Electric vehicles make sense for New Zealand. So what's holding us back?
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. So, 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:
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 ("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 plug-in 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 range-extending 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.
EVs make sense for NZ because:
75% of our electricity comes from renewable sources, meaning not only are there zero emissions at the tailpipe, but near zero emissions at the point of generation.
Since most of our homes have a garage with a 230 volt power outlet, we have a charging infrastructure already in place (overseas experience indicates most charging takes place either at home overnight, or at work during the day).
In the current economic climate and with our current government's priorities, additional, official is unlikely. So, what can be done in the meantime?
APEV believes there are two key opportunities:
Stimulate kiwi innovation in the EV field via targeted design competitions for universities, polytechnics and engineers. The University of Auckland has already demonstrated kiwi innovation success, licensing their Halo IPT wireless charging technology to international giant Qualcomm.
Pull through innovation and demonstrate the performance characteristics of EVs via an annual racetrack event. Plans are progressing to stage the first such event in 2014.
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Rob McEwen is executive director of the Association for the Promotion of Electric Vehicles (APEV). Formerly, he was CEO of the NZ Clean Energy Centre in Taupo.