how electrifying trucks, buses, tractors and scooters will help fight climate change

When you think of an electric vehicle, chances are you imagine a car. But a quiet revolution is underway in transportation. It turns out that electrification can work wonders for almost all of our transportation options, from e-bikes and motorcycles to buses, freight trains, and even tractors and heavy trucks. It will soon no longer be necessary to burn gasoline and diesel in an internal combustion engine.

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

It’s promising news that electric vehicles are finally emerging as an election issue, with Labor promising a national electric vehicle charging network at its campaign launch, and the Greens promising rebates of up to $15,000. for electric vehicle purchases, while the Liberal Party last year reversed its previous skepticism and launched a smaller charging network policy.

But that’s just the beginning of what’s needed. Right now, all the focus is on electric cars. We will need new policy settings to encourage the electrification of all our transportation options. And that means putting electric mobility on the radar of our political parties.

Unusual bedfellows: Independent Andrew Wilkie, Independent Senator Rex Patrick, Bob Katter of Katter’s Australian Party and Greens leader Adam Bandt appeared outside an Australian-made electric bus to lobby for electric transport due of fuel safety concerns on February 15, 2022.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Why electric and why now?

Electric vehicles have been around for over 120 years. They accounted for 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 rule the road.

So what has changed? Two things: solar has become the cheapest form of energy in human history, and lighter lithium-ion batteries have become much cheaper. These remarkable inventions have allowed manufacturers of electric vehicles to become competitive. Inexpensive solar power is channeled into the electric vehicle’s battery to provide much lower running costs than fossil fuel engines. The much simpler motors also mean considerably lower maintenance costs.

First electric car
An early 20th century Borland Electric Model car.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

We are also witnessing major innovations brought about by electric public transport. Over the past two decades, significant advances have been made in smart train and tram technologies, such as regenerative braking and sensors enabling active suspension. These advances have been enthusiastically taken up by manufacturers of electric vehicles. All electric cars now feature regenerative braking, which dramatically increases fuel efficiency, as well as smart sensors to aid steering and active suspension, making cars safer and driving smoother.

We are also seeing some welcome cross-pollination in the form of trackless trams, which are improved buses offering rail-like mobility. This is made possible by technologies invented for high-speed rail.

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

electric locomotive
Major miner BHP is testing battery electric locomotives such as this Wabtec model.

Electric mobility is coming

You will have already seen signs of the potential of electric mobility. Electric scooters are popping up in big cities, allowing people to take short trips quickly and cheaply. Electric bikes are on the rise, popular with commuters and families choosing one over a second car. Even this is only the beginning.

Worldwide, electric micromobility (scooters, skateboards and bicycles) is growing at more than 17% per year and is expected to quadruple current sales of US$50 billion by 2030.

Read more: Revolutionary changes in transport, from electric vehicles to carpooling, could slow global warming – if done right, says IPCC

Even without much government assistance, Australians are quickly turning to all types of electric vehicles. But for Australia to embrace electric transport as fully as possible, we need the right policy settings. Cars, scooters, motorcycles, trackless trams, buses, trucks, freight trains and agricultural vehicles can all be part of the cheapest and best quality mobility transition the world has. never seen.

The policies proposed so far suggest that neither party has understood the radical upheaval that electrification will bring. Labour’s policy of cutting emissions by 43% by 2030 gives only a tiny role to electric cars, reducing emissions by less than 1%, or four million tonnes out of a total of 448 million tonnes. There is no mention of other electric modes of transport. Even the Greens have little serious policy analysis of VE’s broader options. The Liberals make no mention of it.

Even tractors are going electric, with a key selling point being the ability for farmers to recharge through their own solar panels.

We need a global and broad policy on electric vehicles

Since we’re still at the starting line, what’s the best first step? Perhaps the simplest would be to allow Infrastructure Australia to work with states on creating policy directions for each mode of electric transport. The ACT already has a plan like this for its bus network as part of its transition to a carbon-free future.

Here is what good EV policies would consider:

  • Electric micromobility: how to charge and manage the explosion of electric scooters, skateboards and bicycles with appropriate infrastructures, and how to activate the best public sharing systems

  • Electric mass transit: how to electrify all buses, passenger trains and mid-level mass transit (light rail, rapid transit buses and trackless trams) and how to connect net zero urban developments and recharge

  • Electric trucks, freight trains and agricultural vehicles: how to create highways and charging centers in stations, industrial areas and autonomous farming systems, and how to introduce them to regions to allow mining, agriculture and other net zero processed products.

Read more: As the world moves forward on electric vehicle policy, the Morrison government’s new strategy leaves Australia idling in the garage

Each of these modes will also need the same targets, subsidies and regulations as electric cars, to enable a quick and clean transition from petrol to diesel. If we focus only on electric cars, we could end up with cities that are still full of cars, even if they don’t pollute. By focusing on all modes of transport, we will make our cities fairer, safer and more sustainable.