“Australia’s current land transport system is not sustainable
in economic, environmental or social terms:
> there has been a shortfall in infrastructure investment in land transport;
> congestion costs are high and rising, reducing our economic competitiveness and the liveability of our cities;
> road transport greenhouse gas emissions are high and growing quickly;
> there is little demonstrable progress on reducing transport‑related social exclusion;
> the road toll remains unacceptable, with serious injuries rising markedly and fatalities remaining at about 1,450 annually;
> obesity is increasing; and,
> our energy security is diminishing.”
(Moving People – Solutions for a growing Australia)
We need to change our modes of transport from heavily relying on fossil fuel vehicles to move to electric vehicles, public transport systems and cycling. We need to build a high speed electric train network to connect the country and to use cargo lines to replace the trucks. Those electric vehicles must be powered by renewable energy, either from the grid or produced immediately via solar panels.
Personal Vehicles – Bikes
Pedal bikes still offer one of the best modes of transport in a city for many short trips. Fitting exercise into the average city worker’s day can be difficult, but with facilities in most offices to shower after riding to work, bike lanes and active communities across the country; there are many benefits to riding a traditional bike.
Electric bikes have been available for some time in Australia and the supply is already diverse. This ranges from conversion kits, through light commuters to high performance offroad bikes. Choice magazine has even recently performed a study of 26 electric bikes. With this variety on offer already, you have little excuse to use a car for trips under ten or twenty kilometres.
Personal Vehicles – Cars
All personal vehicles need to be changed to completely non-fossil fuel powered solutions by 2042 to avoid the energy trap. This gives barely thirty years to change over, which means this must be actively promoted and supported by the government. In 2013, electric vehicles were far less than one percent of the total, a figure that needs to be changed quickly. Electric vehicles are the highest growth fuel type, but only because such small numbers are being sold, only around 300 in 2013 – which almost doubled the previous year’s total.
Instead of propping up the fossil fuel car industry, any government funding to retain an automotive industry in Australia should be conditional on development of a fleet of electric vehicles for different purposes. We need a city car, a long range car, a ute and a 4WD for the individual market and we need a range of trucks and special purpose vehicles for commercial and industrial uses. 2013 saw a lot of changes on this front, with further development on a drive train from Via Motors that can be used for vehicles from a car up to a light truck – including 4WDs. It also saw new 4WD hybrid vehicles from Mitsubishi and Land Rover. We also saw the release of the final report on a successful Western Australian government trial of electric vehicles that recommends heavy investment and encouragement from the government to deploy charging stations between Perth and the Margaret River region. It also saw the mid-term release of a successful Victorian government trial of electric vehicles in Melbourne that also suggests more encouragement for charging stations is required.
2014 is already seeing the introduction of new electric vehicles for the first time, including a new SUV from Toyota and new versions and offerings on many existing electric and hybrid vehicles. There are also numerous suppliers for kits and services all over Australia to convert existing petrol vehicles to use electric engines.
The increase of electric vehicles will place a new load on the electricity grid and this must be factored into the growth of renewable energy generating plants Australia wide.
China has invested heavily in kickstarting an electric vehicle market internally, with limited success. The primary problem is extremely price sensitive consumers being asked to pay 150% more for an electric option. Without a trend pushed by government, celebrities and businesses this is unlikely to change soon. Australia does have a far greater environmentally aware population who understand the need for electric cars, but without 100% renewable energy supplies to the grid and an affordable vehicle, this market will find it hard to get started. The specific product that Australia needs to innovate is a fully electric city car that carries a strongly positive image for the masses – in exactly way that Holden and Ford cars did in the 60s and 70s. This will need attention in multiple areas, but an important one is to establish electric vehicles in the racing community.
The racing community has always driven the general popularity of cars as well as being a hotbed of technological innovations. The innovation that wins races one year becomes a feature of production vehicles in years to come. Building an active racing community dedicated to different forms of electric vehicles appropriate for all ages will provide a stepping stone for the population to move more easily into this new paradigm. This means developments for small bikes for kids, that grow larger as they grow older; up to powerful on and offroad bikes for adults. Then electric go-karts that grow into smaller racing cars that increase in power as the drivers get older. The kid’s products, including go-karts, are all available in Australia today as are bikes up to the adult versions. Cars are still more expensive than their petrol counterparts, up to twice the purchase and typically 150% of the running costs; the market demand is for an electric car priced inside 15% of a fossil fuel version. There is one startup from Detroit in the US that called in late 2013 for investors to fund the production run of the EcoV Electric vehicle. The retail price will start at US$12,000, but the catch is this is a low speed vehicle with maximum speed under forty kilometres per hour and a range under seventy kilometres on a single charge. A cynic might suggest it’s a golf cart with a car shell, which isn’t entirely untrue; but this is another baby step on the right pathway. The transition from fossil fuels will be a long one, but needs to start as soon as possible
There can also be parallel investment and government encouragement in other initiatives for more efficient personal vehicles such as collaborative driving, cars that know where each other are and act as one in traffic to improve throughput. The government could fund further work in all these areas through a carbon tax and later levy on fossil fuel vehicles to drive their operational costs even higher whilst providing assistance for the change.
2013 also saw the introduction to Australia of electric trucks for sale and with a variety of sizes and uses. This represents the beginning of a very important change to industry in Australia as we completely redesign how goods are transported both within and between cities. The area of trucking needs immense research and innovation to improve energy storage and recharging systems to be able to replace the huge fleet of vehicles that operate today. Savings produced by the move to local and community farming as an adjunct to large commercial farms will take time to realize and possible drive the creation of different vehicle types such as short distance electric assisted bicycles.
Air powered vehicles
Vehicles powered by compressed air have also featured as a fossil fuel alternative since the mid 19th century. As long as the energy used to compress the air in the first place is from a renewable source, this does present another viable alternative. An Australian inventor has already produced a rotary air powered engine and deployed it for various uses such as forklifts and other warehouse based transport as the engine is truly emissions free. This means that continued operation indoors carries no air pollution issues either immediately or with buildup over time. The use of air engines in cars seems to be more limited in terms of range and power than electricity at this time, but a hybrid model was released in 2013 by Citroen that may alleviate the immediate problems.