Some further thoughts on EVs

By July 24, 2019Other

Two conversations a few days ago made me think again about the electric vehicle, that proposed panacea for all our energy ills. One of my granddaughters has an important role in the advertising of the new VW concept car series that promises just about everything, and she is excited about them. She lives and works in New York City, and the cars are not yet for sale. What none of them has is a long run before recharging — about 500 km seems to be the limit. Anyway, the series is said to be launched in 2020, and when Australia gets them, and how much they will cost are matters beyond my search so far.

I’ll start with the more sobering of the two conversations, which flowed from a statement made by Senator Jim Molan some little time ago that Australia only had about three weeks’ supply of oil and petroleum, and was in real danger should a conflict erupt that threatened supply. The ABC ‘fact-checked’ his statement and found that he was spot on. About 75 per cent of our crude oil and 55 per cent of our petroleum comes from overseas. And while we are a producer, much of it comes from our northwest, where Asian refineries are much closer than those in Victoria and Queensland. We have four refineries, two in Victoria, and one each in Queensland and Western Australia. Together they produce around fifty per cent of our transport needs, and about 65 per cent of our petroleum. Where does the fuel come from? All over the place, but mostly in the Pacific region, especially Singapore. I learned a lot, and did my own research afterwards, as well. 

How serious is the threat? Or rather, how likely is it that our fuel supply would be compromised were there a major conflict in the Middle East, say? I don’t know. There is a good deal of sabre-rattling going on in the world at the moment, and one can never be sure about what will happen next. The fact that there is a global trading system of great size that is important to every country won’t prevent conflict. It didn’t in 1914, when conventional wisdom proclaimed that war was impossible because the European economies were so closely interlinked through trade. The military took over, and trade was not important to them. The same would be the case now, I think, if a hot war began, though we might be more skilled in averting the war than were the European governments in 1914.

Our conversation, with a former neighbour, an engineer, moved into what anyone could do about this. His solution was more and more electric vehicles, which would take some pressure off petroleum supply. Given that about 90 per cent of Australians live in big cities, and that most cars are used for commuting, there is a decent case there. He thought that alternative energy might supply more of the energy needed to get the EVs going, but that wasn’t his point; climate change wasn’t, either. My response, rather later than the conversation itself, was twofold: there was abundant coal, and in a crisis we would use it. Indeed, if there were a real crisis the Federal Government could use wartime powers to get oil exploration and fracking going quickly. It might be late, but it would happen. During the second world war you could see a few cars beetling around with producer gas balloons on their roofs, the gas coming from a somewhat complicated system turning coal into gas. Petrol shortages forced the Germans to make extensive use of producer gas in the same period. South Africa did the same from the1950s. My guess is that the technology will have been considerably improved in the last seventy years or so. 

The second conversation had similarities, but the focus here was on urban amenity. Sydney, my son said, was badly designed for amenity, and the noise and fumes from cars made some parts of the city almost intolerable. I agreed. I lived there for ten years or so. But if EVs became more and more available the city would be quieter and less fumey, some real estate would become more attractive, and quality of life would improve. He was not interested in climate change, or where the electricity came from, just the possibility of improving the quality of life in big cities. Again, I thought there was something in it, depending on how quickly the shift to EVs occurred. Afterwards I remembered that Sydney possesses trucks as well as cars, and lots and lots of trucks. And they thundered through suburbs most of the day and some of the night.

Now there are also electric trucks. Just a small scroll via Google told me about SEA Electric in Victoria, China’s BYD team bringing electric trucks to our country, electric rubbish trucks in Melbourne, and so on. IKEA is switching to electric trucks, and wants our government to be much more active in supporting the switch to electric vehicles. How long would it take for the two million or so petrol and diesel trucks to be replaced? I have no idea, but not quickly, I think.

And that made me think of what my wife and I used to do, which was to drive long distances, not just to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, but to Cooper Creek, the Painted Desert, Birdsville and other remote locations. We wouldn’t be doing much of that in an EV. The two and a half million Australians who don’t live in big cities won’t be using EVs much, either.

I guess something like it will all happen in time. Light rail has taken a million passengers in Canberra since it opened in April for business. We may finally have fast inter-urban trains, but after my time. EV distances before recharging may get a little longer, though there hasn’t been much progress here. But Australia is a big country, and we will need lots of petrol and diesel for a long time to come.

That’s my current view, anyway. But I enjoyed the conversations and the opening of new possibilities that they produced.

Join the discussion 25 Comments

  • Mike Dinn says:

    And how much energy is needed for passenger heat and cool? Is this included in range quotes?

