Australia’s transition to electric vehicles is moving at a glacial pace, but a new electric super highway stretching almost the entire Queensland coast hopes to address one of the major consumer concerns about EVs – whether they can tackle long distances.

The move comes as a recent Household Energy Survey in the state showed that half of those surveyed would consider an electric vehicle within the next two years.

The initiative joins WA’s exisiting electric highway of charging stations between Perth and Augusta, while in Victoria electric trucks are on the cards.

Queensland environment minister and acting main roads minister Steven Miles said the electric highway in his state would comprise a series of fast charging electric vehicle stations at locations right along the Queensland coast – from Brisbane to Tully – making it one of the longest in the world.

Installations are expected to be up and running within the next six months, with energy supplied to be green energy purchased through credits or offsets.

“EVs can provide not only a reduced fuel cost for Queenslanders, but an environmentally friendly transport option, particularly when charged from renewable energy,” Mr Miles said.

In the initial phase of operation, they will also provide charging at no cost to the consumer, in order to encourage as many people as possible to use them.

Mr Miles said the initiative aimed to increase uptake of EVs in the state.

“This project is ambitious, but we want as many people as possible on board the electric vehicle revolution, as part of our transition to a low emissions future.”

The Electric Vehicles Council, an industry group comprising car manufacturers, energy companies, ClimateWorks and other stakeholders, welcomed the initiative.

“This initial support from government serves as a signal to the market that Queensland is serious about electric vehicles and provides certainty to unlock investment to grow our economy and create new, high skilled jobs,” EVC chief executive Behyad Jafari said.

“I encourage all governments across Australia to follow suit, particularly as this support will help to provide motorists with increased choice of cars that are cheaper and healthier to operate.”

Major car manufacturers praised the move, particularly as many are moving towards EVs or hybrids as either a significant share of new vehicle models or, in the case of some, the only type of vehicle they will manufacture in future.

Volvo, for one, recently announced it will only manufacture EVs or hybrids from 2019.

Jaguar Land Rover plans on making up to half its line-up plug-in hybrids or electric vehicles by 2020.

“JLR Australia applauds the Queensland government’s plans for its support of the electric vehicle industry, and in particular their plans for the Electric Super Highway and the planned roll-out of the Type 2 DC charger network, and we would encourage other states and territories to follow in the same direction,” JLR Australia managing director Matthew Wiesner said.

Further incentives and rebates were needed, however, to expedite the take-up of EVs – such as lower stamp duty, registration and luxury car tax.

Queenslanders are open to EVs

A recent Queensland Household Energy Survey showed that half of Queenslanders would consider an electric vehicle, plug-in hybrid or regenerative braking hybrid if purchasing a car within the next two years.

A fast-charging infrastructure would make them more inclined to purchase an EV, the survey found.

Audi Australia managing director Paul Sansom said due to the vast distances between Australian capital cities, consumers needed to have confidence  a charging station would be available when when needed.

“This is the current expectation around frequency of petrol stations, and it’s – rightly – what consumers will demand as EVs become more prevalent,” he said.

Western Australia read the writing on that particular wall in 2015, with the Royal Automobile Club teaming up with local governments to install an electric highway of charging stations between Perth and the state’s South West.

The project was funded by the auto club, and the charging stations are owned and operated by the local councils where they have been installed.

Electric trucks on the way

It is not only light passenger EVs taking to the roads. In Victoria, SEA Automotive have commenced manufacturing electric trucks. The company received $517,000 from the Victorian government last year to help kick-start the enterprise.

The first of an initial fleet of nine trucks rolled off the production line to new owner Kings Transport last month.

The SEA trucks have a modular electric drive power system that can be used either in new medium duty trucks or retrofitted to repower existing diesel trucks. The company expects to have up to 80 automotive assembly workers on its payroll within the next four years.

“The long-term aim of this project is to develop an innovative range of electric-powered commercial vehicles for a wide range of purposes,” Victorian energy, environment and climate change minister Lily D’Ambrosio said.

It’s a revolution still travelling in the slow lane

The pace of change in Australia is falling well behind the international trend, however.

A State of the Electric Vehicle Market report prepared by ClimateWorks for the EVC and released in June this year showed that only 1369 hybrids and EVs were sold in Australia in 2016 (though the researchers noted the figure may be a little higher as Tesla had not disclosed its Australian sales).

An analysis of trends in the market showed that business was the largest buyer of EVs, accounting for 64 per cent of sales in 2016 (again excluding Tesla).

The report cited data from the National Transport Commission’s recent report on the emissions intensity of the nation’s new vehicle fleet.

Sales data showed that the majority of EV sales between 2011 and 2016 – 62 per cent – were for manufacturer fleets and dealer demonstration vehicles. By comparison, sales to government fleets accounted for only two per cent of sales.

ClimateWorks found that consumer perceptions around the availability of public charging infrastructure was “crucial to electric vehicle uptake”.

“While research shows that most electric vehicle charging will occur at home or in the workplace, widespread public infrastructure is needed to mitigate range anxiety on the part of prospective purchasers.”

At the time of compiling the research, ClimateWorks noted there were only 476 dedicated public vehicle charging stations in the entire country. The majority are in capital cities, however there is a growing regional network with towns and cities recognising a potential benefit in terms of tourism.

Victoria has the most public charging stations in terms of gross numbers, however the ACT has the most on a per capita basis, with 3.5 chargers per 100,000 residents.

In terms of the global picture, we need to be putting the skates on with delivering more charging infrastructure, more quickly.

Electric Vehicle Council’s Behyad Jafari said that while a million EVs are expected to be sold worldwide this year, Australia “continues to miss out”.

Beyond Zero Emissions said Australia could rapidly take a leadership position, even overtaking the UK and France, which both recently announced bans on new diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040.

India, Norway and the Netherlands are all aiming for 100 per cent EV

There are other nations with lofty goals too, according to the ClimateWorks research. India aims for all new vehicle purchases to be 100 per cent EV by 2030, and Norway and the Netherlands are aiming for the same target by 2025.

BZE’s research released at the end of 2016 showed that Australia could eliminate up to eight per cent of national greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning to Evs for the entire light vehicle and bus fleets.

It also predicted that within eight years EVs would be cheaper to buy than a petrol or diesel equivalent. The most substantial part of an EVs cost is the battery, and the prices of those have fallen by 75 per cent since 2010.

EVs are also cheaper to run and maintain, which according to BZE means the transition could be cost neutral within a decade.

“We don’t want the rest of the world looking at us in the rear-view mirror. We have the technology right now to get all of our cars, vans and trucks to be electric, all that’s missing is the willpower to do it,” BZE head of research Michael Lord said.

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