than kerosene.

This article is part of The Covering Climate Now series

This is a concerted effort among news organisations to put the climate crisis at the forefront of our coverage. This article is published under a Creative Commons licence and can be reproduced for free – just hit the “Republish this article” button on the page to copy the full HTML coding. The Conversation also runs Imagine, a newsletter in which academics explore how the world can rise to the challenge of climate change. Sign up here.The Conversation

Dries Verstraete, Senior Lecturer in Aerospace Design and Propulsion, University of Sydney

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

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.

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.

Why battery-powered vehicles stack up better than hydrogen

File 20181114 194500 iw2c1a.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A battery electric vehicle in The University of Queensland’s vehicle fleet.

Jake Whitehead, The University of Queensland; Robin Smit, The University of Queensland, and Simon Washington, The University of Queensland

Low energy efficiency is already a major problem for petrol and diesel vehicles. Typically, only 20% of the overall well-to-wheel energy is actually used to power these vehicles. The other 80% is lost through oil extraction, refinement, transport, evaporation, and engine heat. This low energy efficiency is the primary reason why fossil fuel vehicles are emissions-intensive, and relatively expensive to run.

With this in mind, we set out to understand the energy efficiency of electric and hydrogen vehicles as part of a recent paper published in the Air Quality and Climate Change Journal.

Electric vehicles stack up best

Based on a wide scan of studies globally, we found that battery electric vehicles have significantly lower energy losses compared to other vehicle technologies. Interestingly, however, the well-to-wheel losses of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles were found to be almost as high as fossil fuel vehicles.

Average well-to-wheel energy losses from different vehicle drivetrain technologies, showing typical values and ranges. Note: these figures account for production, transport and propulsion, but do not capture manufacturing energy requirements, which are currently marginally higher for electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles compared to fossil fuel vehicles.

At first, this significant efficiency difference may seem surprising, given the recent attention on using hydrogen for transport.

Read more:
How hydrogen power can help us cut emissions, boost exports, and even drive further between refills

While most hydrogen today (and for the foreseeable future) is produced from fossil fuels, a zero-emission pathway is possible if renewable energy is used to:

Herein lies one of the significant challenges in harnessing hydrogen for transport: there are many more steps in the energy life cycle process, compared with the simpler, direct use of electricity in battery electric vehicles.

Each step in the process incurs an energy penalty, and therefore an efficiency loss. The sum of these losses ultimately explains why hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, on average, require three to four times more energy than battery electric vehicles, per kilometre travelled.

Electricity grid impacts

The future significance of low energy efficiency is made clearer upon examination of the potential electricity grid impacts. If Australia’s existing 14 million light vehicles were electric, they would need about 37 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity per year — a 15% increase in national electricity generation (roughly equivalent to Australia’s existing annual renewable generation).

But if this same fleet was converted to run on hydrogen, it would need more than four times the electricity: roughly 157 TWh a year. This would entail a 63% increase in national electricity generation.

A recent Infrastructure Victoria report reached a similar conclusion. It calculated that a full transition to hydrogen in 2046 – for both light and heavy vehicles – would require 64 TWh of electricity, the equivalent of a 147% increase in Victoria’s annual electricity consumption. Battery electric vehicles, meanwhile, would require roughly one third the amount (22 TWh).

Read more:
How electric cars can help save the grid

Some may argue that energy efficiency will no longer be important in the future given some forecasts suggest Australia could reach 100% renewable energy as soon as the 2030s. While the current political climate suggests this will be challenging, even as the transition occurs, there will be competing demands for renewable energy between sectors, stressing the continuing importance of energy efficiency.

Read more:
At its current rate, Australia is on track for 50% renewable electricity in 2025

It should also be recognised that higher energy requirements translate to higher energy prices. Even if hydrogen reached price parity with petrol or diesel in the future, electric vehicles would remain 70-90% cheaper to run, because of their higher energy efficiency. This would save the average Australian household more than A$2,000 per year.

Pragmatic plan for the future

Despite the clear energy efficiency advantages of electric vehicles over hydrogen vehicles, the truth is there is no silver bullet. Both technologies face differing challenges in terms of infrastructure, consumer acceptance, grid impacts, technology maturity and reliability, and driving range (the volume needed for sufficient hydrogen compared with the battery energy density for electric vehicles).

Battery electric vehicles are not yet a suitable replacement for every vehicle on our roads. But based on the technology available today, it is clear that a significant proportion of the current fleet could transition to be battery electric, including many cars, buses, and short-haul trucks.

Such a transition represents a sensible, robust and cost-efficient approach for delivering the significant transport emission reductions required within the short time frames outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report on restraining global warming to 1.5℃, while also reducing transport costs.

Together with other energy-efficient technologies, such as the direct export of renewable electricity overseas, battery electric vehicles will ensure that the renewable energy we generate over the coming decades is used to reduce the greatest amount of emissions, as quickly as possible.

Read more:
The north’s future is electrifying: powering Asia with renewables

Meanwhile, research should continue into energy efficient options for long-distance trucks, shipping and aircraft, as well as the broader role for both hydrogen and electrification in reducing emissions across other sectors of the economy.

