A necessary debate that Tasmania needs to have regarding climate policy is about how we get around.
Our electricity generation mostly being hydro-electric power, it is often mistakenly presumed that the best individual vehicle choice is to ‘go electric’. The chart below demonstrates that unless Tasmania achieves at least 100 percent renewable reliance in its power supply, then this may not be the case.
To explain further: this chart was produced by one of Australia’s most progressive sustainable transport advisory services, the Institute for Sensible Transport.
The top part of the chart shows relative carbon emissions for each transport mode, this being for Melbourne. The bottom part of the chart is about each mode’s relative contribution to congestion.
Looking at the impact of electric vehicles (EVs) their carbon abatement performance and congestion is on a par with a normal petrol vehicle – that is, if the power for the EV is provided with coal-fired power. It’s impact is much less if the EV is powered by genuine renewable energy.
The problem facing anyone who, with the best of intention, buys an EV in Tasmania is that the vehicle will increase Tasmania’s energy demand. All of that additional power for it must come from elsewhere. Since any increase in demand on the grid is met from either Basslink exports or from the Tamar Valley Gas power station, all of the energy required by the vehicle comes from what is termed marginal supply. That is, it has a very high carbon impact. The unfortunate conclusion is that the actual footprint of that vehicle is no better than that of an EV that is bought and driven in Victoria.
What can be done about this?
1. From the perspective of anyone who wishes to ‘go electric’ one option would be to also purchase an array of solar panels large enough in average output to supply the vehicle’s likely energy demand – if that option is affordable. Alternatively, an environmentally-minded consumer choice would be to opt for an electric bicycle instead, if applicable to that person’s needs. (In many cases, a decision to buy an electric bicycle means not needing to own a car.)
2. From a state planning perspective, there is a need to couple transport planning with Tasmania’s direct carbon emissions, most of which come from transport. This is a very neglected area of policy. Given that electrification of the state’s vehicle fleet is certain to gradually happen (even in the absence of any government initiative) any consequent growth in power demand on the state’s grid needs to be planned and catered for. This debate is ironically absent from political dialogue. But it is one that we have to have.
To clarify: This article is about the need to set a policy framework for future energy supply that synchronises with the inevitable electrification of vehicles over time. If Tasmania were to optimise its energy supply policies in this regard it could take a national lead in this sphere. So long as the state of Tasmania is not able to meet 100 percent of electrical energy demand then well intentioned ethical consumer choices to ‘go electric’ will not deliver the carbon abatement that is desired and the state will be disadvantaged economically.
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