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There's More to Transport Than Electric Vehicles.

Dr Rod Badcock is the lead engineer at Victoria Universities Robinson Research Institute and outlines the challenge transport faces in Wellington.

· Wellington Climathon

The world is staring down the barrel of climate change. In 2015, we committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to restrict global warming to 1.5°.

Around 80% of electricity generated is by renewable means in NZ – unique position that makes electricity usage environmentally friendly. Taking a wider view of energy supply in NZ, only 40% came from renewable sources in 2016. However electricity accounts for only 25% of consumer energy demand – shockingly oil accounts for 46% of consumer energy demand in 2016. On top of this international transport accounts for nearly 10% of energy use in NZ – none of which is renewable.

Electrification of transport is a global trend, driven by the twin imperatives of reduced greenhouse emissions and rising fuel costs. Air transport is coming in for special scrutiny, because its emissions have grown by 75% since 1990 – double the rate of the rest of the economy, unchecked by taxes. That special position is about to come to an end. European countries are already considering adding a climate tax to the price of an air ticket. Others will likely follow suit.

New Zealand is exposed. We rely on international aviation to export high-value products and for in-bound tourism. 99% of international tourists travel by air, bringing $12B into the economy last year, and our tourism strategy assumes this number will double by 2050. But this international trade is acutely vulnerable to potential restrictions on air travel. For us, business as usual is not an option.

The global aerospace industry knows that there is only one practicable way to reduce green house gas (GHG) emissions from international air travel: hybrid-electric aircraft. Hybrid-electric aircraft are the only viable solution. These will utilise aerodynamically-optimised electric turbo-fans driven by high speed electric motors. An electric drive-train will provide power from a high-efficiency generator continuously running at its maximum efficiency point. In this way fuel efficiency gains of >33% can be achieved over existing combustion-jet technology.


Domestic transport is a larger energy use issue in NZ – it accounts for nearly 50% of energy use in NZ and is predominantly oil based. Some see the use of EV’s as the saviour for controlling emissions in NZ – whilst this may be true, how usable and sustainable is mass EV usage for NZ? Electricity distribution in NZ is rarely in dense networks, and these long skinny networks can be perturbed through fast charging EV’s and can lead to range anxiety for users.

Does mass personal transport make sustainable sense? It takes approximately the same energy to produce a car as it will consume in its life. A private vehicle on average carries less than 2 passengers. Private vehicles have a utilisation ratio of around 5% - 95% of the time it sits doing nothing using available space. As of the 31st August 2017 there are 4.9 Million registered vehicles for a population of 4.8 Million people. That’s one for every person!

The congested roads in Wellington are legendary to residents in the region. Congestion has grown 4% in the last year. Does private electric vehicle (EV) add to or help this problem? Does it make sense for a 1 tonne vehicle to move a 100kg person that lays idle for 95% of its time? Does an electric bike (or variant) make more sense? 

Will self-driving vehicles solve these challenges? They will reduce drastically the amount of public space dedicated to vehicle storage. They will offer a better utilised asset. But what models of ownership and use will they operate under?

Something has to change! We need to address carbon usage, we must introduce sustainable solutions that don’t just require more and more infrastructure that relies on a poorly utilised resource. What might these be?

Relevant Links: 

  • [READ] https://www.victoria.ac.nz/news/2017/06/wellington-scientists-getting-hybrid-planes-off-the-ground 
  • [LISTEN] http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/201850490/the-race-to-get-hybrid-electric-jet-planes-off-the-ground
  • [WATCH] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-xKqsw0e14
  • [READ] http://www.mbie.govt.nz/info-services/science-innovation/success-stories/combatting-climate-change 
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