Australia is in need of a transport revolution. 

It’s a daunting, but necessary job; to prevent catastrophic climate change, we need to halve global carbon emissions by 2030, and reach net zero emissions by 2050. 

To get there, we need to find better ways of getting around. The transport sector is Australia’s third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, with cars responsible for roughly half of that damage. 

Electrifying our vehicles to run on renewable power will help; it’s not the answer in itself, but the change will help plug the gap between actions and ambitions. We must also pursue viable alternatives to driving, like better cycling infrastructure, more walkable communities, and a more connected public transport system.

We’re closer than we think

To help keep us on track to net zero emissions, we need all new cars sales in Australia to be electric by 2030. Fortunately, we’ve been tinkering with electric vehicles since the invention of the battery. 

In fact, the first electric vehicle prototype arrived before our first taste of the petrol variety. The incredibly named Flocken Elektrowagen from 1888 was powered by its very own electric motor. Reaching a dignified 15km an hour, it’s a magnificent feat of German engineering – even if it does look like the lovechild of a wagon and a baby carriage.

Taking a big time skip ahead to 1959 and industrial designer and illustrator Arthur Radebaugh claimed the future was Closer Than We Think! in his comic strip of the same name. He envisaged an art deco electric vehicle boasting ‘hot rod agility’. Allegedly it could be charged on any home socket or using a roadway fast charger. Sound familiar? 

No, EVs won’t “end the weekend”

Although nowhere as ubiquitous as petrol cars, electric vehicles are becoming an increasingly viable alternative, with 56 per cent of Australians considering going electric with their next car purchase. But some Australians are concerned that their limited driving range will “end the weekend” or limit their day trips and holidays. 

Robin Mellon is NSW program adviser at Better Building Finance, an organisation that helps businesses across Australia install energy efficient building upgrades. He’s also an electric vehicle enthusiast. The proud owner of an MG ZS EV, he says that electric vehicles can fit into daily life as easily as a standard petrol car. 

We need a better built environment that is co-located; communities where everything is better situated so it enables more active transport like walking and cycling, as well as public transport.

Robin Mellon, NSW Program Adviser at Better Building Finance

“The vast majority of leisure journeys that most people make within Australia are short journeys of 5-10 kilometres. In 2016, the average commuting distance people travelled from their home was 16 kilometres. With my EV, I only really think about the range if I’m going a long way – say, from Sydney to Melbourne – so I will plan where I’m going to charge up on the way.”

He adds that on these bigger trips his vehicle needs charging every two to three hours, when most drivers would need a toilet break, or to stretch their legs, or at least a power nap.  

“That means I get to take a 45-minute break while I wait for my car to recharge. I get to my destination feeling a lot more relaxed because of those breaks, and because there’s no engine noise or vibration to contend with along the way.”

Future-proof your business with building upgrades 

Businesses can help this transition towards active and low carbon transport by investing in sustainable building upgrades, like end-of-trip facilities and electric vehicle chargers powered by solar. 

Mr Mellon says these upgrades are perfect for businesses looking for a competitive edge. With all new car sales needing to be electric by 2030, we’re set to see a dramatic increase in drivers looking to charge up. Installing the right infrastructure to support that change is a necessary step – or else businesses risk getting left behind. And it doesn’t need to be a huge installation – it could be as simple as ‘charging bollards’ in existing streets or car parks, as are already being installed across the City of London.

“If you’re running an establishment, and you want people to stay for up to an hour, providing a charging station service run on renewable power is a good way to do it,” he says. “And if you’re installing solar already, an additional cost to put in a battery and charging isn’t substantially larger. If you have a roof, space for a battery, and any parking spaces, you’re set. Market leaders like Mountain Ridge Wines, south of Berry in NSW, did this years ago.”

Even service stations are embracing the change; electric vehicle chargers are popping up alongside petrol pumps, as petrol retailers look to future-proof their business. 

Although building upgrades can be expensive, businesses in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia can use Upgrade Finance to help them on their way. Businesses like Yarra Valley Estate have “put sustainability at the heart of the business”, and recycling leaders like Plasgain have installed two EV chargers to “be as close to carbon neutral as possible”.

“Upgrade Finance is there to help business owners finance sustainability upgrades over longer terms,” Mr Mellon explains. “What I love about Upgrade Finance is you rarely have to choose between one upgrade and another; you might have access to $50,000, and with that you can get as close to carbon zero as possible by installing a combination of solar, insulation, a battery, LED lights and an EV charger. That way, you’re not just looking at making solar; you’re also using it in the best possible way.”

The future of energy goes both ways

There’s boundless potential for electric vehicles – specifically the batteries inside them – to change our world for the better. On the road they can help us get to our destinations sustainably. Off the road, they could become anything. Even an emergency energy supply. 

Imagine it’s the height of summer. You know that turning on the air conditioner is going to be a serious drain on the grid. Instead, you feed the battery on your electric vehicle into your home energy supply to power what you need. Later, you recharge your battery when the demand for energy is low and feed the excess back into the grid for the community to use when demand is high. 

Australia isn’t equipped with bidirectional charging yet, but Mr Mellon says it’s the next logical step, and forward-thinking organisations are already tackling these issues. 

“For decades we’ve built the wrong energy infrastructure in this country for our future needs; our poles and wires only allow power to go one way. We need to move towards community grids where electric vehicles can help reduce peak energy demand.” 

No carbon > low carbon 

The road to net zero emissions is long. We need the backing of Government-led policies to help us move towards a more sustainable future. Leading Australian councils like Waverley, Woollahra and Randwick have established a Public Electric Vehicle Charging Station Network, but more help is needed to turbo-charge the uptake of EVs and the installation of residential and commercial charging points in homes and businesses across the country.

Following the examples set by the UK and other European countries would be a great start. There, sales of electric vehicles have skyrocketed thanks to grants that reduce their purchase prices, making them more accessible to the general public. They also have access to a broader range of models, ranging from the compact to the luxurious. In Australia, there are almost no electric vehicles available for less than $40,000, making the price tag a significant obstacle to ownership. 

But it’s important to recognise that electric vehicles will only solve part of the problem. Even if we replaced every petrol car with one powered by renewable energy, we’d still have vehicle congestion and be neglecting other transport infrastructure, like cycling paths and public transport. 

According to Mr Mellon, what we really need is a low-carbon transport mix; the ability to choose sustainable modes of travel – like walking, cycling and public transport – over private vehicles, no matter how energy efficient they are. Imagine having the option to walk or cycle down to your local shops, saving a car for bigger trips or only those necessary journeys. 

“Electric vehicles are not the answer, but they are a low carbon step on the way to the answer,” he says. “We need a better built environment that is co-located; communities where everything is better situated so it enables more active transport like walking and cycling, as well as public transport. We also need to establish a transport hierarchy that values active transport, which then shapes how we design our roads, cycle paths and public transport.”

Melina is an arts and culture writer working on unceded Wadawurrung Country. She has previously been published in Matters Journal and Voiceworks, and collaborates with sustainability leaders like Better Building Finance around innovation and development.

Looking to make your business more sustainable? You can find out more about Environmental Upgrade Finance now.

The Sustainable Australia Fund is committed to helping local businesses become more sustainable. Its mission is to enable these businesses to fund key projects and unlock savings using Environmental Upgrade Finance.

Better Building Finance is a service provider for Councils and Lenders who offer Environmental Upgrade Finance. By providing access to better finance, they make it easy to upgrade buildings to be better for staff, the community, and for the environment.

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