Gearing up for the future of electric vehicles

If the government hit a roadblock trying to convert their gas-guzzling fleet to electric vehicles, what is the likelihood of NZ’s roads being shared with 64,000 electric vehicle owners in three years?

AS IS with most things in New Zealand, while momentum around the opportunities posed by a renewable economy grows internationally, the emphasis at home has largely been on the costs to transition. Transitioning to a low-emissions economy requires a re-orientation of public and private investment away from emissionsintensive activities and towards those that support and catalyse low-emissions energy, land use and other activities.

That was the view of the Productivity Commission in its final Low-emissions economy report, stating financial support can stimulate this transition by supporting investment into infrastructure like networks for charging electric vehicles. With only 0.25% of all the four million vehicles on our roads being batterypowered, the Commission has said New Zealand runs the risk of becoming a dumping ground for polluting vehicles as other countries forge ahead and begin phasing them out.

But that hasn’t stopped New Zealanders reaching the milestone of registering the 10,000th electric vehicle late in September. Acting Associate Transport Minister James Shaw said it was an important breakthrough, particularly as there were only 210 EVs registered with the Ministry of Transport five years ago. “However, when you look at the huge number of vehicles in New Zealand it’s really our first baby step into an electric future. We now need to gear up for a leap forward,” he said.

New Zealand needs to shift gears soon because the Government is hoping to hit 64,000 EVs by 2021. Doing so would also significantly reduce the emissions that an we generate, as transport emissions are strongly linked to population growth. Part of the issue surrounding the rate of uptake is the public infrastructure needed for electric vehicles is in its infancy. Also a problem is the lack of significant incentivises to encourage consumer investment in this alternatively-charged mode of transport.

ChargeNet currently has 94 rapid DC charging locations and 27 AC chargers open throughout New Zealand (as of 21 June 2018), with the aim of opening 105 DC chargers by 2018/2019. Research has found that the introduction of reliable rapid charging infrastructure has consistently correlated with increased adoption of EVs in Norway, Netherlands, the USA, and other nations.

Mr Shaw said in a press release that the Government is now investigating a range of options to make electric vehicles easier for Kiwis to buy. Despite this, the Government isn’t leading by example in electrifying their petrol and diesel fleet, which numbers about 25,000 vehicles. Only 226 EVs are registered to Government organisations.

An Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority briefing prepared for Energy Minister Megan Woods stated there would be “significant difficulty” in transitioning to EVs by 2025/2026, because they’re too costly to buy. However, the Low Emission Vehicles Contestable Fund, which will see $3.87 million committed to new and innovative projects that support EVs, is trying to mitigate that.

The Auckland-based Electric Vehicle Innovation Hub, co-funded through Waste Management’s successful application, is helping the organisation convert 20 of their diesel trucks into electric vehicles in the first two years of the hub’s operation. The hub will also be open to other companies looking to transform their vehicles into EVs.

One of the barriers to EV adoption is a lack of public charging stations, which is why Contact Energy, ChargeNet and Wellington City Council have decided to quadruple the city’s fast-charging infrastructure.

Converting vehicles, rather than selling or replacing them, is the project’s modus operandi to see fewer diesel-powered trucks on the road.

The fund also contributed $819,000 towards:

  • converting a WEL Services Ltd, 10 tonne truck from an internal combustion engine to an electric vehicle with an elevated work platform for line maintenance work,
  • purchasing a heavy electric truck so Gisborne-based Eastland Port Ltd can suppress dust in the port and log yard sites across the town using a water trailer,
  • delivering online Countdown orders in busy urban areas of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch using five fully electric temperature-controlled distribution trucks.

Other projects in the fund’s fourth round gave financial support to:

  • development of infrastructure throughout New Zealand, including two bus depots and Quest Hotels and Apartments across the country,
  • converting transport options for multiple rural and community-based organisations, including tourist company Jucy,
  • providing over 3,000 business and personal members access to a Low Emissions Vehicle in Auckland,
  • and helping NZ Post to produce a practical checklist for companies to assess the likely impact of installing EV chargers on building electrical infrastructure and energy costs.

For the general public, however, one of the most talked about options to encourage EV uptake is a feebate scheme – which critics say would adversely affect lower-income households. Electric vehicle owners get up to $11,000 in the US, and a similar amount for UK owners, while Spaniards can receive up to $13,000. Hungarian electric vehicle owners are eligible for 21% of the vehicle’s purchase price.

National Party Transport spokesperson, JamiLee Ross, says charging someone a fee for owning a high-emissions vehicle is a very concerning option, as many of the country’s vehicles are imported, second-hand cars, which are likely to be petrol driven. “Lowering the cost of electric vehicles by charging fees on imported petrol driven cars, I see as disproportionately impacting relatively low-income people, and my concern would be the equity around that. An unintended consequence, for a country like New Zealand, is that you will see more and more cars being held on to for longer and the age of the New Zealand fleet would get older over time. So, you could almost defeat the purpose of your policy to lower vehicle emissions if you were to unintentionally, or through not considering the policy ramifications properly, end up with a fleet that gets older.”

Mr Ross says lowering the age of New Zealand’s vehicle fleet is also an admirable goal but agrees electric vehicles are the better option to reducing emissions. Instead of the feebate scheme, Mr Ross says the Government should take the lead and use its buying power to import more electric vehicles into their own fleet. These, he says, would be recycled into the overall market once they are due for another update, making them cheaper for the general public. “Most New Zealanders buy second-hand vehicles – the Government purchases new vehicles then recycles them out or sells them once they’re finished using them, so that would see more and more electric vehicles entering the fleet. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much of that happen. I understand it’s a cost issue – departments are concerned about the additional costs associated with EVs versus your stock standard petrol or diesel.”