  • Stu says:

    Our friends on the other thread like quoting the International Energy Agency. I was checking something there and found this membership requirement. “Before becoming a member country of the IEA, a candidate country must demonstrate that it has crude oil and/or product reserves equivalent to 90 days of the previous year’s net imports, to which the government has immediate access (even if it does not own them directly) and could be used to address disruptions to global oil supply;”
    Which is interesting given that apparently former Senator Jim Molan said we only have about three weeks supply of oil and petroleum. Someone is slipping up badly if that is the case and maybe the government needs a reminder.

    As for the case for EV’s it is worth remembering that currently many households are multi car establishments. Therefore it is possible that the take up of EV’s may not be as limited by the range issue as people think. Certainly that is figuring in my thinking regarding replacement of a vehicle sometime in the future. Part of the appeal is the low cost of running including much reduced servicing costs. I do not live in a big city.

  • Boxer says:

    I have spent some of my past working life working around bioenergy and part of that was associated with biomass gasification. The Fischer-Tropsch process reconstitutes flammable hydrocarbon gases (carbon monoxide, methane etc) into liquids. With tuning of the process, the hydrocarbon liquid can be various mixes of naphtha (synthetic petrol) and the longer carbon chain diesel. Both Nazi Germany, and South Africa during the apartheid embargoes, used F-T to produce synthetic fuel from coal. It is also technically feasible to use biomass and essentially short circuit out the fossil fuel and mining process. Several groups around the world, including one at Curtin Uni, were very active on this while oil prices were high and before the USA became a major oil and gas producer again from fracking. Maybe they still are ticking along.

    If the price of oil were to stabilise above about $100/bbl F-T would become commercially viable. It could be fed from low grade coal, or perpetually from biomass crops if fossil CO2 is a concern. The technology to sustain liquid hydrocarbon fuel indefinitely already exists.

    The fact that we will grind to halt a few weeks after our fuel imports are disrupted by attacks on our shipping is indicative of the level of policy formulation by all Australian governments. Commuting to work will not be the problem for long; the supermarkets are based upon national-scale just-in-time deliveries using diesel, so starvation will trouble us before getting to work becomes a serious concern.

    If you have worked in government, you will recognise how absolutely appalling the process of policy formulation is. Junior, unqualified and inexperienced people composing draft policies that rise up the chain of approval. The general tone and thrust of the documents is established at the beginning.

  • Chris Warren says:

    EV’s replacing fossil fuel vehicles will slow global warming, but lithium comes from carbonates and therefore emit CO2 during extraction.

    We need new technology, possibly cheaper hydrogen production or more powerful (ie energy dense) batteries such as these;

    If our lousy governments, 10 years ago as Australia’s vehicle manufacturing disappeared, setup EV production, we could all be running around in EV’s now and may well have a decent export industry with substantial employment ay different skill levels.

  • bb says:

    When it comes to electric cars there is a big problem with range. You quote 500 km has been the limit. What is it actually? this shows the reported range of Tesla cars. Looking through the tables the best is the Tesla S with a battery of 100 kWh. At Australian Highway speeds it will give you about 400 km. I regularly drive to Bendigo Victoria. So setting out from home I have a 335 km drive to the recharging station in Wodonga. Charging will take about an hour which would work even though it restricts me as to where I can eat. My preferred location in Wodonga is about 5 km away. But as the shopping centre is close by to the charging station I would eat there. So 300 km on to Bendigo. I will need to recharge to get back. So a relatively small Victorian town I am not going to have much option. The recharge rate from a normal home outlet is about 2.5 kWh per hour. My battery is going to take 40 hours to recharge. In comparison the car I own a diesel of similar size can easily achieve 850 km between fills. The other thing about range my calculations accept the stated figure by Tesla. My own car a Mercedes has a claimed range of 1500 km, I never get that and I doubt Tesla is any more accurate.

    So totally agreed on electric cars for the foreseeable future are a city car and should fulfil that role fairly well.

    As for running out of oil I do not see that as a problem for the foreseeable future. The technology to convert coal to oil is well known it just costs more. If I want a city car I am not going to buy an electric. Because if I am considering cost the best thing I can do is buy an older car choosing something that is reliable. The biggest cost of owning a car has nothing to do with the fuel is all about depreciation. You can buy low mileage quality cars between 10 and $15,000.

  • spangled drongo says:

    Yes, Don, EVs have their place in the inner city. Also, kiddie-wisdom on how we should solve the “climate” problems will be a big boost for EVs:

    • Neville says:

      SD that imbecile and his totalitarian extreme point of view would put Hitler and Stalin to shame. But where do these eco loonies get their ideas from because everything he yapped about is delusional nonsense.

