Does It Make Sense To Build Electric Cars In Australia?

Building electric cars in Australia

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how ACE-EV plans to open a factory and produce tens of thousands of electric vehicles per year in Adelaide.

I’m hoping it will happen because I was impressed when I took their electric cargo van for a spin.

Also, I’d like the opportunity to apply for a job assembling electric cars as I fear my current career as a highly paid toyboy is only viable thanks to the JobKeeper payments.

Australia had an automotive industry, but it died.  It’s been three years since the last Australian car rolled off a production line.  If electric vehicle (EV) production starts up, will it fare better?

In this post I’ll cover:

  1. The challenges Australian EV manufacturing faces.
  2. The advantages of manufacturing in Australia.
  3. Some bloody good reasons why the government should incentivise the shift from petrol and diesel vehicles to electric.

Manufacturing Hurdles Past And Present

A number of factors caused the Australian car industry to struggle in the past.  The good news is some of the obstacles are no longer as obstacally as they were.

Drawbacks to building EVs here include:

  • Australia suffering from the Dutch Disease
  • Commodity based exports make our dollar volatile.
  • High capital costs.
  • High labour costs.
  • The tyranny of distance.

The Dutch Disease:  Australia has been described as a rich nation with a poor nation’s economy.  Unlike most developed countries, rather than importing natural resources and paying for them with exported manufactured goods, Australia is a bizarro developed country and does it the other way around.

“Bizarro appearance in EV article feel shoehorned in!”

Economists call it “the Dutch disease“. Fortunately, it’s not as disgusting as most things we associate with the Dutch and doesn’t cause sufferers to wear wooden shoes or add superfluous mayonnaise to everything remotely edible.

It refers to how Australia’s large mineral and agricultural exports push up our dollar, making products produced overseas cheaper, driving local manufacturers out of business.  This should decrease as our population grows and the economy diversifies.  Also, the falling cost of renewable energy should cause two of our export commodities — coal and natural gas — to be much less important in the future.  But maybe we’ll export energy in other ways.

The Dutch have wooden shoes in their blood.  They literally have clogged arteries. (Image: Berkh)

A Volatile Dollar:  Commodities1 such as iron ore, wheat, and natural gas have much larger price swings than manufactured goods.  This volatility causes the Australian dollar to bounce up and down with commodity booms and busts.

While our kangaroo coin may jump around less in the future, between the pandemic, Brexit, and Americans voting for Bizarro Obama,2 at the moment, our dollar is looking pretty stable.

High Cost Of Capital:  Because Australia is resource-rich with lots of opportunities for investment but a low population, we have trouble funding investment from our national savings.  This made the cost of capital higher than in other developed countries.  Our forced savings superannuation scheme — while wasteful and inefficient3 — helped, but after the Global Financial Crisis 13 years ago and now, with the pandemic related economic slowdown, money is cheap in all developed countries.  There’s little difference between the Australian Reserve Bank’s interest rate of 0.25% and Spain’s 0%.  Some countries — Japan, Denmark, and Switzerland — have negative interest rates.4

“Okay, Bizarro reference seems more relevant now.”

As interest rates are likely to stay low for a long time, as far as capital costs are concerned, Australia is pretty much as good a place to build electric cars as any other.

High Labour Costs:  Australia’s labour costs are high compared to the world average.  This is a good thing.  We have a name for countries with low labour costs.  They are called poor countries.

Considering there are more people in Australia receiving wages than paying them, you’d think media coverage on our high labour costs would be a little more upbeat. Still, oddly enough, we keep hearing people say high labour costs are a problem for the health of the economy rather than the entire freaking point of a healthy economy.  But if you are one of those people who are worried about high wages you can relax, as we’ve been doing a good job of keeping them down lately:

Australia Wage Price Index

Image: Business Insider Australia

Twenty years ago, high labour costs in a country would have been a serious problem for anyone wanting to manufacture cars. But now that capital — which is cheap — can more easily substitute for labour through automation and robotics, it’s no longer the problem it was.

The Tyranny Of Distance:  While the world isn’t smaller than it used to be we have gotten a lot better at moving information, stuff, and ourselves around; so the tyranny of distance isn’t nearly as tyrannical as it used to be.  These days it’s more like the mildly annoying inconvenience of distance.

Australian Advantages

Countering the cons, there are several pros to building EVs here:

  • Stable government and institutions
  • Existing automotive infrastructure and skills
  • Decreasing electricity costs
  • No federal incentives for electric vehicles

Government Stability:  Compared to the rest of the world, Australia has a stable government.  This may seem hard to believe as there are now teenagers who are confused by the fact we’ve had the same Prime Minister for two whole years. But when the main English speaking competition is ruled by loonies, we come out looking pretty good.

