Australian news, and some related international items

The electric-car revolution is here, but is that a good thing for the environment?  By environment reporter Nick Kilvert for Life Matters

The electric-car revolution is well and truly upon us.

Key points

  • Car batteries could be used to power homes and the grid
  • The mining of rare earth metals for batteries often has an environmental cost
  • Expert advice is that the best transport of the future doesn’t even involve cars

There were more than a million bought worldwide last year.

In Australia, 2017 sales were up more than 4,000 per cent compared to 2011.

By 2035, it’s estimated that there’ll be over 11 million electric cars bought every year worldwide, and more than half of those will be bought in China.

But they take more energy to produce than petrol and diesel cars and often they’re charged from a dirty electricity grid.

And producing enough batteries and magnets to power them is going to place a huge demand on rare-earth metals — the mining of which has a bad environmental track record.

So is the electric-car revolution actually going to do us more harm than good?

What if I charge my electric car with coal?

Transport is Australia’s third biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 19 per cent of our total emissions last year.

That includes planes, shipping, and trucks, but around half of that comes from our petrol and diesel-powered cars.

The beauty of an electric car is that once it’s charged, there are no emissions being pumped out of the exhaust pipe and into the atmosphere.

And if you can charge your car from a renewable source, like solar during the day, you’re effectively driving an emissions-free car.

Most Australians though, if they want to charge their car overnight, will be plugging into the grid.

The average running emissions budget of a petrol-powered car sold in 2016 was 182 grams of CO2 per kilometre (g CO2/km).

Charging an electric car on Australia’s cleanest grid — Tasmania — has an emissions cost of just 27g CO2/km, or around one-seventh the emissions of petrol. In South Australia, that goes up to 95g CO2/km — still around half that of petrol.

In fact, in every state except Victoria, you’re producing less emission by driving an electric car charged from the grid, than by driving a combustion-powered car.

If we’ve got a chance of meeting our modest 2030 Paris target of 26-28 per cent emissions reduction on 2005 levels, greening our grid could have the two-fold benefit of greening our transport.

n 2019, researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ) are looking at rolling out vehicle-to-grid technology at a couple of demonstration sites.

The technology is already in limited use in Japan, Europe and the United States, and an electric vehicle model will be released in Australia next year with vehicle-to-grid charging capability.

Vehicle-to-grid capacity effectively means that an electric car and its battery can be plugged into a house to provide power when other sources, like solar, aren’t available, according to Jake Whitehead from UQ.

“In the first instance, that could be for powering the building, supplementing the solar and the built-in battery storage,” Dr Whitehead said.

An average three-person home in south-east Queensland uses just over 15 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity daily.

The top-of-the-range electric vehicle currently on the Australian market has a battery capable of supplying more than 100 kWh from a single charge.

This means an electric car battery can easily supply the energy needs of a house overnight, and the driving needs of its occupants during the day, as long as there’s at least an hour of downtime to top up at a supercharging station.

According to Dr Whitehead’s calculations, electric car batteries have the potential to supply all our household energy storage in the future.

“If you look at the light vehicle fleet in Australia — just over 14 million cars and light commercial vehicles — if all of those were to be transitioned to be electric … you would have enough potential energy storage across that fleet to power the entire country across every sector for an entire day,” he said.

“If you could charge and discharge every day, that would essentially mean the entire fleet could run the country all year. So there’s all this potential there, but we’re a long way off 14 million EVs [electric vehicles].”………..

What’s better than an electric car?

Side by side, electric cars are a better environmental option than internal combustion vehicles.

Oil drilling and refining does, after all, come with its own equivalent set of environmental and geopolitical baggage.

But with China and India’s growing middle classes, it’s estimated that more than 500 million electric cars will have been produced worldwide by 2040, putting a massive strain on raw materials. Even if mining adheres to the strictest environmental parameters, deforestation from mining operations is inevitable and at odds with a sustainable future.

Better than both fuel and electric car options is no car at all, according to Martin Brueckner from Murdoch University.

While Dr Brueckner sees a role for electric transport in the future, he argues that we need a fundamental overhaul of how see transport.

“We’ve basically adopted wholeheartedly a US model of city development — an inner city and sprawling suburbia,” he said.

“As the density increases we’re now looking at clogged city arteries … it’s impossible basically, having large cities functioning using that old way of thinking.”

Instead, he’s advocating for better infrastructure, where cities are designed around public transport rather than cars.

According to the ABS, Australian cars travelled an average of 37 kilometres each day in 2016 — a couple of hours at most.

Replacing individually owned cars with car-share models could also cut down on the number of cars, according to Dr Brueckner.

“[Electric cars] don’t change congestion issues, it doesn’t change pedestrian-unfriendly cities and all the problems that are associated with that,” he said.

“We need whole new mobility concepts. In all likelihood it would also be electrified, but not necessarily individual car-based.”

December 10, 2018 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, energy

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