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  • Writer's pictureEconSoc 2020-21

Rethinking Green Transportation: Beyond Electric Vehicles to E-Bikes

Written by Jordan Blockley (Financial Economics)


 

With Australia’s ambitious climate target of a 43% reduction in emissions by 2030, we have

seen a huge increase in electric vehicle sales over the past 3 years. This is most likely due

to the introduction of Tesla's long-awaited Model 3 and the launch of Build Your Dreams

(BYD), which have provided consumers with a competitively priced electric alternative to

their fossil fuel counterparts. With light vehicle transport accounting for 10% of Australia’s

greenhouse emissions (“Reducing transport emissions”), which is more than the coal and

gas industry in Queensland (Visontay), more affordable EVs seem to be a perfect solution.

However, EVs may not be as green as you would wish they were if you bought one. They

are only as green as the grid that supplies them. If you are living in Norway, where the grid is

powered by hydroelectric dams, the environmental efficacy of an electric vehicle will be

much greater than that of an EV charged in Australia. One of the other environmental red

flags of EVs is the manufacturing process, which is extremely energy-intensive. Tesla has

famously hidden the data behind their manufacturing process (especially the age of those

who mine the rare minerals for lithium-ion batteries). Experts have estimated that a

75-kilowatt-hour battery pack has a carbon footprint of 5.5 tonnes of emissions (Stevens),

which is the equivalent of driving a Toyota Camry 45,800 kilometres. That's just the battery,

whose lifespan is unknown at this point, and its ability to recycle is extremely costly. The

manufacturing of car chassis (the frame) also emits a large amount of pollution, with 1 kg of

aluminium costing 16 kg of CO2 emissions, not to mention the water use, which is estimated

to be 15,000 litres per tonne. Another cost to factor in is the facilities to charge the cars,

which are going to require a large government investment if they believe that EVs are the

future. With so much effort required to ensure that EVs are marginally more environmentally

better than a Toyota Camry, we are still left with a major problem in Sydney: the traffic.

With the Sydney basin becoming more populated in more distant areas than your parents

could have ever imagined, the investment in roads and more particularly public transport has

not kept up. With the average time taken to cover 10 km in Sydney Peak hour being 21

minutes, which equates to 28 km/h (Guthrie). There is one quite affordable, extremely

environmentally friendly, and with added health benefits: e-bikes. E-bikes are pedal-powered

bicycles that have electric assistance up to 25 km/h legally in Australia. Allowing the average

person who has never really cycled to keep up with a MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra). On

average, a decent e-bike with a mid-drive motor, a 500-watt-hour battery (equating to a

range of 80 km), will cost $3000. With the environmental production cost being far less than

that of an EV and in peak hour having relatively the same average speed, with the added

health benefit, to me, this seems like the real solution, not a greenwashing exercise.


Works Cited

Guthrie, Susannah. “The city with the worst traffic in the world.” Drive.com.au, 20 February

Accessed 24 April 2024.

“Reducing transport emissions.” DCCEEW, 15 February 2024,

Stevens, Tim. “Are Electric Cars Really Better for the Environment?” CNET, 2 June 2022,

ent/. Accessed 24 April 2024.

Visontay, Elias. “Cars sold in Australia in 2023 emitted as much CO2 as 156 coalmines,

analysis shows.” The Guardian, 5 March 2024,

-emitted-as-much-co2-as-156-coalmines-analysis-shows. Accessed 24 April 2024.

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