“Yeah, me get point. No need to rub it in.”

Businesses can invest in Australia and be confident the government would never act like a corrupt, tin-pot, kleptocracy and do something incredibly crooked5.

Or at least they can be confident they won’t try it more than once every three or four years.

Adelaide’s Got Talent — And Automotive Manufacturing Capacity:  Adelaide used to be a major manufacturer of vehicles, and there is still plenty of automotive talent in the town who would leap at the chance to lend their expertise to building EVs.  Plenty of businesses are still producing automotive parts for spares or export and would be happy to provide components.

No Incentives For Electric Vehicles:  It may seem odd I’m marking this a plus, but zero incentives mean the only way to go is up.

4 Reasons For EV Incentives

The unfortunate fact is for Australian EV manufacture to happen any time soon, it will need some form of government incentive. Incentives can be direct or general in nature.

Direct incentives do assist the manufacturer but open a whole can of worms involving fairness, corruption, international trade agreements, and economic efficiency.

General incentives that apply to EVs overall are less problematic, but still need to be carefully designed to be cost-effective.  Because they also apply to overseas EVs, they will help Australian EV manufacturing by increasing the market for their products rather than through a direct hand out.

Four good reasons why federal and state governments should provide general incentives to discourage internal combustion vehicles and promote the uptake of EVs:

  • Death and sickness from vehicle pollution.
  • Global warming.
  • Energy security.
  • Overcoming resistance to change.

Australia’s Petrol & Diesel Death Toll:  I went looking for information on how many deaths result from road transport pollution and found while plenty of people were happy to refer to thousands of deaths, they were less happy about providing actual references.  I finally settled on using an international report that’s 5 years out of date because it reminded me of my beard.  It looks impressive and is very thick.

The report estimated pollution from transport, in general, killed 620 Australians in 2015:

As the statistical value of a human life in Australia is now $4.9 million, just 620 deaths a year comes to over $3 billion a year.  But if we dig into the details it gets a little more complicated, as this table shows:

Deaths from vehicle pollution

It appears petrol and LPG powered cars were only responsible for perhaps 56 deaths in 2015.  That’s far less than I expected, while the big killers are diesel vehicles, off-road vehicles used for agriculture and mining, and ships.  Estimated deaths in 2015 for each category were:

  • On-road diesel:  223 deaths
  • On-road Petrol & LPG:  56 deaths
  • Non-road vehicles:  180 deaths
  • International shipping:  155 deaths

There should be incentives to shift to electric vehicles to reduce the death toll, and they should be particularly focused on diesel vehicles of all sorts.  At the moment, around 26% of Australian road vehicles are diesel as are almost all non-road vehicles.

Global Warming:  Australia used around one million barrels of oil a day last year.  According to the National Emissions Inventory, transport as a whole was responsible for 100 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2019.  However, this figure leaves out emissions from oil extraction, refining, and transport so, the actual emissions our transport is responsible for is at least 15% higher.

Due to Australia’s geographical position and large agricultural sector, we are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.  The national economic cost of climate change by 2030 has been estimated at over $500 billion.

While I don’t know how to work out the total cost of global warming from transport emissions, I can give a figure for cleaning it up.  The bad news is removing over 100 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year is not going to be easy.

If we’re fortunate, the cost of removing one tonne of CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering it may only be $70 per tonne if done on a large scale.6  This would make the cost of cleaning up Australia’s 2019 transport emissions $8 billion.  For the average passenger car, it would be around $250 a year.  Given the falling cost of electric vehicles, it’s going to be a lot easier to not burn that oil in the first place.

Energy Security:  Conventional oil production in Australia may now equal 17% of our consumption.  A couple of years ago it was about 13%.  We also produce large amounts of natural gas condensate, which is a burnable liquid.  But most oil and condensate production is exported overseas, and most fuel we use in our vehicles is imported.  This reduces refining costs but makes us very vulnerable to disruptions in the supply of overseas oil products.  Switching to EVs reduces this risk.  Just how much benefit it will provide depends on how paranoid you are, but it’s certainly a consideration.

Resistance To Change:  If we made conventional vehicles pay for the harm their oil-burning causes, my rough estimate is it would come to about 20 cents or more per litre of petrol and more for diesel.  While we could make internal combustion vehicles pay for this at the petrol pump, politicians aren’t likely to approve, and it would place a hefty burden on low-income Australians.

But even if we made conventional cars pay this cost, it’s unlikely to result in a fast enough change to electric vehicles.  This is because it runs into the problem of human psychology.  While big companies that provide grid electricity are very sensitive to the bottom line, people buy cars based on habit, impulse, advertising, and how far their hairline has receded.  While electric cars have low running costs, our natural monkey nature means we often fail to take this into account.

