CSIRO is steering towards a low-emissions future and looking at the future of car ownership after COVID-19.
Today is World Electric Vehicle Day, and the CSIRO has noted that many Australian cars have been more idle than usual in 2020 due to the pandemic, with quieter streets, lower transport emissions and remarkable declines in air pollution.
The numbers of people walking and cycling have also skyrocketed.
With the transport sector accounting for nearly 20% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, and a large part of that coming from light vehicles, the CSIRO has been investigating the implications of less new cars being sold, and an increasing number of those being hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.
Will there be lingering transport benefits after lockdown?
Dr Christopher Munnings, senior research scientist with CSIRO Energy Technology, said Australia could embrace new technologies and maintain the low-emissions benefits of the lockdown by doing four things:
1. Ignore the myths and embrace the electric dream
‘There’s an illusion that EVs aren’t suited to Australia, they aren’t available, and they cost far more than the average car. But there are many reasons why Australians should be early adopters of EVs,’ said Dr Munnings.
He highlights that most Australians live in suburbs, park our cars off street, have multiple cars per household, and the cars we buy are often at the more premium end of the market.
‘More Australians could be driving electric cars. This isn’t some fancy dream – it’s a very practical solution that makes sense for a lot of Australians. There are many new zero emission models entering the Australian market, so it’s worth having a second look to see if there’s one that matches your needs.’
2. Solar charge your electric vehicle
Millions of Australian sell energy to the grid from solar PV panels, only to then buy energy back from the local petrol station. A residential solar PV system could provide enough energy to power a house with plenty left over for an EV.
Dr Munnings said CSIRO has been working with Nissan and Delta to create a solar-powered EV charging technology that can stabilise the grid and let you charge multiple cars all at once, without blowing a fuse.
‘Many people find that their house is perfectly setup already for their first EV. Almost all homes will have enough capacity for a single charger. The electricity distribution board is often near where they currently park their car. And if you’re working from home or use your car around school hours, your charging will overlap with solar generation,’ said Dr Munnings.
‘The other thing to remember is that it’s perfectly possible to charge your EV from a regular plug socket (it’s just a bit slower), so renters are not locked out of the EV dream.’
3. Consider hybrids for smaller budgets
The CSIRO says hybrid cars have been improving for years and now offer some of the lowest total cost of ownership of any cars in the market. An e-bike provides an even cheaper, greener option.
A combination of battery power for the hills and person power for flat areas, e-bikes can dramatically increase a cyclist’s range, and reduces their travel time. Downsizing from a two-car to a one-car household also helps greatly.
‘The battery on an e-bike is around 100 times smaller than that in an EV. Even though batteries can be recycled there is no arguing that an e-bike has a lower environmental footprint,’ said Dr Munnings.
4. Think about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for the future
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are becoming an increasing reality in Australia with trials in Canberra and a recent announcement of plans to produce plug-in hybrid hydrogen vehicles in the Illawarra.
‘Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles would feel very normal to most people,’ said Dr Munnings. ‘It’s a different type of engine. Instead of a normal combustion engine, you have a fuel cell that electrochemically oxides the hydrogen (in a reaction similar to what you find a battery) and that powers the car. The process is more efficient than a petrol engine but the business model is the same; it’s really just a different fuel bowser.’
CSIRO research suggests that there are a wide range of technologies that could allow Australia to keep the transport benefits of a lockdown.
While all technologies come with environmental costs, zero-emission vehicles hold the promise of a healthier population, lower running costs and cleaner air.