With the Federal Senate Select Committee on Electric Vehicles set to deliver its final report on December 4, let’s hope the continuing importance of energy efficiency in transport has not been forgotten.The Conversation

Jake Whitehead, Research Fellow, The University of Queensland; Robin Smit, Adjunct professor, The University of Queensland, and Simon Washington, Professor and Head of School of Civil Engineering, The University of Queensland

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

Not so fast: why the electric vehicle revolution will bring problems of its own

File 20180413 566 7ngvnq.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Electric cars are taking over – but they really as green as they look?
Jack Amick / flickr, CC BY-NC

Martin Brueckner, Murdoch University

After years of being derided as a joke by car manufacturers and the public, interest in electric vehicles has increased sharply as governments around the world move to ban petrol and diesel cars.

We have seen a tremendous rise in availability, especially at the premium end of the market, where Tesla is giving established brands a run for their money. Electric cars are likely to penetrate the rest of the market quickly too. Prices should be on par with conventional cars by 2025.

Electric cars are praised as the answer to questions of green and clean mobility. But the overall sustainability of electric vehicles is far from clear. On closer examination, our entire transport paradigm may need to be rethought.

Read more:
Australia’s ‘electric car revolution’ won’t happen automatically

Compared with combustion engines, electric transport has obvious advantages for emissions and human health. Transport is responsible for around 23% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions globally. This is expected to double by 2050.

Motor vehicles also put a burden on society, especially in urban environments where they are chiefly responsible for noise and air pollution. Avoiding these issues is why electric vehicles are considered a key technology in cleaning up the transport sector. However, electric cars come with problems of their own.

Dirt in the supply chain

For one, electric vehicles have a concerning supply chain. Cobalt, a key component of the lithium-ion batteries in electric cars, is linked to reports of child labour. The nickel used in those same batteries is toxic to extract from the ground. And there are environmental concerns and land use conflicts connected with lithium mining in countries like Tibet and Bolivia.

The elements used in battery production are finite and in limited supply. This makes it impossible to electrify all of the world’s transport with current battery technology. Meanwhile, there is still no environmentally safe way of recycling lithium-ion batteries.

While electric cars produce no exhaust, there is concern about fine particle emissions. Electric cars are often heavier than conventional cars, and heavier vehicles are often accompanied by higher levels of non-exhaust emissions. The large torque of electric vehicles further adds to the fine dust problem, as it causes greater tyre wear and dispersion of dust particles.

Different motor, same problem

Electric vehicles share many other issues with conventional cars too. Both require roads, parking areas and other infrastructure, which is especially a problem in cities. Roads divide communities and make access to essential services difficult for those without cars.

A shift in people’s reliance on combustion cars to electric cars also does little to address sedentary urban lifestyles, as it perpetuates our lack of physical activity.

Other problems relate to congestion. In Australia, the avoidable social cost of traffic congestion in 2015 was estimated at A$16.5 billion. This is expected to increase by 2% every year until 2030. Given trends in population growth and urbanisation globally and in Australia, electric cars – despite obvious advantages over fossil fuels – are unlikely to solve urban mobility and infrastructure-related problems.

Technology or regulation may solve these technical and environmental headaches. Improvements in recycling, innovation, and the greening of battery factories can go a long way towards reducing the impacts of battery production. Certification schemes, such as the one proposed in Sweden, could help deliver low-impact battery value chains and avoid conflict minerals and human rights violations in the industry.

A new transport paradigm

Yet, while climate change concerns alone seem to warrant a speedy transition towards electric mobility, it may prove to be merely a transition technology. Electric cars will do little for urban mobility and liveability in the years to come. Established car makers such as Porsche are working on new modes of transportation, especially for congested and growing markets such as China.

Nevertheless, their vision is still one of personal vehicles – relying on electric cars coupled with smart traffic guidance systems to avoid urban road congestion. Instead of having fewer cars, as called for by transport experts, car makers continue to promote individualised transport, albeit a greener version.

With a growing population, a paradigm shift in transport may be needed – one that looks to urban design to solve transportation problems.

In Copenhagen, for example, bikes now outnumber cars in the city’s centre, which is primed to be car-free within the next ten years. Many other cities, including Oslo in Norway and Chengdu in China, are also on their way to being free of cars.

Experts are already devising new ways to design cities. They combine efficient public transport, as found in Curitiba, Brazil, with principles of walkability, as seen in Vauben, Germany. They feature mixed-use, mixed-income and transit-oriented developments, as seen in places like Fruitvale Village in Oakland, California.

Read more:
Designing suburbs to cut car use closes gaps in health and wealth

These developments don’t just address transport-related environmental problems. They enhance liveability by reclaiming urban space for green developments. They reduce the cost of living by cutting commuting cost and time. They deliver health benefits, thanks to reduced pollution and more active lifestyles. They improve social cohesion, by fostering human interaction in urban streetscapes, and help to reduce crime. And of course, they improve economic performance by reducing the loss of productivity caused by congestion.

The ConversationElectric cars are a quick-to-deploy technology fix that helps tackle climate change and improve urban air quality – at least to a point. But the sustainability endgame is to eliminate many of our daily travel needs altogether through smart design, while improving the parts of our lives we lost sight of during our decades-long dependence on cars.

Martin Brueckner, Senior Lecturer in Sustainability, Murdoch University

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

Australia: Queensland – Electric Vehicle Highway

The link below is to an article that takes a look at Australia’s planned electric vehicle highway in Queensland.

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Netherlands: Building the World’s Largest Electric Vehicle Charging Network

The link below is to an article reporting on the Netherlands’ plans to build the world’s largest network of electric vehicle charging stations.

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