As an example of resistance to change, I told a six-foot-three biker who abuses so many steroids he looks like a vaguely humanoid pile of shrink-wrapped bunya nuts that he should buy an electric motorcycle.  He looked at me with terror in his eyes and told me he was scared of what other bikers would say if his bike didn’t go “VROOM”.  I told him he could make “vroom” noises with his mouth, but he wasn’t convinced.

On the bright side, in August Australia’s best selling car was the Toyota RAV 4 hybrid SUV.  While this may be a blip, it does show Australians aren’t wedded to conventional vehicles.

Because we need to kick our oil habit quickly, we can’t rely on human rationality to save the day and have to provide additional incentive to act as a kick in the pants. Over a dozen countries are doing this by banning the sale of conventional cars by 2050 with Norway’s ban staring in 2025.  Australia doesn’t have to go this far, but we should do something.

An EV Incentive Already Exists

Electric vehicles already receive an indirect incentive because they avoid the fuel excise that pays for roads as well as contributes to general revenue.  This will need to change in the future as EVs take over, but if you are worried about it now when they’re around 0.2% of cars in the country – you are being a dick.  It’s fine to make a plan for the future, but it’s foolish to make EVs pay for the cost of using roads while conventional cars don’t pay for the cost of killing us.

A Modest Proposal For EV Incentives

It is possible to create EV incentives that don’t place a burden on lower-income Australians and cost the government zero additional dollars.

I’d suggest something along the lines of:

  • A subsidy for electric cars based on their reduced environmental and health costs.
  • This subsidy is paid for with an increase in the purchase price of internal combustion engine vehicles.  The most fuel-efficient have no increase, medium fuel efficiency vehicles have a modest increase, and the least fuel-efficient have a hefty price increase.
  • A commitment to introduce strict fuel-efficiency measures in 10 years time so vehicle manufacturers will know they have to change and can’t expect to dump outdated internal combustion engine cars in the Australian market.

Australian EV Manufacturing — Fingers Crossed

There are pros and cons to building EVs in Australia, but — in my not at all professional opinion — I’d say they more or less cancel out and Australia is likely to be as good a place to build them as anywhere else.  Hopefully, we will see manufacturing happen in Adelaide, but sadly it probably depends on whether or not politicians decide to provide any incentives.


  1. Something is a commodity if a kilogram of it is much the same as any other kilogram.  A tonne of Australian Standard Noodle Wheat is much the same as any tonne of Standard Noodle Wheat, and China doesn’t care if it comes from Australia, the US, or Ukraine.  (Actually, they prefer a mix so they won’t get too hungry if they piss one off.)
  2. Trump won the Presidency with 48% of the US popular vote.  Because of the way their Electoral College works, Biden will have to get 53% or more of the popular vote to have over a 50% chance of winning.  The Electoral College is like democracy, but smaller.
  3. With a slightly less moronic approach, every Australian would now be, on average, $25,000 better off.  And that’s just by being less moronic — we would be even better off if we were smart.
  4. There are a few reasons why money is so cheap right now, but I think it mainly boils down to rich cowards.  There are too many rich people with too much money who are too scared to invest it in anything that carries any real risk.  The standard cures for this are inflation, wealth taxes, and death duties, so we may see more of them in the future.
  5. like attempt to funnel hundreds of million dollars to local media organisations in expectation of their support in the next election
  6. Various methods have been suggested, including burying charcoal, dumping plant matter in deep ocean waters, and grinding up rocks so they’ll help remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
About Ronald Brakels

Ronald was born more years ago than he can remember. He first became interested in environmental matters when he was four years old after the environment tried to kill him by smashing fist sized hailstones through the roof of his parents’ Toowoomba home. Swearing revenge, he began his lifelong quest to reduce the harm the environment could cause. By the time he was eight, he was already focused on using the power of the sun to stop fossil fuel emissions destabilizing the climate. But it took him about another ten years to focus on it in a way that wasn’t really stupid


  1. A few points. 1. Using iron ore and other products here instead of exporting them, and importing fewer cars is a double saving, both economically and environmentally. 2.
    Creating jobs increases tax revenue and reduces unemployment benefits.
    Any exports are a bonus and to places like NZ reduces shipping costs for them when they import from Japan and China etc.
    4. Building cars here provides huge support industries and reduces imports if spare parts.
    5. Unlike previous car makers, electric cars will aim to replace the entire amount of cars now on the road rather than just compete against other traditional carmakers. As getting all petrol and diesel engines off the road is the goal.
    6. Solar energy is here forever and batteries and car qualities are improving and costs reducing faster than fossil fuel cars and will soon be much cheaper.
    7. Car owners will be able to charge their cars at home for a fraction of the cost of petrol in the coming decades along with roadside recharging and battery switching. None of which has ever been possible for petrol cars.
    8. It is politically smart for politicians to embrace green energy as petrol prices and pollution continue to rise and climate change becomes even worse.

