Can Australia’s super highway turbocharge demand for electric vehicles?

 —  Article by Serene Lim
electric car charging at station
Image credit: Shutterstock

Australia is revving up for a greener future by championing electric vehicle (EV) use across the country.

The state of Queensland is latest to roll out a network of charging stations at strategically located points in the hope of encouraging more Australians to make the switch to electric vehicles.

The new “super highway” has 18 EV charging stations dotted across 2,000 kilometers from Cairns to Coolangatta. It follows other initiatives such as the RAC Highway, a network of 12 charging stations in Western Australia connecting Perth to Augusta as well as a Sydney to Melbourne link with Tesla fast charging stations operating in Goulburn, New South Wales, and Wodonga and Euroa, Victoria.

“This is a welcome investment in the future of electric vehicle take-up in Australia,” says Simone Concha, Director of Sustainability, JLL Australia. “These projects remove a key obstacle for EVs in Australia – the concern of running out of battery charge on long distance trips.” Given that many drivers are used to travelling long distances as part of everyday life and the current range of an EV is 160 kilometres, electric vehicles have been largely the preserve of city dwellers.

Changing mindsets

To date, adoption rates have been low. “Currently, EV purchases make up 0.05 percent to 0.1 percent of new vehicle sales, with no market acceleration forecast based on current market conditions,” says Kate Slattery, Associate Director of Energy and Sustainability, JLL Australia.

Yet demand for cars remains strong; 2016 was a record breaking year for new cars sales from Australian dealerships with 1.2 million sold, according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries. The issue is that Australians are yet to follow other countries in making the switch to electric.

“Uptake is slow due to several factors,” says Slattery. “The subsidies and incentives available in Australia is low compared to other countries. There’s only a limited selection of models available, particularly in the sub A$50,000 price range as well as a perceived lack of charging station infrastructure in accessible and convenient locations.”

Government policy also has a big role to play. Slattery adds: “Queensland’s super highway is an example of the commitment to renewables that we see from Australian states in the face of a lack of firm federal policy. Unlike other countries there’s been no decision on supporting the growth of electric vehicles through the phase out of diesel or petrol car sales by a fixed date.”

Stepping up to the challenge

The federal government is taking small steps on this front. It is offering a new financial package via the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) where buyers of electric vehicles receive a 0.7 percent discount for EVs and plug-ins, while buyers of conventional cars that are eco-friendlier will get a 0.5 percent discount.

Yet it’s not an issue for government alone to deal with. “Both public and private sectors in Australia need to play a role to demonstrate that owning an EV is convenient and cost effective to operate,” Slattery outlines.

Real estate developers and building owners can be significant drivers of change. “More developers of premium commercial and industrial buildings are now considering the need to install electric vehicle charging stations,” says Concha. “It is a great way for property companies to take a positive step to reduce carbon emissions by car transport to their buildings.”

Meanwhile city authorities are encouraging building owners to factor EVs into their plans. In Hobart, Tasmania, residential developments could be required to install EV charging stations in the near future. Adelaide City Council’s is also giving a grant of A$5,000 for businesses and residents to install their own charging points in addition to the 40 stations it is introducing around the city.

“Transformational change generally starts off slowly before becoming exponential,” concludes Concha. “The best way to accelerate change is to remove barriers, and increase awareness by education. Installing charging stations is a great start. The next step is to educate consumers on the key differences and advantages of electric vehicles.”

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