How realistic is electric car route to carbon-neutral future?

Electric car use is one of the cornerstones of the Climate Commission's advice to the government on how to become carbon neutral, but how feasible is it?

This was the question posed by  RNZ reporter, Harry Lock, last week, in the run up to the Govt announcements regarding the new 'feebate' system of yesterday.

I show the article in full, with some comments rebutting many of the opinions featured.

The Commission wants to see a rapid increase in electric vehicle sales to combat the amount of emissions coming from transport.  As it stands, electric cars make up just a tiny fraction of the country's entire vehicle fleet.

Road transport is the driving force behind nearly half of all of New Zealand's CO2 emissions. Reducing it is one of the Climate Change Commission's main focal points on how to reduce the country's overall carbon footprint.

The Commission wants to steer away from petrol and diesel cars, and turn towards EVs, but with most costing tens of thousands of dollars, price is a formidable barrier.

"I've had conversations with people over the years about how it's a lot more affordable to have an electric car, but you have to have the money to buy an electric car," said Alexia, who lives in Lower Hutt.

"I would totally have an electric car if I could, but there's no way I could afford to buy an electric car at the start."

Mileage is a big problem as well - many people are concerned about the practicalities of long-distance driving in an EV.

On the question of both mileage and price, Grey District Mayor Tania Gibson said neither worked for her residents.

"We live in a very hilly, isolated area. Where are these electric vehicles coming from?

"We're in a very low socio-economic area. A new electric car is $50,000 a pop really. We have no public transport. So how are they going to afford these changes in the next 10 years?"

In some parts, the popularity of electric vehicles is increasing however.

Bruce Stewart, the owner of Coventry Cars in Lower Hutt - one of the first dealers to have a caryard selling only EVs or hybrids, with 80 vehicles on site - said their success was probably down to their role in this niche market.

"Sales are generally heading up in electric and hybrid, and generally heading down in petrol and diesel.

"But that is probably more from our point of view, as a business thing, that's what we target. We're targeting something most other dealerships don't have, in terms of electric and hybrid."

He said price would always be an issue.

"I don't believe there's ever going to be an electric car that's less than $3000 or $4000, because a battery is almost worth that.

"It's definitely a problem for people who can't afford much more than a $3000 or $4000 car, and I think that is a fairly big space in the market."

He said EV buyers needed to know what to expect, and the more money put in, the more mileage they would get out.

Scientists think biofuels could help replace fossil fuels to power heavy vehicles, boats and aeroplanes, but most current batteries are too heavy for larger vehicles, and hydrogen is still being developed.

A researcher at SCION, Dr Paul Bennett, told Midday Report forestry leaves about 4 million tonnes of green waste behind each year, which could make about half-a-billion litres of biofuel.

He said such fuels could cut carbon emissions by about 85 percent.


Rebuttal of the points in the article :

1 - Range:  The average car journey in NZ is around 30 km a day - so even a car with less than 100km range would suit a great proportion of journeys within urban areas. 

1a  -The argument that you can't yet drive an EV without stopping from Auckland to Wellington is frankly both dangerous and ridiculous.

2 - Farmers and inhabitants of rural areas such as the Grey District have a very different driving profile and may have to wait a little longer for the SUVs and small trucks that are coming in an EV variant soon

3 - Cost: yes a new MG EV is $50k and there is only a small percentage of people who could afford to buy one outright at that level - but there are plenty of people who will finance such a purchase, just like the vast majority of people do now for their internal combustion engine vehicles (ICE).    

4 - Second hand EVs - the great majority of EVs sold in NZ are second hand imports from Japan and the UK - and a perfectly good run-about Nissan Leaf can cost as little as $10k - but here is the reason why that price is affordable - daily running costs are a fraction of petrol.  Charging an EV at home, overnight gives you 100km of motoring for around $3.  Compare that to a car with a fuel 'economy' of say 8 litres/100km!  That is say $17 versus $3 for the same distance. 

5 - If you spend around $80/wk on fuel that petrol cost could be diverted to finance an $18-19k EV over 5 years and be cost neutral.

5 - Maintenance: There is very little to maintain in an EV so virtually no downtime in a garage getting serviced - another huge cost avoided.

6 - From a country perspective we need to import less foreign fossil fuels and can run EVs on mostly renewable electricity

7 - Hydrogen - is only really appropriate for heavy transport - as the cost of the electricity used in the creation, storage and transport of hydrogen for the light passenger fleet results in an 'economy' rate of less than 25% (like a petrol car), whereas an EV has an efficiency of over 70% - so why not use the electricity directly in a car!

8 - Biofuel - Not sure how much electricity is required in the production of biofuel, but it's a question you could ask!


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