  2. Would a government, council etc commitment to buy local made electric fleet vehicles help get the industry off the ground?

  3. Christopher Staples says

    I want hybrids that just have a generator so you can charge up batteries when no power outlets are around , instead of having engine + electric motors
    you could have an generator running to top up batteries while travelling long distances to extend the range etc

    • Randy Wester says

      That would be a plugin hybrid.

      Or did you mean smething like a Prius Prime, but with a much smaller, lighter generator and no direct drive?

      Obrist has been working with smething like that.

  4. We’d need governments with vision to make this happen.

    That probably rules out federal LNP and state Labor (WA).

    Both have already taken ideological positions opposing renewable energy… and lack the intestinal fortitude to see past the next election.

    Meanwhile Elon Musk indicates that immense advances in EV development will be announced 22nd September. Check the date… just two sleeps away!

    Would Tesla perhaps offer its technology, or a licence, to an EV start-up building a _van_ in Australia? Possibly unlikely, given the demand for MMB+ for EVs, V2G and battery storage will be immense.

    Despite a dearth of political leadership, we live in exciting times… .

  5. I recently purchased a PHEV, a hybrid with a 13.8kW battery and ICE that cane be used to (a) drive the car and (b) charge the battery if needed. THe penalty over the ICe only model, $5,000 (it was a “COVID-19 Clearance Special”).

    I also have 6.6kW of PV panels for which I get 11c per kWH from my energy company. Whrn the sun isn’t full bore, I pay 28c per kWH. My fully charged EV is claimed to go 52kms on a fully charge. My other car uses 9L/100 kms. So if fuel is more than 89c per litre I am ahead, than buying electricity at 30c/kWH – even better if I use my 11c ‘sell’ price.

    But the yearly savings is low. Since the EV is only fully operational when we do the local shops etc which is 50% of our travel, at other times we are running on fossil fuel. The battery is guaranteed for 8 years.

    I can’t wait for fuel costs to go through the roof, but – with my luck – that will never happen!

    Will update with figures re PV energy drawn and fossil fuel purchased after few months….

    • A recent 90kms round trip I used EV only mode for stop/go local roads and when charge left and distance to home during the return trip were ‘equal’; and switched to ICE “charge mode” on the highway.

      Left home with the 13.8kW 50kms battery pack at 100% charge, and had 1kms of juice left on return. Fuel use was 4.3L/100kms. This from a 1.8 tonne SUV.

      Cost of a full charge @ 28c (my worst case night-tme Buy rate) $4.14, @11c (my daytime Sell rate), just $1.51. The PHEV is only charged during solar hours (with a timer).

      • randy wester says

        There was an American scientist some years ago who figured that a 60 KPH transportation speed would cut fuel usage in half. Our vehicle fleet clearly showed that how the guys drive also has a dramatic effect.

        I’m not saying I’d want to travel across Canada or Aus at 60 KPH, even by train, but fir shorter trips yes. With gravel haulers blasting by at ambulance speed it’s hard to believe that passenger car fuel consumption is even a concern.

        Even better than efficiency is eliminating the transportation. Wendy’s Canada is growing all their lettuce in a clean greenhouse, thousands of miles closer to market than sunny Mexico, using LED lighting and hydroponics.

        I’d say yes, Aus should have a car assembly plant, it’s better to have vehicles designed for local conditions, which is easier if they’re locally built.

  6. Ronald,
    You suggest in your post:
    “A commitment to introduce strict fuel-efficiency measures in 10 years time so vehicle manufacturers will know they have to change and can’t expect to dump outdated internal combustion engine cars in the Australian market.”

    I’d say your suggestion is all too little, too late.

    The evidence I see indicates Australia needs to rapidly reduce its dependency on all petroleum/hydrocarbon-based fuels:

    * to contribute to mitigating dangerous climate change – 50% GHG emissions reduction by 2030 and eliminating them by 2040, NOT 2050 if we want to keep “well below 2°C” global mean temperature rise above pre-industrial age – that’s what the best available science is now saying;

    * to mitigate the consequences of an inevitable post-‘peak oil’ supply world, that was already starting to happen in 2019, but is now being accelerated by COVID-19 destroying demand, which is causing a significant decline in ongoing petroleum exploration and production investment, bankruptcies, etc. – “permanent supply damage”.

    Nothing less than a rapid transition away from hydrocarbon-fueled ICE vehicles and equipment (e.g. generators, mowers, etc.) is now required.

