Over the weekend, Labour’s Stuart Nash called for the Crown’s ministerial limo fleet to be replaced with electric vehicles (EVs). I’m delighted by this, because the Greens have been saying this for some time and it’s great that the idea is catching on more broadly.
Electric vehicles are now a real, serious option that threatens to upend the economics of the fossil fuel industry and revolutionise household finances. A few weeks back I had the chance to experience this first-hand.
My journey to becoming co-leader for the Greens involved travelling the length and breadth of the country to meet and gain our members’ support.
This, of course, creates an internal struggle – having to burn carbon like there’s no tomorrow while promoting my vision for the Greens as a champion of climate change and a future without fossil fuels.
So the chance provided by the Greens’ Northland team to travel the province using a far more sustainable transport fuel – New Zealand made electricity – relieved me somewhat of that dilemma.
Both co-convenors of the Green Northland branch own electric vehicles; they walk the talk. We travelled silently, safely, and with zero tailpipe emissions from Whangarei to Kerikeri, Kaitaia to Kaiwaka. The cars ran on nothing but 100 percent New Zealand made electricity.
Wow. The Tesla Model S and Nissan LEAF are pretty amazing cars. The Tesla is like driving an iPhone. It goes from zero to one hundred in well under five seconds and has a 400km range. I was impressed and it seems electric vehicles are putting the gas guzzlers to shame.
The Tesla does come with a (very) hefty price tag, but a second hand LEAF just a few years old is now below the $20k mark.
All cars started their life beyond the financial reach of most people, and then the price dropped. New Zealand imports around two hundred thousand cars a year. We have highly renewable electricity. It’s pretty clear that we should be moving swiftly to electric vehicles.
EVs have a higher production carbon footprint at this stage but over their lifetime there are significant environmental savings to be had – provided the electricity is renewable.
What’s becoming clear is the EV revolution two-fold. Sure, the cars are one side of the story, but it’s the easy availability of the fuel where the real change will happen.
Although the infrastructure for electricity is everywhere, and charging at home is easy, public charging facilities are nearly nowhere. We had to phone mates of mates with welding shops and businesses looking for three-phase outlets in Kerikeri and Kaitaia so we could get around in the Tesla in the timeframe we had. LEAFs were run in relay, swapping from one fully charged car to the next.
Of course that’s not practical for most people, but it’s only really a problem if you’re doing long trips like we were. Suburban drivers dropping the kids at school or heading off to the supermarket wouldn’t have any difficulty getting there and back several times over on just one charge.
Whangarei-based electricity lines company, Northpower, is a champion of EVs, and for obvious reasons: they’ll sell more electricity.
To kick-start things, they built the first DC rapid charging station a year ago. It doesn’t make money … yet. Their fast charger can fill a LEAF to 80% capacity in twenty minutes, but other companies have been slow off the mark.
As an example of what can happen when you get a rapid charger, Whangarei has gone from one EV eighteen months ago to now well over 30, with more being bought every week.
EVs are popping up across the region to take advantage of Northpower’s charging facilities. The opportunities for businesses like supermarkets, cafes and movie theatres to become charge spots should be lighting up like Christmas.
Joseph Camuso, a Whangarei local EV advocate and owner of New Zealand’s first Electric Taxi, has calculated Northland’s EVs have so far travelled half a million kilometres, saved $80,000 on fossil fuels, spent around $20,000 on local electricity, put $60,000 in the back pockets of local owners, and saved at least eighty tonnes of carbon.
Northpower have begun to break the dreaded chicken-and-egg conundrum, but it has been a slow road to Damascus for the rest, mainly because there’s no money in it yet.
There is some hope. Vector, Mighty River Power, Contact Energy, the Electricity Networks Association, and Drive Electric are coming round to the idea of EVs. Private company Charge.net.nz, owned by a devoted group of ‘EV-angalists’, is planning to set up around seventy rapid charge stations across New Zealand, but as co-owner Steve West said, “It makes a pretty terrible business case”.
Mr West’s motivation is not necessarily a free-market ideological profit driven one as alluded to by MP Simon Bridges, but a firm belief this is the right way to go, environmentally and for our economy.
Mr West’s commitment to setting up fast charging infrastructure is more likely driven by frustration at a lack of government vision and involvement. In short, we are just lucky for Mr West’s charity.
Last election the Greens put forward a $10 million package to kick-start the EV revolution by supporting the development of nationwide rapid charging infrastructure, much like Northpower has done. $10 million is just 0.3 percent of the $3.7 billion annual Ministry of Transport budget. New Zealand spends around $6-8 billion dollars on imported fossil oil that supplies almost all of our transport energy. That oil is cloaked in controversy, corruption, violence and war. It is seriously bad for the climate. Why wouldn’t we strive for more energy independence from a moral standpoint alone, not to mention an environmental one – and one that meant cheaper fuel for Kiwis?
And given 90 percent of our trips are under 40 kms, why are we still igniting a fire under the hood to go to the supermarket?
While the National government sits in the back seat, countries like Norway, with a similar population to New Zealand but with a range of government driven EV incentives, celebrate their 50,000th EV on the road. We have just passed a measly 500 in New Zealand.
The late adoption of EVs, coming from a country that thinks of itself as leading edge is concerning. Especially given people like Sir Stephen Tindall see home-grown fuel as New Zealand’s biggest green growth opportunity.
In Norway, incentives for EVs range from tax exemptions to free parking and charging, and access to priority lanes – all approved by the European Free Trade Association’s Surveillance Authority.
The journey around Northland showed me the potential of EVs. They aren’t perfect, but they are better than petrol driven cars.
Surely with all these positives, a responsible government would be right behind the move to electrifying our transport as much as possible, but instead they’re taking a back seat in a smoky old petrol-driven car that’s stalled at a green light.