It’s all very well for engineers to discuss climate change and ponder the future of electric vehicles, but when market forces focus on cost, real sustainability solutions can get left behind.
The sales of electric vehicles (EVs) in Norway increased from six per cent in 2012 to 88 per cent in 2022 on the back of helpful Norwegian government policies.
Those policies, which drove the value proposition of owning an EV, included exemptions from road tax, parking fees and tolls, and zero sales tax for EVs as the new-car tax was based on emissions.
In comparison, in 2023 in Australia — where there are no policies, emission regulations or consistent vehicle standards regarding EVs — supply is low, prices are high, demand is suppressed due to a 10 per cent sales tax and five per cent import duty, and the market share of EVs is just three per cent.
Even New Zealand is at a 15 per cent EV market share, thanks to incentives and subsidies including road-user charge exemptions for EVs, carbon dioxide emissions standards for new cars, and cash rebates.
“At the moment, everybody knows climate change and sustainability [are] a major issue,” Nee Nee Ong FIEAust CPEng EngExec, Senior Electrical Engineer with GHD, told create.
“But industry, organisations and government are having a hard time trying to have great things happen in this area, purely because everything is still driven by market forces.”
The EV story serves as a good example of what can happen when there is a lack of incentives, regulation, policies and standards.
“Everyone looks at the net present value to figure out whether it’s worth doing A, B or C,” she said. “Companies and investors still need to make money.
“But there are some countries that are looking at different regulations to send industries and organisations in a particular direction. I think that’s an important part of the solution.”
Of course, one important driver of decision making would be an agreement on the value of carbon. It’s one way to put a dollar value on sustainability, and to therefore change the net present value of installing renewable energy, for example, or developing recycling programs.
At Engineers Australia’s Climate Smart Engineering 2023 (CSE23), Ong will discuss her work analysing the various powerful influences on corporate and government decision making, policies, regulations and incentives that could change the way various sectors make choices around processes, materials and outcomes.
“It’s more than a focus on individual technologies,” she said. “For example, at the moment in the energy system there [are] a number of factors, like affordability, security and sustainability.
“There’s a lot of research and work being done [into] the technology and how we can utilise existing infrastructure, how we can utilise different renewables in the system.”
But we also need to take a step back and realise it’s not just about developing these technologies, Ong said.
Success will only come when we can be confident about how each technology is implemented in a highly complex network, and what synergies that network requires to allow that to happen.
“At the moment, the network is predominantly governed by government and regulators,” she said. “Then you have generators and distributors, different companies dealing with different parts of government.
“We need to have [a conversation] between each of them, and common regulation; we need to have direction. It’s all interlinked.”
In Australia, we have a long way to go, according to Ong. But there are many best-practice examples from other countries of incentives that have been highly effective.
“That’s where my presentation is coming from, rather than from a more specific angle around energy, innovation or technology,” she said.
For example, “a lot of work [is] being done by regulatory bodies to come up with policies and directions [with] which [we] can actually implement renewables into the existing infrastructure”.
“There are a lot of new regulations and standards that have come out around electric vehicles and solar power,” Ong said. “So we are making steps. And in many ways engineers have become trusted advisors in these discussions.”
Ong currently holds positions with Engineers Australia as a Congress member, the Co-Chair of the Electrical College Board, the Chair of the WA Division College of Leadership and Management, and a member of the Accreditation Board.
Nee Nee Ong is just one of many experts who’ll be in attendance at CSE23. Discover the full line-up and register.