    I’d suggest what is needed now is for Australia to ban the sale of all new hydrocarbon-fueled ICE vehicles/equipment by 2025 and ban the operation of all hydrocarbon-fueled ICE vehicles/equipment by 2035, while encouraging the rapid uptake of non-GHG emissions vehicles/equipment, if we are to even be close to matching actions with what is now required to avoid catastrophe later this century.

    But I don’t see the political will to do what is required anytime soon, so physics and declining FF-based global energy security will then take us along the path towards civilisation collapse.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Meh, at least it’s better than our current fuel efficiency standards which consist entirely of a sticker on the windshield of new cars.

    • Randy Wester says

      Newer ICE equipment is generally more efficient. Higher fuel taxes will more likely reduce consumption than restricting replacements, because the market can adapt.

      LNG and CNG have half the CO2 emissions. Methane from digesters can power a lot of machinery that just can’t carry enough of today’s batteries to be practical.

      It’s not good to get too adamant about particular technologies. In the 1970’s it was all going to be about stirling engines and alcohol fuel.

      • Randy Wester,
        You state: “Newer ICE equipment is generally more efficient.”

        Maybe, but how much more efficient, Randy?

        The International Energy Agency says in a report titled “Fuel Economy in Major Car Markets: Technology and Policy Drivers 2005-2017” published Mar 2019:

        “While the average fuel economy of vehicles continues to improve, the rate of progress has slowed in recent years. Fuel Economy in Major Car Markets looks at fuel economy development in the period 2005-2017 for the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI). It shows that the average amount of fuel required to travel 100 km improved by 1.3% in 2016 and 2017, down from 2% per year between 2013 and 2015. Important drivers for this slowdown are declining shares of diesel vehicles, mostly replaced by gasoline despite fast-growing shares of electrified vehicles and a continued appetite for larger vehicles.”

        It seems to me there isn’t much more that can be achieved with efficiency gains, and it’s slowing, (I’d suggest) probably due to approaching thermodynamic limits for ICEs, and the “continued appetite for larger vehicles” is apparently eliminating those efficiency gains.

        But how does the ongoing combustion of hydrocarbon fuels in ICE equipment, no matter how efficient, help in RAPIDLY reducing GHG emissions, Randy? Humanity needs to cut all GHG emissions (from coal, gas, oil, wood, land use, etc.) by 50% by 2030, and eliminate them by 2040, or the global mean temperature is at risk of overshooting 2°C above pre-industrial well within a few decades, and then we are on the path towards social chaos and civilisation collapse later this century – something your children/grandchildren (if you have any?) would likely be facing.

        And then there’s an increasing risk of declining global petroleum fuel supplies very soon (if you had bothered to read the second link in my earlier comment above). With a world average decline rate with post-peak oil production that could be of the order of 5 to 7% per year, where oil production could plummet to half its current volume in the next 10 to 14 years, any vehicle efficiency gains would be swept away in a year or two.

        If you don’t care for the Greenpeace article, see former US DoE energy advisor Dr Robert Hirsch in a keynote presentation, from time interval 19:45 to 22:34:

        You state: “LNG and CNG have half the CO2 emissions.”

        The GHG reduction benefits of fossil gas are completely negated if there are more than 3% “fugitive emissions” of total production – methane gas is then ‘dirtier than coal’.

        “Alarming studies in the United States have detected methane emissions in some coal seam gas fields of between 2 per cent and 17 per cent.”

        It’s already cheaper to get off gas and go all-electric. Why would you stick with gas, Randy?

        You state: “It’s not good to get too adamant about particular technologies.”

        It seems to me you are about advocating the burning of more petroleum fuels and gas. The evidence I see indicates that’s not beneficial in the medium- to long-term.

        “If we don’t solve the climate crisis, we can forget about the rest.” – Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany.

        • Randy Wester says

          I said ‘equipment’, and that’s what I meant. Furnaces, highway tractors, track hoes, forklifts, irrigation pumps, combines.

          But a lot of people are more familiar with autos, but our biggest challenge in the northern hemisphere is space heating in winter. In Australia I suppose that it might be hard to relate.

          Picture this. It’s December, it’s dark, 60 Celcius degrees colder outside than the 20 degrees you want inside, with a wind that is cooling every exposed surface even faster than the radiative cooling that’s icing up the inside of every window. You need a LOT of energy, or you will probably die.

          Maybe it’s clearer when we flip it around – Imagine instead that it’s Australia, 85 degrees Celcius in the shade and you’re trying to get the inside of your house 60 degrees cooler, down to 25. In the sun, it’s a bit over 100C on your roof, (literally, the boiling temperature of water) The energy needed would be similar to surviving at 40 below.

