Electric cars are fast approaching a tipping point in Australia. They’ve gone from being a curiosity to becoming almost omnipresent on our roads. So should your not-for-profit switch to an EV (electric vehicle) fleet? This help sheet will give you a run down of the pros and cons of greening your vehicles.
Cost: High (but better over time)
Difficulty: High. Switching to EVs requires new infrastructure and a new way of thinking.
A significant investment but a good strategic move for the medium to long term. Now might not be the right time for your NFP, though.
Transport accounts for 17.6% of all Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, so greening your transport is an important thing to consider. Many not-for-profits have at least one vehicle in their fleet, whether it’s a delivery van, a car for house visits, or a minivan for transporting clients. Switching your fleet from gas-guzzling, carbon dioxide-spewing internal combustion engines to greener, cleaner and leaner electric vehicles has a lot going for it.
What is an electric vehicle or EV?
Traditional cars have an internal combustion engine (ICE) that burns fuel (either petrol or diesel) to generate the energy required for motion. In contrast, electric vehicles get their energy from a battery which is recharged by plugging into an electricity source.
There are three main types of battery-powered cars:
Battery electric vehicles (BEVs)
These are 100% powered by electricity. They don’t have a tail pipe and they do have an electric motor and large battery that is recharged by plugging into an electricity source. The battery also recharges during driving through regenerative breaking. An EV will have 100–500 km of range before needing to be recharged, depending of course on the make and model of the EV. BEVs are what most people think about when they think of EVs; examples include Tesla and Hyundai Kona.
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)
PHEVS are basically electric vehicles that have an internal combustion engine available for back-up if needed. They need to be plugged in the same way a full EV does. A PHEV will usually give you 50–60 km of travel before needing to be recharged.
Hybrids also have both an internal combustion engine and a battery. The main difference from PHEVs is that hybrids use the battery as a back-up if more power is required, and the battery is recharged using regenerative breaking. They don’t require plugging in to an electricity source to charge.
Advantages of electric vehicles (EVs)
Electric vehicles have many benefits:
- Lower fuel costs (electricity is much cheaper than diesel or petrol and even cheaper if you can generate your own power with solar panels).
- Lower emissions. Electric cars produce no emissions when driving. If you factor in the emissions created during production, EVs produce at least 40% less greenhouse gas emissions over their life.
- Lower maintenance costs. They are easier and cheaper to maintain than ICE vehicles.
- Better performance. Many people believe EVs are smoother, quieter and more pleasant to drive than ICE cars.
Electric vehicles may look pretty similar to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles on the outside, but inside they are very different.
Disadvantages of electric vehicles
The main concerns people have with switching to EVs are these:
- Upfront costs. EVs are more expensive to buy than ICE cars, especially if your not-for-profit normally buys secondhand cars. You may also need to pay to set up charging stations.
- Access to suitable charging stations. How will you recharge your EV and what will your drivers do out on the road?
- Time required to recharge a car.
- Range anxiety. This is the concern about how far an EV will travel before it needs recharging. (Hint: it’s further than you think.)
Many of these concerns are misunderstandings or don’t take into consideration the cost of a vehicle over its service lifetime. In short, EVs definitely cost more upfront, but they offer substantial savings over the life of the vehicle.
EVs: A good long-term investment
Electric cars are generally more expensive than petrol and diesel vehicles mainly because of the cost of batteries. They are getting cheaper, though, and as more brands enter the electric vehicle market, we can expect prices to become more competitive.
It’s important to factor in the running costs of a car over its lifetime, as it’s here that EVs come into their own.
Using an EV saves you money as soon as you recharge. Petrol and diesel prices are significant, whereas electricity is much cheaper. The Electric Vehicle Council estimates that the average ICE vehicle will cost $1.50 per litre in petrol to run. In comparison, the cost to recharge an EV equates to around 33 cents per litre. This can be even cheaper if the electricity is generated from solar panels.