      • Bill says:

        He got his ideas from the little fascists that indoctrinate our children from pre-school through to university. You don’t get an education these days, you get indoctrinated with fascist and communist ideas.

  • Boxer says:

    Batteries and EVs seem to be up against the laws of physics – the energy density of a hydrocarbon liquid (about 35MJ/litre for diesel) is much greater than that of a battery. If a small car can get up to 500km from a battery pack weighing several hundred kilograms, the same battery in a large car or 4WD would probably have a range of 200km, less if loaded or towing. A tradie’s ute wouldn’t always make it through the day just running around town, and would need a 3 phase battery charger to prepare it for the next day, every night. And at this point we are charging EV’s with coal fired power most of the time, and the electricity grid will not handle widespread use of high capacity vehicle chargers in its present configuration. But there aren’t many tradies, so we can ignore them and replace our own tap washers – oh, but taps don’t have washers any more, but they still drip like the old days.

    Common touring 4WDs with long range tanks would have a range of about 1000km, carrying about 100kg of diesel. For a long haul road train, which might have fuel tanks of 1000-2000 litres and a range of about the same number of kilometres, batteries are going to have to improve by more than a couple of orders of magnitude to be relevant. They are the vehicles that transport our food, unless your milk comes from bottles.

    • Chris Warren says:


      New batteries in development have much greater energy density than fossil fuels.

      “Gasoline has an energy density of 1,700 Wh/kg, while an aluminum-air flow battery exhibits a much higher energy density of 2,500 Wh/kg with its replaceable electrolyte and aluminum,” says Professor Cho. “This means with 1kg of aluminum, we can build a battery that enables an electric car to run up to 700km.”

      • Boambee John says:

        Can aluminium be smelted with battery power, or is fossil power needed? Is this another perpetual motion plan?

      • Boxer says:

        By my conversion, 1.7kWh/kg is 6.17 MJ/kg so Prof Cho must be talking about a different form of gasoline/petrol to the type we use in Oz. Also no mention of the weight or size of the battery, only talks about the quantity of aluminium. Is the aluminium used as a catalyst? If so, it’s mass might be trivial compared to the other constituents.

  • spangled drongo says:

    There are all sorts of claims in the pipeline for EVs but remember, we have been building them for just as long as all the other vehicles and this is where they are at in real life.

    Even with all the tax dodging and subsidies.

    Not to mention confirmation bias.

    My neighbour is an EV freak but he can’t get his EV to take him to the city 100 klm away without stopping overnight for a recharge.

    • Neville says:

      SD what sort of EV does your neighbour own and how old is it? It seems to have even less range than these deplorable things usually manage.
      But EVs are a complete lunacy and the Nissan Leaf is a small car and yet is the most popular EV around the world today. I’ve tried to get a quote from my local dealer, but they’ve warned me off because “they are too expensive”.
      OH and they’ve told me I would be very disappointed if I wanted to tow a caravan or trailer and wanted to travel a reasonable distance per day. IOW the distance traveled per day would be much reduced and many more stoppages would be on the cards.
      I’m told that average battery life would be about 7 years. Certainly a very expensive toy and an expensive new battery to pay for in fairly short time. Why then would anyone pay double to treble the money for one of these dopey, inconvenient small cars? Only a fool would call this progress and of course no measurable change to temp or climate at all.

      • spangled drongo says:

        I don’t know what breed it is Neville, but apparently the real world reliability is well under 100 klm.

        It’s fine for doing a few chores locally as long as you don’t go further than about 35 klm in any one direction.

        Just a bit better than my mates can do on their gumbi-scooters.

  • Neville says:

    Thanks for that SD. Just to be fair here is a 2019 Aussie review of the Nissan Leaf and the price is the cheapest I’ve seen to date, about 50,000 $.
    But it is a small car compared to say a RAV 4 etc and this bloke says the average trip would be about 250 km. I’m sure that would be very optimistic, but it seems a popular choice if you really wanted to purchase one of these toys.
    This video takes only 4 mins.

  • Rafe Champion says:

    The biggest problem with electric cars is that they run on electricity. Given that the lights are likely to go out when we lose another coal-fired power station the idea of putting more load on the grid any time soon is insane.

    They might go out sooner than that if you have a few Teslas in your street and they are all charging at the same time.

  • Rafe Champion says:

    And there is more. This is a hilarious account of a cross country race between a Tesla S and a model T Ford. The bad news is that the Tesla won but only by an hour after about three days:)

    • spangled drongo says:

      Good stuff, Rafe.

      I wonder if David drives one:?

