Alternative Fuels Australia

New Zealand conflicted on electric cars, seeks biofuels and hydrogen vehicles

Posted by Car Geek on October 13, 2007

New Zealand is well on its way to becoming one of the most environmentally friendly nations on the planet, especially if its government has its way. The small nation has a plan to half its transport emissions by 2040 by using biofuels, hybrids and electric vehicles, according to an energy strategy released by Prime Minister Helen Clark. The government hopes that battery-electric vehicles will make up 60 per cent of the market share by 2040, and that hydrogen-powered vehicles make up 25 per cent by 2050. The move is aided by New Zealand’s already largely clean electricity, 65 per cent of which is produced by renewable means (a figure they want to increase to 90 per cent by 2025).

However, the media and private companies aren’t quite as sold on electric cars as the government just yet. EVs have copped considerable criticism from New Zealand’s Dog and Lemon Guide, an influential car magazine. Author Clive Matthew-Wilson attacked the cars for being high cost, range-limited and in constant need of recharging. The author also said that the light-weight materials used for EVs such as carbon fibre, also used in a number of conventional vehicle components such as spoilers, were expensive to make and “incredibly toxic”. The comments (however questionable they may be) have prompted Meridian Energy, a power company that was planning to import a small number of electric cars for a trial, to review the plan, though it currently has no intentions to scrap the trial entirely.

NZ Energy Minister, David Parker, has rejected the claims of Dog & Lemon, saying that much of the technology going into electric vehicles is already used in conventional cars and that the energy used to power them would be largely renewable.

“The Prime Minister recently announced a target of 90 per cent renewable energy in the electricity sector by 2025, so we are set to see amounts of renewable electricity available increasing over time,” he said.

“New Zealand is fortunate to have so much renewable energy available at economic prices; the uptake of technologies such as electric cars will see an increasingly sustainable transport fleet.”

(Sources: NZ Herald, The Age)

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3 Responses to “New Zealand conflicted on electric cars, seeks biofuels and hydrogen vehicles”

  1. The Dog & Lemon Guide places a lot of importance on the environment. Our criticisms of electric cars and alternative fuels are based on science, not prejudice.

    You can read our reasoning at:

    http://www.dogandlemon.com/media/General%20Comments%20PDF/Reality%20Killed%20the%20Electric%20Car.pdf

    and

    http://www.dogandlemon.com/media/General%20Comments%20PDF/The%20Age%20of%20Uncertainty.pdf

    cheers

    Clive Matthew-Wilson
    editor
    The Dog & Lemon Guide

  2. Nathan said

    Thanks for your response, Clive. I agree with your premise that the fundamental problem is the culture of increasing energy consumption and wastage as a status symbol, and that’s something that will need to be addressed. Culture shifts take time, though, and interim solutions often need to be found. If I can address a couple of points from your articles:

    – Electricity is almost entirely produced from fossil fuels in most countries, that much is true. The makeup and emissions of that electricity production varies widely by country and even by state or region, though. A vehicle like the Tesla will emit less than most vehicles on the road in the US over its life, and would likely do the same in NZ. (Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Australia – our electricity is so highly polluting that electric cars are worse for the environment than an average sized sedan.) Given some investment, one could take their car off the grid entirely if they wanted to (but this does cost more money than the average car buyer has). I don’t have the numbers on hand, but I’d be happy to do the calculations for you if you find it helpful.

    – While reducing dependence on foreign oil is one of Tesla’s aims, it’s misleading to claim that it is their only goal. Tesla’s website and press releases place a strong emphasis on efficiency and the environment, as well as reducing the use of oil.

    – The energy cost of building a car is certainly not zero, but it’s also generally less than the energy used to drive it over its life by a considerable margin. The case may well be the same for electric cars, but given that there are relatively few on the roads and companies protect their production methods quite closely, it’s hard to say for sure. Stating “these steps use energy, therefore the process of building it is too energy intensive” is a logical fallacy unless it’s backed up with some figures to demonstrate it.

    Fundamentally, I agree with you – the culture of the open road is not sustainable if the population continues to grow as it is, for a variety of reasons. Where we diverge is the path taken to reducing our energy use. The facts are that electric vehicles are more efficient in a “well to wheel” analysis, reducing energy use, which make them a good mid-term step towards deeper cuts. They also allow for their energy to be drawn from a multitude of available sources, something most vehicles can’t replicate. They’re not a perfect vehicle, but I’m all for them being available – the market is very effective at letting the dud technologies sink to the bottom (barring too much in the way of government interference).

  3. Ryan Lovatt said

    Hi all,
    The main reason for wanting to use electric cars is the cost of petrol. Its about economics, if prices go up, people will always look for alternatives that are cheaper.

    Its also economics about making electric cars, if people are looking for an alternative to petrol, people/companies will want to get on the bandwagon to make their million. Some successfully, others not.

    Also Clive, there is plenty of copper in current cars, and many cars have got more aluminium in them (most new Audi’s have an aluminium chassis and body panels). Do you hear everyone complaining about the Audi’s improved fuel economy and performance from being up to 20% lighter than equivalent cars?

    Me personally, I would love one, and Audi have done many studies (google Audi ASF (aluminium space frame)) to demonstrate that if they make x amount of cars, the effect of the extra energy consumed is off put by the lower fuel consumption.

    Ryan Lovatt

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