By Sarah Wilson
22 December 2020
If interviews with owners of electric vehicles (EVs) have revealed one clear message, it is that once people buy an EV going back to a petrol or diesel vehicle is highly unlikely. EVs are fun, fast and fabulous.
Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program (BSGIP) researchers Hugo Temby and Hedda Ransan-Cooper interviewed a number of EVs owners and conducted a focus group in conjunction with the Australian Electric Vehicle Association to find out people’s attitudes to, and experiences with, EVs as part of the New energy VOICES project.
“People are absolutely having a great time driving them,” said Hugo. “They see a connection between their new cars and broader, positive societal change.” While the research revealed some confusion with this nascent technology, particularly around charging practices, there were also revelations about new found pleasures. “A number of people spoke of new sensory experiences, like one smelling gum leaves out the window of the car, rather than petrol fumes,” said Hugo. EVs are much quieter and produce no tailpipe emissions, which enables these EV owners to enjoy driving in ways they hadn’t before.
The EV owners that BSGIP interviewed as part of the VOICES research generally spoke English at home, were at a later stage in life and were relatively well off, perhaps reflecting broader demographics among current EV owners. Most cited environmental reasons as a contributing factor that led them to purchase an EV. The sample group contained more men than women however there was no gender divide when it came to enjoyment. “The women I spoke to were very enthusiastic about their EVs” said Hugo.
The EV industry is in its infancy in Australia and the opportunity for most Australians to ditch their petrol or diesel car and purchase an EV is not yet a reality. Kat Lucas-Healey, an interdisciplinary researcher working on the Realising Electric Vehicle-to-grid Services (REVS) project within BSGIP has been considering the conflicting narratives surrounding EVs and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology and what could or should be done in the future.
“The electricity sector prioritises network congestion, while on the other hand transport policy prioritises traffic congestion,” said Kat. “Federal, state and territory governments each have a unique set of challenges, and then within the states we have metropolitan and regional circumstances. So everywhere has a different take on what’s significant. Where will cohesive support for EVs come from?”
Plans by the South Australian and Victorian governments to introduce an EV road user tax could discourage people from purchasing EVs. Kat sees this tax as somewhat of a pragmatic decision by the states, in lieu of Federal Government action, that will shift a revenue stream from the Federal Government to state governments. “With the revenue streams switching, this means the states have skin in the game,” said Kat. “This gives state governments the opportunity to accelerate the shift away from fossil fuel cars to EVs because they would be incentivised to do so. I’d like to see that. The states could also support people to retire old cars.”
Video caption: The Rivian RIT electric truck. An example of what is to come on the Australian market?
Kat also explains how in Australia consumer choice surrounding EVs is being restricted. “The argument that supporting EVs hinders consumer choice is a furphy as the lack of support means fewer models come to the Australian market and consumer choice is greatly restricted. We need to reach a critical mass of car options for people.
“If we collectively decide it is good to have EVs, and big societal transitions rely on a social licence to spend public money on them, then we need to make sure the benefits are accruing to a broad range of people. At the moment EVs are largely being marketed to wealthy white collared men. Then you add to this the fact that the industries delivering EVs and V2G are largely male dominated industries then we end up designing products for men. We establish a feedback loop that exacerbates existing inequalities,” said Kat.
“The XYX Lab at Monash University is doing great work looking at gendered aspects of public space. Nuanced thinking and gender sensitive strategies are something I’d like to see brought to the fore in the EV/V2G space,” said Kat.
“I would suggest EV policy needs to take the bull by the horns. Let’s get a greater range of EVs into the Australian market. Let’s develop guidelines for charging stations with design features for accessibility and that make everyone feel safe. I think we need to explicitly address these sorts of things,” said Kat.
Both Hugo and Kat agree that what is needed most is a nationally consistent approach to EVs and strong action on climate policy at all levels of government.
The EV revolution is coming, one way or another, so let’s smooth the path.
Kat Lucas-Healey is an employee of Chargefox, an EV charging network. She is currently on unpaid leave while working for the Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program at the Australian National University.