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August 1, 2021

‘The Norway of Australia’: what does good electric vehicle policy look like?

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Electric car recharging. Photo Wikimedia

NSW Energy Minister Matt Kean has announced an EV car package that he says will bring NSW on par with the world’s best. Is he right?

The NSW Government has just joined the pack of state governments announcing electric vehicle subsidies, with a $500 million policy to incentivise purchase of electric vehicles (EV), and improve EV infrastructure.

So, what’s involved in NSW’s new policy, how does it compare to other states, and what’s slowing electric vehicle uptake in Australia?

NSW’s new policy

The strategy announced by the NSW government includes waiving stamp duty for electric vehicle purchases for cars under $78,000, $3000 rebates for cars under $68,750, transitioning the government fleet to EVs, and a large investment in charging stations across the state. The aim is to have a majority of new cars be EVs by 2035.

‘It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s definitely not enough,’ says Gail Broadbent, a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales, whose research focusses on increasing uptake of electric vehicles.

‘If we’re going to reach net zero emissions by 2050, our modelling shows that we’ve really got to have 100 per cent EV sales by 2030.’

This is in contrast with NSW Energy & Environment Minister Matt Kean’s calculation. In a statement, Kean said: ‘with new cars staying on the road 15 years on average, the vast majority of new cars sold in NSW need to be EVs by 2035 to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.’ The policy is based on this logic.

According to Broadbent, the simple numbers are off here. ‘That’s not true – they last about 20 years.’ So net zero emissions by 2050 isn’t possible if new petrol vehicles are still being sold in 2030.

‘In tandem, we will need to transition to 100 per cent renewable energy for our electricity supply,’ points out Broadbent.

Kean also said on Twitter that he aimed to make NSW the ‘Norway of Australia’. Norway – where 75 per cent of new vehicles are electric, and which has a commitment to 100 per cent new EVs by 2025 – is regarded as a world leader in electric vehicles.

While policies vary hugely between states, nowhere in Australia is remotely as ambitious as Norway when it comes to EVs. What’s holding us back?

Electric car charging mobile phone app.

Barriers to EV uptake

There are a few things inhibiting EV uptake in Australia. One area that requires focus is infrastructure: specifically, charging stations. Subsidies are little use without them.

Forget long road trips for the moment – keeping an electric car charged at home might not be an option for some people. ‘There’s a lot of people who live in blocks of flats, who just don’t have any power points in garages or capacity to get them,’ says Broadbent.

‘Whatever you’re selling, you have to provide a complete environment that supplies everything the customer needs to be able to use that thing.’

For widescale usage, there needs to be widescale public charging stations – employing a lot of electricians. Over the next nine years, Australia will need to dramatically increase its ‘training of people who are going to be capable of installing the technology that we need to support electric vehicles,’ says Broadbent.

Range anxiety

Another barrier is emotional acceptance of EVs. ‘There’s this concept called range anxiety, where people are worried they’re going to run out of charge before they get to their destination,’ says Broadbent. You really need an education program to address concerns about range and reliability, she says. Her research on EV uptake in New Zealand has shown that good communication is a key way to encourage people to buy electric vehicles.

‘You’re not going to buy an electric car if you don’t know what’s available.’

Finally, car manufacturers have little incentive to sell electric vehicles to Australia, because national policies mean that EVs make more money elsewhere.

‘The federal government could help here by getting on board with vehicle emissions standards,’ says Broadbent.

Other countries – particularly in Europe – impose heavy penalties on car manufacturers if the vehicles they sell emit, on average, too much carbon dioxide. Manufacturers are thus incentivised to sell EVs there, to bring their numbers down – leaving higher-emitting cars for the Australian market.

The upshot, according to Broadbent, is that manufacturers can “dump petrol or diesel vehicles on us, because there’s no reason not to.

‘If you’ve got a choice between getting fined in Europe and not getting fined in Australia, where are you going to sell [petrol cars]?’

While state governments can make a lot of progress with electric vehicles, the federal government still has a role to play. Done well, it could even revive the car manufacturing industry. Broadbent highlights the UK’s policy in particular, where a ‘conservative government has recognised a number of benefits from [electric vehicles].’

Aside from the obvious advantage – EVs decrease emissions – the UK believes that they’ll ‘revitalise their car industry. And that’s something we could do here.

‘We used to have a very good industry here. We have world-class engineers. There’s no reason why we can’t have it again; it just requires a bit of commitment.’

Published by The Echo in conjunction with Cosmos Magazine.

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