Down Under: Australian air transport giants join sustainable energy discussion

Australia’s major airlines, Qantas and Virgin Australia, are encouraging the Commonwealth country to adopt electric vehicles and clean fuel, citing the difficulty of reducing emissions from aircraft. 

This comes as the two airlines pursue aviation biofuel to power their flights (read more about the efforts by Virgin Australia and Qantas), and Sydney airport strives to clean up their carbon footprint. Of course I am in favour of electric vehicles anywhere that green technology is pursued, but will EVs work for Australians?

Australia is a massive country – with a single stretch of road carrying on for 145.6km. The total distance from East to West is over 4,000km, and North to South is over 3,600km. So, yeah, Australia is a massive country.

There aren’t many EVs that can traverse this distance. Or should I say, none – most combustion vehicles can’t hack it without some extra fuel cans. But do these distances really matter for most Australians?

According to Roy Morgan Research, Australian drivers average 15,530km per year, an average of about 43km per day. In other words, Australians do not drive across country very often – most likely because they seem to like planes. The 43km per day driven by most Australians falls well within the range of even Honda’s worryingly short-range Clarity EV. For the sake of owning a vehicle that doesn’t constantly induce range anxienty, I would recommend Australian buyers consider something like the next-gen Nissan LEAF or Tesla’s Model 3.

Tesla Model 3. Source: http://www.caranddriver.com/

Of course, we don’t know for certain that Australia’s electrical grid could cope with it’s entire population of over 23million switching to electrical cars now, do we? Let’s find out…

Australia generates around 230TWh of electricity per year, about 154TWh of which comes from coal. According to EnergyDesk, coal is now in freefall, with development of coal-powered electricity plummeting by almost half over the past year. Although coal power is extremely polluting, a full switch to electric vehicles is not only within the capability of the country’s electricity production, but would still reduce total greenhouse gas emissions by a small factor.

Obviously, sticking with coal long-term is not a logical choice by any measure. Coal is extremely labour-intensive to produce, and very poisonous to work with, especially in developing countries.

As many EV advocates have long stressed, a switch to EVs will mean little to nothing if not accompanied by a large-scale adoption of photovoltaic electricity. Solar roofs are a perfect way to make this happen, as they will also reduce the load on Australia’s electrical grid.

Very few EV advocates actually speak of EV uptake in a vacuum. They realise that EVs are one part of the solution. Solar panels or wind turbines tend to come as part of the package when discussing EVs and electricity, implying that EVs are merely the flagship for clean energy, not the whole beast.

Clean energy in Australia would work wonders for their environment, and would also complement the efforts being made by India and China to accelerate adoption of sustainable electricity sources.

1 thought on “Down Under: Australian air transport giants join sustainable energy discussion”

  1. Hear, hear! I do 25,000+km per year in my 2012 Nissan LEAF and most of that energy is supplied from my rooftop solar. It’s a no brainer!

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