How electrification of trucks, buses, tractors and scooters will help tackle climate change

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When you think of an electric car, you probably imagine a car. But a quiet revolution is taking place in transportation. It turns out that electrification can work wonders for nearly all of our transportation options, from electric bikes to motorcycles to buses to freight trains and even tractors and heavy trucks. Soon there will be no need to burn gasoline and diesel in an internal combustion engine.

This is important, because electric transport will be vital in our efforts to halt climate change. If all cars on the road became powered by renewable electricity, we would cut nearly a fifth of our emissions. We would also be in a much better position to weather the war-related oil price hikes, enjoy cleaner air and quieter cities.

It’s promising news that electric cars are finally shaping up as an election issue, with Labor promising a national electric car charging grid at its campaign launch, the Greens promising up to $15,000 off electric car purchases, while the Liberal Party last year reversed previous skepticism and launched a smaller charging grid policy.

But this is only the beginning of what is needed. For now, all the focus is on electric cars. We will need new policy settings to encourage electrification of all our transportation options. This means getting electric mobility on our political parties’ radar.

Why electricity and why now?

Electric cars have been around for more than 120 years. They were a third of all cars on American roads in 1900, sought after because they were clean and quiet. But their first dawn ended due to the high cost and weight of batteries, leaving internal combustion engines to dominate the road.

So what has changed? Two things: Solar energy has become the cheapest form of energy in human history, and lighter lithium-ion batteries have become much cheaper. These remarkable inventions have allowed electric vehicle manufacturers to become competitive. Cheap solar energy is diverted to the electric car battery to provide much lower operating costs than fossil fuel engines. Much simpler engines also mean significantly lower maintenance costs.

We are also seeing major innovations coming from electric public transportation. Over the past two decades, there have been major advances in smart technology in trains and trams, such as regenerative braking and sensors that enable active suspension. Electric vehicle manufacturers have embraced these achievements with enthusiasm. All electric cars now have regenerative braking, which greatly increases energy efficiency, as well as intelligent steering assist sensors and active suspension, making the cars safer and ride smoother.

We’re also seeing a welcome cross-pollination in the form of trackless trams, which are upgraded buses that feature rail-like movement. This was made possible based on the innovative technologies of the high-speed rail.

In short, there is no reason why solar and battery technology should be limited to cars. All terrestrial internal combustion engines in the world can now be replaced with electric equivalents.

Electric mobility is coming

You’ll already see signs of electric mobility potential. E-scooters have appeared in major cities, giving people a way to take short trips quickly and inexpensively. E-bikes are moving forward, and are popular with commuters and families who choose one over a second vehicle. So this is just the beginning.

Worldwide, electric micro-mobility (scooters, skateboards, and bicycles) is growing at more than 17% annually and current sales of US$50 billion are expected to quadruple by 2030.

Even without significant government assistance, Australians are quickly switching to all kinds of electric vehicles. But for Australia to embrace electric transport as fully as possible, we need the right policy settings. Cars, scooters, motorcycles, roadless trams, buses, trucks, freight trains and agricultural vehicles can all be part of the transition to the cheapest and highest quality mobility the world has seen so far.

The policies presented so far indicate that no party has discovered the radical disruption that electricity will bring. A labor emissions cut policy of 43% by 2030 gives electric vehicles only a small role, reducing emissions by less than 1%, or four million tons of the total 448 million tons. There is no mention of other electric transportation. Even the Greens have little to no serious policy analysis of their broader electric vehicle options. The liberals have no mention whatsoever.

Beyond electric cars: How electrifying trucks, buses, tractors and scooters will help tackle climate change

BHP master miner is testing battery electric locomotives like this Wabtec model. Credit: Wabtec

We need a broad and comprehensive electric vehicle policy

Since we’re still at the starting line, what’s the best first step? Perhaps the simplest is enabling Infrastructure Australia to work with states to establish strategic directions for each electric transmission mode. ACT already has a plan like this for its bus network as part of its transition to a carbon-neutral future.

Here’s what good electric car policies can consider:

  • Small electric mobility: how to recharge and manage an explosion of electric scooters, skateboards and bikes with the right infrastructure, and how to enable the best public sharing systems
  • Electric public transport: how to electrify all buses, commuter trains, and mid-level transit (light rail, rapid transit buses, and roadless trams), and how to net net urban developments and freight facilities
  • Electric trucks, freight trains, and agricultural vehicles: How to create highways and recharging hubs at train stations, industrial zones, and autonomous farm systems, and how to bring them into regions to enable net mining, agriculture, and other manufactured products.

Each of these modes will also need the same goals, subsidies and regulations as electric vehicles, to allow for a quick and clean transition away from gasoline and diesel. If we focus only on electric cars, we may end up with cities that are still full of cars, even if they are not polluted. By focusing on all modes of transportation, we will make our cities more equitable, safer and more sustainable.


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