Over the next 10 years Australia’s vehicle fleet is going to become cleaner, quieter and greener as electric vehicles (particularly pure battery electric vehicles) displace petrol, diesel and LPG powered cars. In the last year the number of plug-in vehicles in Australia has literally doubled and more new models are set for release this year.
Electric vehicles provide a range of benefits in comparison to their internal combustion engine cousins, including, lower maintenance and annual running costs, traffic noise reductions, air quality improvements, employment benefits to Australians through the use of domestically-produced electricity in replacement of imported oil and of course within the Australian automotive industry.
Environmental benefits of electric vehicles
While there are a huge number of advantages to owning an electric vehicle the environmental benefits cannot be overstated. Beyond the energy and industrial costs of the vehicles initial build there’s practically no ongoing cost to the environment at all if being run on renewable energy.
The impacts from vehicle operation far outweigh those from vehicle production and disposal, the impacts of which are expected to be relatively minor due to the high expected rate of material recycling. For example, the Ford Focus Electric’s upholstery is made up of recycled material while the padding is made up of bio based material. Similarly the Nissan Leaf’s interior and bodywork are partially made up of water bottles, plastic bags, old car parts and even second hand home appliances.
This significant influence of vehicle operation on electric vehicle lifecycle impacts shows just how important the way in which electricity is made is. In late 2012 Victoria’s Department of Transport released a paper that showed that a vehicle operating on Victoria’s grid electricity had a breakeven point that was many years away whereas an electric vehicle operating on renewable energy could provide a net benefit in terms of lifecycle carbon emissions within just three years of operating and a saving of over 50 per cent across the 20 year average Victorian vehicle lifetime.
Environmental benefits when using renewable energy
As a matter of environmental responsibility, economic progress and energy security, Australia needs to decrease its dependence on imported liquid fossil fuels. One sure-fire way to do this is by buying an electric vehicle and running it off renewable energy sources. We asked Chris Jones, Vice President of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association and Ian Hooper from ZEVA (Zero Emission Vehicles Australia) to explain:
Many self-appointed geniuses will insist that EVs are still polluting because they’re powered from grids dominated by coal and gas. Unlike petrol cars (which can only run on imported, liquid fossil fuel) EVs can run on electricity generated from the sun, wind, waves or hydro schemes. If you purchase green power from your electricity retailer, they are required by act of parliament to provide you with renewable energy. If they can’t deliver, consider charging your EV from a rooftop solar array. You will be charging your car directly from the sun, so no grid power will actually enter the battery. Off-peak charging is also cost effective, with a full charge costing about as much as a cup of coffee.
Electric vehicles can mean reduced CO2 emissions which lead to climate change, which may be humanity’s greatest challenge this century. This is of course contingent on how the power used to charge the vehicle was generated. Here in Western Australia, our mains electricity comes predominantly from coal, which makes EVs charged from regular mains power almost as CO2-intensive as regular petrol powered vehicles! But this will improve as more renewable energy is introduced to our grid in the coming years, and in the meantime you can opt-in for Green Power to ensure the electricity you use comes from renewable sources – or install solar panels on your roof to charge the vehicle from.