EVs are also much cheaper to maintain. They don’t have spark plugs, exhaust, radiators or fuel tanks to maintain and don’t need to be serviced as often. The main concern will be the life of the battery, but again, batteries are getting better and better all the time.
It’s also necessary to factor in current and likely future incentives for switching to a green fleet. There are many government schemes to help people transition to a more carbon-friendly form of transport and it’s likely that there will be future disincentives to maintain a petrol or diesel vehicle.
Range anxiety and EVs
Many people worry that an EV won’t cover their daily travel requirements before the battery runs flat. And while it’s true that EVs have a shorter range than diesel or gas cars, they have more range than you’ll probably need.
Australians drive an average of around 40km a day, and EVs have an average range of 100–150km before they need to be recharged. Some models can go 500km before needing to be recharged. PHEVs generally have a smaller range than pure EVs with the average PHEV travelling 50–100km before the petrol engine will need to take over.
Think about how far you really need cars in your fleet to travel in an average day. Obviously, if people in your organisation travel long distances and work in remote locations, it may not make sense to switch to electric just yet.
Charging your EV – how and how long
EVs require charging stations to recharge. Public recharging stations are popping up all over the place, but your organisation may need or want access to your own charging station.
What sort of set-up you require will depend on the EVs you have. You will need to have the space to charge your car in a convenient and secure place.
One of the downsides to owning an EV is the time it takes to recharge the battery. The most energy-efficient way to recharge if you have solar panels is during the day when the sun is shining. Obviously this is when most people are using their vehicles, so you also need to make sure you can recharge your EV overnight.
Recharging times depends on many factors (battery size, charging point capacity etc). On average it takes about 10 hours to fully charge an electric car with a 70 kWh battery using a 7kW charging point. Obviously this is a lot longer than it takes to refuel a traditional car. That said, there are faster charging options for particular car brands. Also, you may not often have to recharge from zero-charge. You could be recharging your EV throughout the day, in the same way that many of us plug in our laptop or mobile phone when we’re near a power point.
Energy use and EVs
Adding an EV to your organisation will almost certainly increase your energy use. Can your solar system handle this? Or will you end up having to buy more energy from the grid?
Sustainable alternatives to EVs
If your not-for-profit can’t transition to an electric fleet, here are some other carbon-friendly options to consider:
- When was the last time your audited your car fleet? Do you really need all the cars you are operating?
- EV car sharing services are growing in popularity. Operators such as Evee (www.evee.com.au) let you rent an EV when you need it. Most car-sharing services offer EVs as part of their range.
- Hybrid cars may offer a good interim solution. Use electricity when you can but know that you have the back-up of petrol or diesel if you need it.
- Public transport is a very environmentally friendly option. Can you subsidise your employees’ travel on public transport?
- eBikes, eScooters and other battery operated forms of transport have flooded the market in recent years. They offer efficient ways to commute short distances, but be aware of the laws and regulations surrounding them.
Resources and links
Federal Government sites
Arena (Australian Renewable Energy Agency) Extensive information on all things to do with electric cars.
Green Vehicle Guide Offers a carbon impact calculator for vehicles, a vehicle comparison tool, and loads of information about making your car and your driving better for the environment.
State and territory sites
Zero Emissions Vehicle Subsidy A Victorian Government subsidy program to help households and businesses (including not-for-profits with an ABN, but excluding local councils) to buy zero emission vehicles.
NSW rebates for electric vehicles A NSW government subsidy program to help households and businesses (including not-for-profits and local councils) with the cost of EVs. Organisations with less than 10 registered vehicles are eligible.
Climate Choices website ACT Government information on EVs.
Plugshare.com Global map of car charging stations.
Electric Vehicle Council The national body lobbying for electric cars in Australia.
Electric car buying guide A commercial site with a good overview of the specifications and performance of EVs currently on the market in Australia.
Good Car Company An EV bulk-buy social enterprise whose goal is to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles in Australia.