Elec­tric ve­hi­cles make sense for New Zealand. So what’s hold­ing us back?

Element - - Planet - By Rob Mcewen

In 2010, the Cen­tre for Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing at Can­ter­bury Univer­sity stud­ied the im­pact of var­i­ous rates of elec­tric ve­hi­cle (EV) up­take on New Zealand’s elec­tric­ity grid.

In their low­est up­take sce­nario, they pro­jected 200,000 EVs on our roads by 2025, while a rapid-up­take sce­nario pro­jected 390,000 EVs.

Ac­cord­ing to the NZTA, our cars travel an aver­age of 12,235kms per year. It’s pos­si­ble there­fore, to cal­cu­late the num­ber of kilo­me­tres trav­elled by EVs in both sce­nar­ios and how many bar­rels of oil could be cut from our im­ports. Ac­cord­ing to my maths, un­der the first sce­nario (200,000 EVs) we would elim­i­nate ap­prox­i­mately 1.54m bar­rels in oil im­ports (cost­ing around $300m), while in the high-up­take sce­nario we would elim­i­nate around three mil­lion bar­rels of oil ($580m).

Sounds great, right? Af­ter all, oil is im­ported, it adds to our car­bon foot­print and, com­pared to elec­tric cars which are 90% plus ef­fi­cient in their use of en­ergy, com­bus­tion en­gines are typ­i­cally less than 30% ef­fi­cient.

So, what’s hold­ing us back? Mit­subishi, Holden and Nis­san all have elec­tric ve­hi­cles avail­able here and it can be ar­gued that we al­ready have one of the best charg­ing in­fra­struc­tures in the world, since 85% of NZ homes have a garage, and in most of those garages is an out­let suit­able for overnight charg­ing.

The key bar­ri­ers to EV up­take in NZ are:

1. Price. The Holden Volt, which has the top cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion rat­ing of any model in the US, is over $80,000, putting it out of reach for most. The Nis­san Leaf is over $65,000. How­ever sig­nif­i­cant price re­duc­tions have been an­nounced in over­seas mar­kets for 2013 mod­els and chances are we will see more re­al­is­tic pric­ing here.

An­other way of tack­ling the price is­sue are plug-in hy­brid elec­tric cars with smaller bat­tery packs. Lithium ion bat­ter­ies are the most ex­pen­sive com­po­nent of an EV, cost­ing around $US650/kWh (the 24kWh bat­tery pack in a Nis­san Leaf costs around $US16,000). An 8kWh bat­tery pack with an elec­tric range of around 45kms – more than enough for the ma­jor­ity of daily com­mutes – could yield sav­ings of over $US10,000. And a small on-board com­bus­tion engine – fu­elled with kiwi-pro­duced bio­fuel – could kick in to of­fer range ex­ten­sion when needed.

2. Con­cerns about

range – of­ten re­ferred to as “range anx­i­ety.” Holden has elim­i­nated this con­cern by adding a 1.4-litre petrol engine which gen­er­ates ad­di­tional elec­tric­ity, giv­ing the Volt a 600km plus range. The up­com­ing plugin hy­brid Mit­subishi Out­lander will boast a sim­i­lar range. Over­seas ex­pe­ri­ence in­di­cates that own­ers sel­dom use the com­bus­tion engine. Imag­ine a fu­ture where clean, do­mes­ti­cally pro­duced bio­fuel pow­ered th­ese range­ex­tend­ing mo­tors.

3. Mis­per­cep­tions about the per­for­mance of EVs. EVs per­form equally as well as the aver­age com­bus­tion engine ve­hi­cle.

4. Lack of govern­ment sup­port. Many coun­tries of­fer sig­nif­i­cant in­cen­tives to EV buy­ers (e.g. a $7500 fed­eral sub­sidy in the US), yet there is no such sup­port here. The Govern­ment has made EVs ex­empt from road-user charges through 2020, but that’s about it. An ex­am­i­na­tion of the Govern­ment’s tax take from a com­bi­na­tion of ex­cise taxes and GST on fos­sil fu­els high­lights the likely rea­son why they’re not ag­gres­sively sup­port­ing EVs: on the 1.54m bar­rels of oil that would be saved by hav­ing 200,000 EVs on the road, I es­ti­mate the tax take to be about $216 mil­lion; on the 3m bar­rels of oil that would be saved by hav­ing 390,000 EVs on the road, I es­ti­mate the tax take at about $422 mil­lion.


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