          Even in the car-crazy U.S.A, transportation emissions are 28% of the total, and light vehicles cause 58% of those, so cars are only about 1/6 of CO2 emissions. Even if you could eliminate emissions at a rate equal to all car emissions every 5 years, it’s would to be 30 years to get to zero.

          How much more efficient are modern cars? Mazda’s SkyActiv-X spark-compression ignition (2019) is about 20% to 30% more efficient in everyday driving than the previous model of the same size. Toyota’s 8.8 KWh Prius Prime (2018) gets at least as good fuel economy as a Smart Car at 4.3 L per 100 KM, with seating for twice as many people, and can go 35 KM without burning any of anything. So… Cut emissions by 50% by 2030? Switching from a Camry to a Prius Prime can do that right today, eh? Driving half as much, masses of knowledge workers operating from home, we can easily make the personal vehicle world of 2030 a reality right now. But 11/12 of the emissions are still there if you just focus on cars.

          And not to dump on Tesla or any of today’s EV technology, but take a long, careful look back at 2011, then at 2001. Should we really have tried our hardest to build 10 million EV-1 electrics with 50 mile range and one tonne lead-acid batteries, or should we have driven smaller cars and done more research? Now think hard about whether 2020 technology is going to look very good from 2030. 5 years from now we might have 4x the solar + wind, and sodium-ion batteries to store it in.

          As you say, average fleet economy is mostly an indication of the mix of vehicles that people choose to buy, and higher fuel prices (whether by import, carbon, wellhead, processing, excise, whatever tax) will reduce distance and speed people drive, and strongly influence new vehicle choice. Yes, the big problem is the ‘trend to larger vehicles’. Almost the only problem, really, unless it were possible to build EVs in enormous quantity and we don’t do it.

          Our household has already gone electric, and solar. While it’s already cheaper to go electric in some places with warm climates, and summer drives in the Model S are great, winters aren’t quite so slick. Heating and charging a car in winter is a real challenge (by ‘winter’ I mean the time of year when hot coffee thrown in the air will freeze before it hits the ground) and an EV burns a phenomenal amount of electricity at a time of year when solar power output is miniscule and wind output is often zero, and the energy needed to heat a garage is huge.

          While Alberta is putting in a lot of wind and solar power (6.5 Gw and 1.8 GW) it’s currently a coal-and-natural gas powered grid where there’s never enough electricity for all the coal power plants to shut down. A Prius Prime still beats a Model 3 on incremental per-KM coal emissions, it costs half as much to buy, and it’s less costly to run because gasoline is too cheap here at $1 a litre.

          No, not advocating the burning of more petroleum fuels than now. The result of no new cars in Cuba was 14 mile per gallon 1950’s autos still running in 2000. No, make the high carbon fuels punitively expensive, fund research, invest in technology, but let the market sort out what goes where. Don’t misunderstand the current market situation, there’s no shortage of oil and there’s no crunch coming.

          Perhaps if not for the Chernobyl plutonium factory accident, there would be more nuclear power and less coal power today. If not for the environmental lobby saving this valley or that, there would be at least 100% hydro in Canada. Instead there’s coal, and the best we can do short term is to switch to gas.

          • Randy Wester,
            You state:
            “I said ‘equipment’, and that’s what I meant. Furnaces, highway tractors, track hoes, forklifts, irrigation pumps, combines.”

            It doesn’t matter whether they are vehicles, furnaces, pumps, etc. Humanity needs to RAPIDLY reduce the burning of ALL carbon-based substances within the next few decades or we risk an increasingly more hostile planet that most of humanity will probably not be able to survive on before the end of this century. Or don’t you care about the future of humanity?

            You state: “You need a LOT of energy, or you will probably die.”

            Get smarter by reducing your heat losses:
            • Seal air leaks and gaps around windows and doors;
            • Improve insulation in the building envelope – basement, walls, roof space;
            • Install airtight, well-insulated windows – double- or triple-glazed;
            • Reuse ‘waste’ heat – heat-recovery ventilators, drain water heat recovery.

            Then decarbonise with heat-pumps and all-electric appliances.

            I think you exaggerate about Australia’s temperatures – you would quickly die at “85 degrees Celcius in the shade”. Temperatures over 130°F (54.4°C) often lead to heatstroke.

            You state: “Don’t misunderstand the current market situation, there’s no shortage of oil and there’s no crunch coming.”

            Not at the moment, but we’ll soon see what’s coming, based on the indicators I see.

            In 2019, USA was the world’s largest oil producer (at 17.9% global share) but with a proved oil R/P of only 11.1 years, and the largest gas producer (at 23.1% global share) but with a proved gas R/P of only 14.0 years, per BPSRoWE-2020.

