Will this big idea undo Bill Shorten?

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When Labor revealed its ambitious electric car policy this week, many people greeted it with scepticism — but for many others, it was a statement of the inevitable.

The party wants 50 per cent of news cars sold in Australia to be electric within 11 years.

At the moment, they make up just 0.2 per cent so yes, it’s ambitious.

But many are warning that Australia is already falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to electric vehicles and peak motoring body NRMA warned the country was at risk of being a “first world country with a third world fleet”.

“The countries that build the cars we love are overwhelmingly telling us that they are going to stop building petrol cars, they are going to stop building diesel cars, and that the future is electric,” NRMA spokesman Peter Khoury told reporters on Monday.

The NRMA is putting its own money behind its statements and has started building a network of charging stations, with 10 already built and 30 more underway.

Those in the private sector are also taking action. Mirvac’s national manager of retail solutions Tim Weale said the company had already installed electric car charging stations in nine of its shopping centres.

“It has exceeded our expectations,” Mr Weale told news.com.au. “Every day, 24 hours a day, there are always a number of vehicles charging using the Telsa super charging bases. It’s been incredible.”

Mirvac’s Broadway Shopping Centre near Sydney’s CBD was the first location in Australia to feature a Tesla super charging base outside of the company’s own service centres. The service has been so successful that chargers will also be installed at one of Mirvac’s Melbourne centres this year.

As well as the Tesla chargers, Mirvac also offers between four and six universal charging bays at nine centres including Broadway.

Mr Weale said the use of these charging bays had grown from about 150-200 charging events a month, to more than 1000 since they went live in October 2017.

“At centres like Birkenhead Point and Broadway, our bays are often at capacity so we are now starting to evaluate what to do next and how we can expand those bays to meet demand,” he said.

Shoppers can charge their cars for free at these centres and Mr Weale said the benefits to the centre outweighed the costs of providing the service.

Their data had shown that those who were using the bays were staying in the centres for longer. But it was also unusual for shoppers to arrive with an empty tank.

Mr Weale said many electric car owners charge their cars overnight and so most batteries were still about 95 per cent charged when they arrived at the centre and only needed a small top-up.

Even if a motorist did have an empty tank, Mr Weale said it only takes 30-45 minutes to fully charge a Telsa car.

The universal charging units take longer, needing about an hour to charge the battery for each 100km. However, Mr Weale said Mirvac intended to introduce fast chargers for all manufacturers soon.

“Because of the potential value of the visitation to the centre, we are happy to maintain them as a free service to our customers,” he said.

Mr Weale said Mirvac had identified electric cars as a megatrend two years ago and wanted to be at the forefront of this. “It’s absolutely the way of the future,” he said.

Car manufacturers like Volkswagen are shifting their money away from research for new internal combustion engine vehicles and have said they will also cease production of these cars.

Bloomberg has predicted that by 2025, electric cars could be cheaper than petrol versions if the cost of lithium-ion batteries continue to fall.

“At that point, you’ll really see the rise of the electric vehicle, demand will go through the roof,” Mr Beale said. “Looking at the data, it’s just an inevitable that it will happen.”

While many Australians still have “range anxiety” about how long they’ll be able to travel in an electric car without charging it, Mr Weale said many vehicles could now cover more than 400km without charging, almost the same as a petrol car.

“Most of the travelling we do anyway is actually urban,” he said.

Even so, the increasing number of chargers along highways will eventually mean this is not an issue.

“I think people’s perception of the electric vehicle will change and they will come to be more accepted in a short period of time.”

Even when Mr Beale first started researching the electric car trend two years ago, workplaces in the United States were already providing chargers in entire carparks for their employees.

“They are just so much more advanced than we are,” he said.

COUNTRIES ARE BANNING PETROL CARS

One of the reasons why electric cars are inevitable is that Australia no longer manufactures its own cars and eventually other countries will stop making petrol versions.

NRMA believes Australia needs to be more aggressive in accommodating electric cars and has also called for a ban of petrol vehicles as early as 2025. However, Labor has stopped short of doing this.

Bans on petrol and diesel cars in several countries including UK and France will come into effect anywhere between 2030 and 2040. Other countries including Germany and China have indicated they will do the same.

Last month, electric cars outsold fossil fuel-powered ones in Norway for the first time, making up 58.4 per cent of new car sales.

Norway’s Parliament has voted to require that all new cars sold be electric by 2025.

Countries around the world are trying to encourage more people to buy electric cars as part of the effort to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change.

China, the world’s biggest auto market, has also provided big incentives as it tries to clean up the country’s air pollution problem and gain a lead in new technologies.

Meanwhile a new interim fuel security report released this week showed Australia’s demand for fuel was growing faster than other nations, according to The Australian.

“Australia may be left behind as the world moves away from oil-based fuels to other forms of transport energy such as electricity and hydrogen,” the energy department report said.

Australia doesn’t produce much of its own oil and has to import most of it. However, unlike countries — for example South Korea and Japan, which also rely on overseas oil — it is not making it a priority to reduce its consumption.

