SALES of electric cars in Australia are pretty slow, with just 142 of the 670,735 vehicles registered so far this year being purely battery driven, and another 1588 being hybrids.
But according to Energy Supply Association of Australia (ESAA), take-up of electric vehicles – as well as those running on natural gas – could still boom in the next decade, with almost a million on the road by 2025.
The headline-grabbing figure comes from research commissioned by ESAA, highlighting ways of encouraging more people to drive alternative fuel vehicles such as providing access to peak-hour priority lanes and parking spaces or forcing vehicle manufacturers to accelerate the availability of these types of vehicles in Australia.
Researchers at think tank Energeia worked out that the economically efficient level of alternative fuel vehicle adoption over the next 20 years is four million electric- and two million natural gas-powered vehicles.
To get there, researchers set interim targets of 900,000 electric and 85,000 natural gas vehicles by 2025, then 2.3 million electric and 525,000 natural gas vehicles by 2030.
ESAA chief executive Matthew Warren likened alternative fuel vehicles to the uptake of solar panels in Australia.
“After a slow start [the solar market] has accelerated significantly over the past decade to a point where we now have the highest penetration rates in the world with 1.4 million homes with solar panels on the roof,” he said.
“In the same way once there is a critical mass in the domestic market for alternative fuel vehicles it will bring down costs, support widespread development of charging stations, increase the level of after-sales support and create a re-sale market that will encourage more drivers to buy one.”
Advantages of adopting alternative fuel vehicles will reduce Australia’s dependence on imported transport fuels, which currently stands at more than 50 per cent, and lower vehicle emissions.
The report claims that over 20 years, electric vehicles will more than triple economic growth compared with petrol vehicles, with natural gas vehicles more than doubling economic growth.
For drivers, advantages include drivetrain performance, lower fuel and maintenance costs, better crash safety and the potential for energy independence if charging electric vehicles using solar.
Battery range and charging times, which currently make electric vehicles a hard sell, will continue to improve. Likewise the availability of electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles to choose from.
However the Energeia report points out that “Australia does not have a comprehensive AFV policy framework federally and is lagging behind many international peers”.
While electric cars and hybrids are becoming well known – if not popular – in Australia, natural gas vehicles are unknown to most consumers and no passenger vehicles currently run on this fuel source.
It is confined to commercial transport, either as a diesel substitute or to boost diesel engine output and efficiency – and this is where the potential for growth lies.
Considering the relatively low uptake of LPG vehicles in Australia despite government subsidies, some of the world’s most far-reaching LPG infrastructure and the local manufacture of dedicated LPG or dual-fuel models by Ford and Holden, an uptake of natural gas vehicles by consumers is likely to be a hard sell.
Natural gas as a road fuel is gaining traction elsewhere in the world, with many mainstream manufacturers offering methane-powered passenger cars in certain markets.
Audi, for example, has even invested in technology that creates synthetic, carbon-neutral methane from reclaimed carbon dioxide that would have otherwise been released to the atmosphere by industry.
In areas with piped natural gas, domestic compressors can fill fuel tanks direct from the mains gas supply, meaning natural gas vehicles provide consumers with similar at-home refuelling opportunities as electric vehicles.