            There’s currently a global oil and gas supply glut with storage facilities filled to near record levels and full sea-going supertankers currently with nowhere to go, due to demand destruction with the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t expect that to last. Operating drill rigs are an early indicator of future production. The US drilling total for 2020 is the lowest in more than 80 years.

            Declining US oil production next year is inevitable. US petroleum geologist Art Berman stated: “U.S. production may be 50% lower by mid-2021 than at year-end 2019. The implications for U.S. geopolitical power and balance of payments are staggering.”

            Asia-Pacific region has passed peak oil production. There aren’t that many net oil exporters remaining.

          • Randy Wester says

            Emissions from autos could be cut in half immediately by cutting back on unnecessary usage. Nothing but mass quarantine or *very* high fuel prices would accomplish that so quickly, probably nothing else could ever accomplish it, at all.

            Restricting purchases of new cars will have an effect but it will take 10 or 20 years longer. All the doomsayers in the world would not spur the EV industry forward like $5 a litre gasoline and diesel fuel. It’s simple.

            There will never be electric combines harvesting food because physics, but there have been electric buses and trolleys and trains moving city people around for a hundred years. We need them to stop driving and use electronic communication.

            I was trying to point out how extreme a climate we have, and contrast it with yours. Our winter temperatures can be as extreme an engineering challenge as an 85 C summer would be in Aus. You did at least catch on that being caught outside unprotected would cost your life.

            But the summers here are quite lovely, so do come and visit, or stay.

            And if Australia re-develops its auto industry, I hope it builds EVs that are factory equipped to integrate well with home solar.

            And hope that it makes battery cells in Australia, and uses actual solar power on its actual roof, instead of just bragging that there’s no gas pipe, but the electricity mostly comes from a nearby gas power plant. I think you know who I mean.

            The world’s coal industry is the real killer. Nuclear power has obvious challenges but coal has already half destroyed us, we obviously just can’t keep using it.

            As for the oil and gas industries (they’re not quite one and the same) there’s a LOT of oil and a staggeringly large amount of natural gas. Waste Management Inc can run an 8000 truck fleet on landfill gas, imagine what a landfill that was not designed to prevent methane formation could do.

          • Randy Wester,
            You state:
            “Emissions from autos could be cut in half immediately by cutting back on unnecessary usage. Nothing but mass quarantine or *very* high fuel prices would accomplish that so quickly, probably nothing else could ever accomplish it, at all.”

            Perhaps some of the information in my earlier comments haven’t sunk in yet, Randy? Like:
            • Operating drill rigs are an early indicator of future production.
            • The US drilling total for 2020 is the lowest in more than 80 years.
            • Declining US oil production next year is inevitable.
            • U.S. production may be 50% lower by mid-2021 than at year-end 2019.
            • Asia-Pacific region has passed peak oil production.
            • With a world average decline rate with post-peak oil production that could be of the order of 5 to 7% per year, where oil production could plummet to half its current volume in the next 10 to 14 years, any vehicle efficiency gains would be swept away in a year or two.

            The question now is whether the top oil net-exporting countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, Angola, Norway, Algeria, Qatar, Iran, etc., can balance their combined production, to counter the inevitable dramatic decline in US production, with any increased global demand post-COVID-19?

            Saudi Arabia’s (and the world’s) largest oil field, Ghawar, is in decline.

            Matt’s conclusion in his blog at crudeoilpeak on 10 Jun 2019: “When US shale oil peaks and Iraq can no longer increase production there will be some surprises for a complacent world which should have used the 2008 oil price shock as a warning to get away from oil – voluntarily.”

            How about fuel rationing, Randy? If there isn’t enough fuel to go around, particularly in oil net-importing countries, like Australia and USA, then that’s what will inevitably happen – then those countries won’t have any choice. I see Canada was an oil net-exporter pre-COVID, so its citizens may not be as badly affected as those that are south of the border, but prices are still likely to rise.

            You state: “There will never be electric combines harvesting food because physics…”

            What do you base that on, Randy? Tesla is working on battery-electric prime mover trucks – why couldn’t that technology apply to agricultural equipment, Randy? What about hydrogen fuel-cell electric technologies for that application, if batteries aren’t up to the job? If there are no alternatives then there will be extensive famine and mass starvation – think about it!

            I get the impression you are unable to acknowledge the compelling indicators that are highlighting that the era of petroleum fuels is likely heading into decline, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It suggests to me you are ‘energy blind’, but I’d suggest most people are, and IMO that’s why the world is heading towards such a dire energy security predicament.

            You state: “You did at least catch on that being caught outside unprotected would cost your life.”

            Indeed, but not quite the highly exaggerated extremes you suggest, but it will get significantly warmer in the next few decades if we don’t rapidly reduce GHG emissions.

