While the most sustainable form of transport is either walking, cycling or public transport, the reality of living in a regional area is that the ‘car’ will continue to be the principal form of transport for most people.
So what is the real environmental impact of a car? There is the embodied energy in manufacture, fuel use, maintenance costs and emissions. The Green Vehicle Guide suggests that the vehicle operation phase consumes around 85-90% of lifecycle energy use. These figures are based on conventional vehicles.
An alternative is the electric car, which can use electricity generated from a variety of sources – ranging from brown coal (the highest emissions but still well below petrol emissions) through to self-generated renewable energy. It is probably worth noting that with the recent reduction in feed in tariffs an EV might be a good option for using excess power generated from rooftop solar.
Range is one of the big issues for EVs in Australia. Obviously we all want to be sure we can get from point A to point B without being stranded. The average distance travelled in a car is in the 35-70km range and EVs have a range between 50-150km – so it should not be a problem – except if you want to go longer distances. Manufacturers are, of course, currently grappling with this challenge. Another option is the hybrid vehicle that allows you to switch from electric to petrol in order to extend the range.
Running costs – according to the My Electric Car website, EVs are 70% cheaper to run than petrol vehicles and are a lot cheaper to service as well. If you charge your car at off peak rates it will cost around $300 per annum ($7-800 peak) compared to $2700 for a petrol vehicle. This means you should be able to offset the capital cost over several years.
Battery life is another issue and like all of these things they have been improving to the tune of 15% per annum – along with decreasing battery size and cost. Current battery life is 8-10 years in the car and can be used beyond that as an energy storage battery.
So should we all rush out and buy an EV – again like all things there will be those who will be the first adopters and they probably already have an EV. For most of us – the rumour is that the major manufacturers will be releasing vehicles with greater range and lower costs over the next year or two.