ANALYSIS: With the news this week that Tesla is now the most valuable car company in the world, there’s a sense that the green transport revolution has kicked up a gear.
Although some suspect the new record high price of $1135 a share is “grossly overvalued”, the dominance of the electric car company is starting to feel like a turning point for the fossil fuel-powered car.
This would be good news because in Australia, we desperately need to get a handle on our transport-related emissions. The sector is Australia’s third biggest emitter, and it’s growing, with cars alone responsible for half of these emissions.
And, largely thanks to the inflated price of EVs in Australia (the cheapest ones are around $50,000), a lack of charging infrastructure and unfavourably policy settings, sales of EVs in this country are slowing down rather than speeding up. (A global recession might also have something to do with it).
Now, I’m hardly an advocate for swapping out every private vehicle with an electric version. As this article in The Conversation by University of Toronto’s Alexandre Milovanoff would suggest, a like-for-like swap is an eye-watering task that will come with a whack of emissions just to manufacture the things.
Although Australia’s sprawling car-dependant cities and towns will see electric cars play a role in the decarbonisation of the transport sector, our best chance will take a shift in how we get around entirely.
This future of mobility will involve fewer trips taken by car and more by public transport, bikes, our own feet, and zippy electrified things for those “last mile trips”.
Covid may have gutted public transport – for now – but it turbocharged the world of active transport and micromobility.
In the height of the pandemic, bikes were in hot demand. Despite a fear of cycling in Sydney, I joined in on the bike frenzy, and riding in the inner city, at least, has since got easier as bike lanes have sprung up to accommodate the Covid cycling boom.
Electric bikes now seem to be everywhere. There’s rumours that the Lime ebikes are set to return to Sydney’s streets (with a strict hygiene regime) and, in my neighbourhood at least, there are new shops offering ebikes to sell or hire.
The Clean Energy Finance Corporation has even started dabbling in the micromobility space with a $7 million equity investment in to company offering commercial fleet ebikes for sustainable deliveries.
Money is also flowing into local manufacturing of electric vehicles. In the federal budget, $5 million was allocated towards a factory in South Australia to build electric vehicles and fund a bi-directional vehicle-to-grid trial in the state.
This week, electric vehicle manufacturer Nexport, majority owned by TrueGreen Impact Group, announced a $700 million advanced manufacturing hub in the NSW Southern Highlands to build electric buses and other electric vehicles.
The facility has been built in the knowledge that both the ACT and NSW plan to decarbonise their bus fleets, with New South Wales transport minister Andrew Constance committed to replacing Sydney’s ageing fleet of 8000 diesel buses with electric buses.
Nexport chief executive officer Luke Todd expects other governments to follow suit given the savings now afforded by electric buses: now costing $50,000 a year less to run compared with diesel fuelled buses.
In fairness, we’ve got an awfully long way to go to decarbonise this sector. Let’s not forget, importantly, that the transition to electric mobility means the grid needs to be decarbonised for these transport forms to be fully clean.
But the size of the challenge is not stopping me from dreaming of safer, less polluted streets buzzing with human activity, not petrol fumes, that are, perhaps most excitingly, free from the sounds of combustion engines.
Rather than roaring engines in the bus lane, we can all look forward to a quiet hum as these electric buses zip past (but let’s not forget they are there!).
Is a bit of quiet really too much to ask for?