The energy department has suggested it is time to “rethink” Australia’s domestic fuel security and prepare for future disruptions.

WHY DON’T WE HAVE MANY ELECTRIC CARS?

One of the reasons there are not many electric cars in Australia is because of the lack of charging infrastructure and choice when it comes to affordable models.

Labor’s assistant shadow minister for climate change and energy Pat Conroy told ABC there were currently only four electric vehicles in Australia priced under $50,000, but in the UK there was something like 23 different cars.

“They are not coming here because there isn’t a demand and there isn’t a partnership with government,” he said.

“If we can grow demand … we will expect to see those cheaper vehicles entering the market that will be more accessible.”

Labor says Australia has the lowest uptake of electric vehicles in the OECD, even lower than New Zealand and it is also the only OECD nation not to have mandatory fuel efficiency standards.

It wants to introduce the same fuel efficiency standard for cars that exists in the US, which is less strict than the European Union.

Originally Labor planned to make car dealers responsible for this, stopping them from selling vehicles that produce more than 105 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre.

But Labor has said it will require now require manufacturers, not the dealers, to meet the new emissions standards.

“Every other country in the world with emissions standards regulates this through manufacturers, not dealers,” Greens senator Janet Rice said. “This is also what the experts, including the Climate Change Authority, have always recommended.”

Labor says that government modelling done when Malcolm Turnbull was PM showed that driving a more fuel efficient car could save Australians about $500 a year.

CHARGING STATIONS AND GROWING DEMAND

Labor says it will achieve its electric vehicle target through a $200 million investment.

Its plan includes putting $100 million into building about 200 fast charging stations around Australia. This money will be provided as grants to match industry, as well as state and local government investment.

In particular the program will target national highways in key regional areas where charging points may not be justified purely on commercial grounds.

“It’s about time this country got in front of the electric car revolution sweeping the rest of the world,” Labor leader Bill Shorten said this week.

Another $100 million will be spent on other initiatives to promote the use of electric cars including new fuel efficiency standards.

Labor is also hoping to encourage companies to invest in new electric cars for their fleets.

It will introduce the Australian Investment Guarantee to make electric cars cheaper for businesses by allowing them to write off 20 per cent of the cost of any electric vehicle worth more than $20,000 straightaway. This is on top of the 12.5 per cent that can already be written off so the total benefit will be 32.5 per cent of the cost of the vehicle.

Labor will also set a target that at least half of the new purchases and leases for the government’s own car fleet be electric by 2025.

An electric vehicle COAG agenda will be established to work with the states and territories on improving coordination of infrastructure planning and the take-up of electric vehicles.

Any new federally-funded road upgrades will have to have charging stations and it will also work with the states to ensure new and refurbished commercial and residential developments have charging stations.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR PETROL LOVERS?

Labor’s assistant shadow minister for climate change and energy Pat Conroy maintains people would not be penalised for keeping their petrol cars.

“This does not impact on anyone who owns a vehicle currently and none of this will prevent anyone buying an internal combustion engine vehicle if that is what they are interested in doing,” he told ABC.

“This is about growing the market for electric vehicles and reducing carbon emissions in the transport sector, which is about 20 per cent of Australia’s carbon pollution.

However, there some potential pitfalls.

Some are worried that this will make petrol cars more expensive and shifting to electric cars will see less money collected on fuel excise.

Experts believe the government will have introduce a road usage charge to make up for the loss of fuel excise. However, Labor has indicated this is not being considered at the moment.

WHAT ABOUT THE STRAIN ON THE ELECTRICITY GRID?

There are concerns the growing number of electric vehicles might put pressure on baseload power in Australia.

But Labor spokesman on climate change and energy Mark Butler said this was an issue that is being dealt with by countries around the world and he expected the impact to be lower in Australia because of the high uptake of rooftop solar.

“A whole lot of the purchases of electric vehicle will be plugging their vehicles straight into their own microgeneration on top of their roof, probably with a battery as well,” Mr Butler told reporters.

“So I’m very confident having talked to electricity sector agencies, companies here in Australia and looking at overseas experience that this is entirely manageable.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said dramatically increasing the number of electric cars would require significant funding to strengthen the energy grid.

“They haven’t costed the backup and storage that’s needed, they haven’t costed what the impact on the change in the existing energy mix is,” he said.

Energy Network Australia also warned in a submission to the Senate’s electric vehicle inquiry that measures needed to be put in place to ensure electric cars were not being charged at the same time, especially on a hot summer day when electricity demand was at its peak.

However, Infrastucture Partnerships Australia has suggested this would be managed by using a smarter electricity grid that could store off-peak renewable energy for use when there was high demand.

“It might be that you plug your car in and it starts drawing power from the grid or, potentially more likely, you plug your car in and it actually powers your house,” Infrastructure Partnerships Australia chief executive Adrian Dwyer said.

— Continue the conversation @charischang2 | charis.chang@news.com.au

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