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Policy to Enable All Modes of Electric Vehicles

By Peter Newman AO, Professor of Sustainability, Curtin University and Co-ordinating Lead Author for Transport in IPCC.

Electric vehicles are a much-needed transition as they remove 19% of Australia’s greenhouse contribution and significantly reduce the problems of oil security and urban air pollution whilst making a much quieter and higher quality mobility. All governments, Federal and State, support this policy.

But electric vehicles are not just cars they can also be electric bikes, scooters, motorbikes, buses, trams, trains (passenger and freight), trucks and farm vehicles. All of these vehicles presently use petrol and diesel but are rapidly moving to become solar-electric as set out in the recent IPCC report. To manage this transition requires different policy combinations for each mode. Apart from electric cars, these are not yet on the political agenda of any party.

Historical perspective

Electric vehicles have been developed for over 120 years but were never cheap enough compared to petrol-based Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles due mostly to batteries being too expensive. There was also no issue with ICE vehicle emissions until recently.

Both issues were solved in the past decade with solar (now the cheapest power in world history) and the Lithium-Ion Battery (LiB) now following the same price trajectory as solar. These remarkable inventions mean that manufacturers just need to put a shell around the vehicle to make them fully commercial (unlike hydrogen-based vehicles) as the biggest costs to the owner are covered – the battery and the on-going costs which are close to zero with solar. And this applies to all solar-electric mobility.

So there is now no reason why all the world’s land-based ICE vehicles cannot be totally solar/battery-based especially as they are becoming even better with leapfrog smart technologies.

Leapfrog Innovations from Public Transport

Electric transport did grow in the 20th century through trams and trains, in parallel to ICE developments. In the 21st century, these trams and trains were revolutionised by smart technology such as regenerative braking and sensors that provide active suspension stabilizers. These technologies were used in most trains in recent years. Such smart technology innovations are now leapfrogging from public transport into petrol and diesel private vehicles as they shift to electric. For example, all EV cars now have regenerative braking which hugely increase energy efficiency and smart sensors for steering and for suspensions that make mobility safer with better ride quality. Trackless trams are now converting buses into rail-like mobility based on six innovations from High-Speed Rail.

EV policy now needs to embrace and enable all EV modes in the transition to solar-battery electric systems complete with their smart systems. Cars, scooters, motorbikes, trackless trams, buses, trucks, freight trains and farm vehicles are all part of a transition to solar-electric-battery based mobility which is the cheapest and highest quality mobility that the world has ever seen.

The rapidity of take-up globally reflects this. Australians are shifting rapidly also but without much government assistance and there appears to be almost no public policy by any party about the broader EV transition with all these other vehicles.

Comprehensive EV Policy

EV Policy needs to be more comprehensive to cover all EV modes. This should include:

  1. Solar-electric microbility – how to recharge and manage the explosion of electric scooters, skate boards and bikes with appropriate infrastructure; how to enable the most appropriate public sharing systems for these vehicles.
  2. Solar-electric transit – how to convert all buses, mid-tier transit (light rail, bus rapid transit and trackless trams) and passenger trains to electric; how to make links between net zero urban development, precinct recharge and local partnerships including solarising recharge hubs in depots and major stations.
  3. Solar-electric trucks, freight trains and farm vehicles – how to create recharge highways and hubs in stations, industrial precincts and stand-alone farm systems; how to facilitate these in regional areas as the basis of net zero mining, agriculture and other processed products using regionally-created hydrogen but transported in solar-electric trucks and trains.

Using EV Car Policy for all Modes

Electric vehicles policy needs to apply to all of these other solar-electric mobility modes. They all need the same targets, subsidies for vehicles and regulations to facilitate their transition from petrol and diesel to achieve a full solar-electric mobility system for land transport. This transition is happening but needs policy help.

Perhaps the simplest approach would be to enable IA to establish with the states a set of strategic directions for each mode of solar-electric vehicles - electric micromobility, electric transit, electric heavy vehicles - as well as electric cars. ACT already has such a plan for its buses.

To fund the infrastructure for this transition could be part of investing in solar-electric battery development and EV manufacture industries in Australia covering the value chain from critical minerals to showroom manufactured vehicles and then to servicing and recycling industries.

Such a transition, which is at the heart of the next economy, could use both the Fuel Tax and Diesel Subsidy as these funds move from oil into a Solar-Electric Battery based fund that facilitates the full value chain.

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