Govt to kick-start electric vehicle uptake- Expert reaction

The Government wants to double the number of electric vehicles in New Zealand every year to reach 64,000 by 2021.

Charging an electric car with the power cable supply plugged in.Yesterday Transport Minister Simon Bridges announced a series of measures to try and reach the target, including a new Road User Charge exemption for heavy electric vehicles, a $6 million innovation fund and allowing electric vehicles in bus lanes. Full details of the plan are available here.

The Science Media Centre contacted electric vehicle (EV) and infrastructure experts for reaction to the package of measures unveiled:

Assoc Prof Ralph Chapman, Victoria University, and Dr Doug Clover, independent EV expert, comment:

“It’s good to see the Government doing something about electric vehicles at last, given that transport sector carbon emissions are 60% above 1990 levels and rising.

“This package is long overdue. Its projected effect of about a 7% reduction in transport sector emissions by 2040 indicates that it is hard to cut emissions in this sector, and this package alone won’t be enough.

“Positives of the package are:

(1) the certainty around the exemption from the road user charge, to 2021;
(2) support for public charging infrastructure;
(3) enabling use of high-occupancy vehicle lanes;
(4) encouraging fleet purchase of EVs.

Negatives are:

(a) the lack of financial support for local government in providing public charging stations;
(b) enabling electric cars to use bus lanes — buses are often more efficient than electric cars, so it makes no sense to have electric cars with one person in them holding up buses;
(c) the risk of heavy electric vehicles such as trucks (where technically feasible), being RUC exempted (though there is a good case for exempting buses);
(d) the package just not delivering enough support to really make a big difference.

“It’s also worth remembering that the carbon embodied in an EV means that over its life cycle it won’t, regrettably, save 80% of the emissions that an internal combustion vehicle emits. And there are environmental contaminants associated with battery manufacture to be considered. EVs are not as sustainable an option as walking, cycling or public transport (using electric buses).

“Overall, EVs need to be supported by government, but this package is not sufficient as a strategy to cut carbon emissions from road transport. It needs to be backed up by some serious additional transport policies to cut carbon emissions, including a serious price on carbon, support for making our cities more compact, with better active transport facilities and public transport.”

Dr Janet Stephenson, Director of the Centre for Sustainability, a research centre of the University of Otago, comments:

“We know there is strong interest in EVs amongst the New Zealand public. Our researchers at the Centre have being investigating public interest in EVs and barriers to uptake. 75% of respondents in a national survey were willing or very willing to drive an EV – much higher numbers than in the UK!

“In answer to another question 30% were ‘thinking about’ buying, while 6% said they were almost ready to buy. People who are buying them have two main drivers – performance and environmental benefit. We also found a correlation between interest in EVs and interest in PV (photovoltaics).

“Our research also identified barriers to uptake, and the Government’s package aligns with many of the recommendations that we have made to reduce those barriers.

“Secondly as one of the authors of the Royal Society report on Transition to a low-carbon economy, we identified EVs as one of the key ways that New Zealand could start immediately to reduce emissions.

“And with my hat as the chair of the Smart Grid Forum, the forum sees EVs as an integral part of the future smart grid, along with PV and other distributed generation, battery storage and smart management systems, all of which are developing rapidly and offering opportunities for households and businesses to interact with the electricity system in new ways.

“I think the exponential target is ambitious but not unrealistic given the rate of uptake of other desirable new tech under the right conditions. My main concern is that the main barrier – upfront cost – is not reduced via this package and this may deter otherwise keen purchasers. However in due course we will see price parity with internal combustion engines and meanwhile this package of measures will hopefully establish a strong aspiration amongst businesses and households for low-carbon transport.”