Giant investors such as BlackRock and fresh government policies lay the groundwork for faster rollout of electric vehicles, but hydrogen was probably not the best answer, the Green Building Council’s Transform heard on Wednesday from one of the world’s biggest car manufacturers.

While Australia has taken the slow road to electric vehicles, vehicle-to-grid technology and a shift in federal government policies still have the potential to transform the market, according to managing director of Volkswagen Group Australia Paul Sansom. 

Some of the hurdles that needed to be overcome, he said, include better vehicle to grid charging infrastructure and working out who would pay to retrofit apartments for EVs, something that was already taxing strata committees. 

After the intense negative fallout of the emissions cheating scandal in 2015, nicknamed “dieselgate”, Volkswagen has invested heavily in EVs.

By 2030, 50 per cent of the cars produced by the company—which owns the Audi, Skoda, CUPRA, Lamborghini, Bentley, Porsche and Ducati brands—will be electric and by 2040 it will be close to 100 per cent, Mr Sansom said.

Australia stuck in the EV slow lane 

For now Australia is still the global laggard when it comes to EVs. They’re currently less than 2 per cent of all vehicles sold in Australia.

Last year, a report titled the Global Electric Vehicle Catalyst Index ranked 12 countries including Australia in three criteria: government leadership and incentives, EV market maturity and EV charging infrastructure.

Australia was the only jurisdiction assessed as poor – on the four-point scale used – in each category.

“This otherwise enviable country of ours has often lagged behind the rest of the first world in creating the conditions for zero emissions mobility. The attitudes are changing and they’re changing fast,” Mr Sansom said.

“For example, the federal government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency, or ARENA, are recognising that EV adoption is contingent on having a robust charging infrastructure. Ampol is adamant that its petrol forecourts will no longer just be hosting pumps, but to charging points too. 

“And BlackRock private equity last year made its first APAC investment in EVs, with a $100 million [investment] in Australia’s Jolt charging.”

Hydrogen: Backing the wrong Mustang?

Given his company’s multi-billion dollar investments in battery-powered vehicles, it’s perhaps not surprising that Mr Samson was dismissive of the potential hydrogen-powered cars.

“A move beyond the range of our household charges will require a complete regional network of high speed charging points to keep us on our zero emissions journeys. For the greater part of that time, EVs will be charged at home or at work, meaning that for the first time we will be liberated from the necessity of traditional filling stations,” he said.

Without mentioning Ford or its investments in hydrogen power directly, Mr Samson added “this is not true of hydrogen, which requires something much more in keeping with the traditional infrastructure. 

“Even before hydrogen begins to power a vehicle, it has to be produced, compressed, chilled, transported to the hydrogen station, and some 38 Watts of the 100 Watts of the original electricity remains.

“With the greatest respect to certain car manufacturers, if your bet is on this technology rather than EVs, you’re backing in the wrong horse.” Ford recently revealed plans to switch its US Mustang sports car brand to hydrogen fuels.

Federal policy changes needed

He praised the NSW government’s $490 million policy to increase the number of EVs on the road, introduced in June last year, which he described as “progressive and ambitious” and said it should serve as the template for a “long overdue, federally mandated model”.

The package included abolishing stamp duty on the purchase of new EVs under $78,000 and cash rebates of $3000 for the first 25,000 eligible new EV buyers.

“This is a sustainable program,” he said, renewing calls on the federal government for a binding Co2 emission standard and a building code policy that enables EV charging to avoid becoming obsolete. Right now he said there were “difficult discussions” about who would cover the cost of retrofitting EV charging facilities.

Vehicle-to-grid can supercharge adoption

Vehicle-to-grid technology could be a “game changer” for accelerating EV uptake in Australia, Mr Samson said.

His comments echo a report by the Australian PV Institute earlier this week, which stated that photovoltaic-powered charging stations (PVCS) are on the rise, and that EVs would increasingly act as batteries for a smarter electricity grid.

The report anticipated that software in parked EVs would detect when electricity is needed elsewhere, and it will draw charge out of parked vehicles to power the grid.

“Soon our cars will become your own personal renewable energy ecosystem by using the car batteries to store solar power or domestic use in your homes. The MEB platform, as it’s known internally, on which all Volkswagen Group EVs are built, features this technology,” Mr Samson said.

“Perhaps 25 per cent of Australia’s passenger vehicles will be of the rechargeable battery variety by the end of this decade. By that time, the Volkswagen Group will have ceased to invest in the development of the internal combustion engine.”

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