      • Neville says:

        SD I ‘m sure DA couldn’t give a stuff about EVs or the biosphere,because he just loves his flying and traveling from one news conference to the next.
        As long as it generates more publicity for himself he’s happy, but he would certainly make it more expensive and difficult for the average flyer ASAP.
        Of course his so called mitigation is about as idiotic as the fra-dulent 2015 Paris clown show. If he truly BELIEVES he should go after the non OECD countries, who are responsible for 95% of the increase in co2 emissions since 1990. Ditto our resident con merchants.
        It still wouldn’t change anything by 2040 or 2100, yet these delusional dummies cling to the advice from the likes of Di Natale, Shorten and Plibersek. Will they ever wake up?
        Meanwhile OZ emissions may have warmed the planet by 6 thousandths of one degree C since 1800. See Concordia Uni study. And we’re supposed to atone for their fantasy by wasting endless billions $ for a guaranteed zero change to temp or climate by 2100 and beyond?

  • […] Aitkin meditates on electric cars with some interesting comments. You couldn’t make it up. But wait, it’s California. […]

  • Hasbeen says:

    There is another very large problem with electric cars, they have to be charged. This is a large problem for the very people most likely to be able to live with the restrictions of range, & charging.

    I saw figures regarding the high rise apartment blocks of major Oz cities, & the medium blocks in the closer suburbs. It appears most of the large highrise blocks have very few parking spots, less than a dozen in most, with access to power. Figures I saw recently for the average 200 apartment block suggested major engineering work would be required to retrofit these with power to each car space. The figure suggested was $20 million for each block, or $100,000 per apartment. Makes the cost of buying the car a minor expense.

    Secondly the inner city grids are fully mature fully utilised grids. They offer no capacity for easy growth. The figures quoted to rebuild these grids to supply recharging power were in the hundreds of millions, & that was before a huge new distribution system to bring the power from the generation sights to the city, costing billions.

    Then look at these cities. I recently passed through the Shire, Cronulla/Sutherland, a nice spacious suburb in my younger days. I was horrified to see the infill development causing cars to be parked all over foot paths, & wall to wall along suburban streets. How could these be charged without causing major mayhem.

    An electric car could suit me, if they come for the price of a small Mazda/Toyota/whatever, I can’t drive more than about 100 kilometres before I start to hurt, so one could replace my shopping trolley, but I only less than $5000 for such a car to park in supermarket car parks, I wonder wham electrics will fit my budget.

  • Neville says:

    Here is a Aussie test drive of the 2019 Hyundai Ioniq EV . Supposed to be cheaper than the Nissan Leaf but has limited KM range before requiring a recharge.

  • Neville says:

    Perhaps Germans are starting to grow a set of nuts and taking a stand against the fra-dulent wind energy disaster. Like our Brown donkey the German public don’t like the slaughter of bats and birds, by greedy elites.
    Also the subsidies are dropping and people don’t want these vile looking things anywhere near them , especially when it means the destruction of animal habitat and ruination of their countryside. Big surprise NOT.
    So it looks like future EVs will have to be recharged by fossil fuels? We can only hope that Germans really do want a sustainable environment in the future and will stand up to the Green carpetbaggers and fra-dsters.

  • JMO says:

    I love my turbo and supercharged Toyota Crowns and my 2 V8 Toyota Crown and Aristo on duel fuel (petrol/lpg). I have now bought a Crown Hybrid – what a car and massive torque from 1 rpm. Incredibly powerful when both petrol and electric are working together. So quiet when running just on EV and I love trying out its limited EV range – max 2 km.

    But I will NOT buy an EV. Electric motors are great for assisting internal combustion engines but by themselves they are not suitable for long distances, it is all about range anxiety. The best is the Tesla S 100 at the moment, but it will not get you as far as 1/2 way decent petrol/diesel range and it takes sooooo long to recharge compared to fossil fuels (petrol, diesel, LPG). Toyota was on a winner when it bought in the hybrids It did experiment with electric ( Toyota Volta) but canned it.

    Toyota says Hydrogen is the answer and now sells the Toyota Miraii. The 1st generation has a range up to 650km and refuels in 3 to 4 minutes.Toyota has put in the infrastructure itself – 91 refuelling station all over Japan. I had a 1/2 hour ride in a Miraii in Tokyo last year, people are buying them. Yes this the future (Miraii is Japanese for future – Toyota is not no.1 for nothing.

    As for electric cars in the city, our pathetic grid – wrecked by billions $ spent on bird/bat mincing windmills (promoted by idiotic dangerous greens)- cannot recharge more than 3 Telslas at a time in an average street before the whole street has an outage.

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