Sustainable transport and electric vehicle expert Jake Whitehead was one of our guest speakers at the Move for Less expo at Brisbane’s Green Heart Fair on June 2018. We asked Jake about electric vehicle ownership and what the future holds.
Q. Consumers have very reasonable questions about electric vehicles, such as where will I charge my car? That’s understandable if service stations selling petrol are no longer a lifeline for a motorist. How will charging work, now and in the near future?
The vast majority of electric vehicle charging is already carried out at home or at workplaces (generally over 90%). Most homes can provide a minimum rate of 5-10 km for every 10 minutes of charging. This means that an average vehicle being driven 40 km per day will only need 40-80 minutes of charging each night2.
When planning a longer trip, an electric vehicle can easily be charged overnight to provide over 500 km of charge2.
Public charging infrastructure can be important for longer-distance travel, and for additional peace-of-mind. But in reality, the majority of current electric vehicle owners choose to charge at home to capitalise on the ability to control their own transport costs.
Even if recharging at home using peak electricity in South East Queensland, an average electric vehicle costs the equivalent of $0.50 per litre of petrol – almost 70% cheaper than current fuel prices. And this can effectively be reduced in half again if households choose to charge using off-peak tariffs and/or rooftop solar. 
Q. How are you charging your own EV?
In my household we charge our Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) using rooftop solar and a home battery. Over 95% of our transport needs are delivered using home-generated, zero-emission electricity, at an equivalent of $0.28 per litre of petrol, and we travel the average annual distance for Australian vehicles (14,000 km per annum3).
Q. What do you think is the biggest myth about electric cars?
It’s often claimed that electric vehicles produce more emissions than equivalent fossil fuel vehicles. It’s true that the greenhouse gas emissions associated with manufacturing EVs are currently 10-15% higher than equivalent fossil fuel vehicles, but that’s falling.
It’s also been demonstrated that this is more than offset by the low or zero operating emissions of electric vehicles, even when charged using the existing electricity grid. Australia has a relatively traditional electricity grid, yet electric vehicles still reduce emissions by over 30% on average, when charged directly from the grid.
As renewables continue to increase, EV emissions will continue to fall. That’s unlike fossil fuel vehicles, which have already largely reached their maximum emissions reduction potential.
Q. And it’s not just less greenhouse emissions, is it? There’s also the benefit of less smog in our cities.
That’s right. A point often missed is that electric vehicles remove particulate pollution from urban areas. At present, motor vehicle pollution contributes to 40% more premature deaths than vehicle fatalities in Australia each year.
Think of where most of our schools are located – on major roads, surrounded by carcinogenic motor vehicle fumes. There are several studies showing a causal link between motor vehicle pollution and respiratory disease and illness, particularly amongst young children. If not for anything else, we should be supporting the uptake of electric vehicles (both cars and trucks) to reduce vehicle pollution in and around our cities.
Q. Some governments want to totally leave it to the market to decide on whether consumers will buy electric and hybrid vehicles. Others, see a need for some intervention and incentives. What’s your view?
Globally, the decision has already been made by vehicle manufacturers to transition to electric vehicle technology. Whether Australian governments act or not, in the medium-to-long-term, the market will shift to this technology as it will be cheaper and simpler to manufacture an electric vehicle at scale than a fossil fuel equivalent.
The choice Australia has to make is whether we want to continue being the world’s dumping ground for the most polluting engines, paying high transport costs due to our dependency on foreign oil, and ignoring the significant environmental and health impacts of fossil fuel vehicles. Or do we want to make a change for the better, much sooner? If the latter, some government support will be required.
In terms of incentives, I’m not an advocate for purchase subsidies but I think that some other forms of incentives are justified. These could include bus/transit lane access, toll road discounts, fringe benefits tax reform and vehicle emissions/efficiency standards. Ideally, we could abolish annual vehicle registration and stamp duty, and replace it with a sustainable and equitable form of user pricing. It would initially act as an incentive, but in the longer-term it would be a sustainable road funding model.
Governments can also show leadership in this space by launching public awareness campaigns and setting internal electric vehicle fleet targets. By on-selling fleet vehicles after a couple of years, this will support the development of a local second-hand EV market. Large fleet orders will also help to support the introduction of new models into the local market, and put downward pressure on local purchase prices.
Q. What’s the value to consumers of an expo like Move for Less?
Move for Less is a great opportunity to get hands-on experience of these new forms of mobility. The concept of these new options is still foreign to many people, simply because they are in their infancy in terms of local uptake.
Expos like this are important. They increase awareness of the options on what is already available today, and how the future might look.
The next Move for Less expo will be held in Brisbane in 2019. Expressions of interest from exhibitors and sponsors are welcome. Contact Troy or Jess from CitySmart’s Events Team on 07 3007 7000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
About Jake Whitehead
Jake Whitehead is a Research Fellow at The University of Queensland’s School of Civil Engineering who holds two PhDs in Transport Science and Transport Engineering.
For the past 8 years Jake has been analysing the impact of government policies on, and consumer preferences towards, novel transport technologies (shared, autonomous and electric vehicles). He has also been investigating how these transport innovations are set to affect transport funding, and how alternative pricing models could be used to support a sustainable, fair and equitable transport system in the future.
Jake plans to lead a new research project at UQ, later in 2018, to demonstrate how novel transport technologies could support the development of a zero emission energy system through the use of vehicle-to-grid capabilities and the smart storage of renewable energy.
As Director of Transmobility Consulting, Jake has also worked closely with Governments and businesses to advise on sustainable transport policies. Most recently he co-ordinated the development of Australia’s most comprehensive electric vehicle strategy (Queensland).
 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421513004266; http://atrf.info/papers/2013/2013_jabeen_olaru_smith_braunl_speidel.pdf; http://www.greencarcongress.com/2013/11/20131115-plug.html
 Based on a single-phase home, using a 7-10 kW charger (30-40 amps)
 Based on average electric vehicle using 153 Wh per kilometres; equivalent fossil fuel vehicle using 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres; peak electricity price of $0.28 per kWh; petrol price of $1.50 per litre; effective solar/off-peak tariff cost of $0.15 per kWh.
 Based on average electric vehicle using 134 Wh per kilometres; equivalent Mitsubishi Outlander Petrol using 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres; home solar + battery effective cost of $0.15 per kWh; petrol price of $1.50 per litre.
 Based on comparisons between electric vehicles and equivalent fossil fuel vehicles using the Australian Government’s green vehicle guide.
 https://energy.unimelb.edu.au/news-and-events/news/vehicle-emissions-cause-40-more-deaths-than-road-toll; https://bitre.gov.au/publications/2005/files/wp_063.pdf; https://infrastructure.gov.au/vehicles/mv_standards_act/files/Sub188_Att9.pdf