            Extreme heat and humidity are threatening millions of lives and economies in places where it could become fatal to work outdoors. Parts of Australia, India, Bangladesh, the Persian Gulf, China, Mexico, and the United States have experienced hundreds of previously rare incidents of extreme heat and humidity since 1979. These conditions have lasted only one to two hours, but climate change is likely to prolong them to about six hours at a time by 2060 and expand the affected areas.

            You state: “As for the oil and gas industries (they’re not quite one and the same) there’s a LOT of oil and a staggeringly large amount of natural gas.”

            Indeed, but most of petroleum oil and fossil gas must stay in the ground if humanity wants to avoid civilisation collapse later this century.

          • randy wester says

            Still not getting the weather problem. Northern climates aren’t survivable without a lot of energy per person, at exactly the opposite time of year it is available from solar PV. The lack of sunlight is the main reason.

            Not ignoring what you’re saying about the oil industry, it’s just that it’s difficult to make any definite conclusions from what various countries and companies state (it’s not quite a pack of lies, but not reliable data either) but:

            As Jevons observed in his 1850’s report ‘The Coal Question’ while the resource cannot ever be completely exhausted, the energy cost to recover it will inexorably increase, forcing prices upward and thereby reducing demand. Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) declines, despite technology that flatten and extend the decline curve (read Vaclav Smil’s ‘Oil’ for a detailed explanation of how that’s affecting markets today, basically industry is now able to recover more of the oil in place, and faster, than ever before.)

            The inevitable market driven price rise of oil won’t happen gradually enough to avert major disruptions to society. I see that the Chinese President has announced that they will peak before 2030 and be zero emissions by 2040. That’s about lines up with the end of cheap conventional oil supplies.

            When oil supplies tighten up and the price spikes, it won’t be enough to have an electric car and a source of power and fuel for *yourself* if your neighbors, municipality, hospital, EMS, and peace officers don’t, or you won’t have much peace. So, $5.00 a litre now is better in the short *and* in the long run.

            Why not electric combines, what do I mean “because physics”?

            1. A modern combine has a 450 KW engine that runs at full power while the machine is working. (Actually 500 KW with 50 KW locked out unless running the unloading equipment while harvesting) so you need at least 5 MWh for a 12 hour day, and capable of delivering the full 500 KW at all states of charge. There is no ‘slow down to reach destination’, only full power and stop. The larger combines carry 1250 litres of fuel for energy (which can of course be B100, because they seldom run at subzero temperatures and could be made from the three tonnes of oilseeds the machine could thresh in under 10 minutes.)

            2. Harvesting operates under tight seasonal and weather time constraints, the machinery is run 24 hours a day while conditions permit, except for weather there is no downtime during a harvest, usually less than 1 month from start to finish. Therefore the ideal battery for this application would be capable of delivering 500 KW continuously for 30 days, then charging for the next 300 days.

            3. No charging available. The operation is done in a field, once a year, and may be more than 10 miles from a power line, let alone from a stepdown transformer and charging equipment. Even if it were available, rural lines can’t charge 4 machines at 5 MW each.

            4. Energy to weight. At 265 KWh per tonne the 16 tonne weight of battery would be prohibitive. The machine would destroy the topsoil by compaction, and use even more energy in the process.

            Maybe I should have been more specific, what I meant is that no current battery technology would even almost practically power a combine or a seeder. HFCs, biofuel, or synthetic fuels seem like practical alternatives.

            I wouod store the machinery in a shed under 150 KWp of solar PV and a 2 MW wind turbine and trade the electricity for the fuel.

            Also, if the wheat is transported, ground to flour, baked, and delivered using coal and diesel, the fraction of a percent of emissions from producing it are utterly insignificant. Feeding the cities is the problem. Pol Pot’s solution wasn’t the best answer.

          • randy wester (Re your comment Sep 25 at 6:03am),
            You state: “Still not getting the weather problem.”

            I get it. Europe seems to manage – they seem to me to be much more serious about minimising thermal losses and maximising energy efficiency – perhaps because energy costs are significantly more there compared with energy costs in North America?

            I think you don’t seem to have a grasp of the much bigger and urgent existential threat of escalating dangerous climate change – my earlier comment includes a quote from Schellnhuber, who said: “If we don’t solve the climate crisis, we can forget about the rest.” Which part of that don’t you understand, or are you a climate science denier, Randy?

            You state: “The lack of sunlight is the main reason.”

            An electrical grid that extends to regions closer to the equator where there’s more sunlight (and more wind and/or hydro) can mitigate that problem.

            You state: “Not ignoring what you’re saying about the oil industry, it’s just that it’s difficult to make any definite conclusions from what various countries and companies state (it’s not quite a pack of lies, but not reliable data either)…”

            The drill rig count statistic is IMO a reliable proxy – US rig count is published weekly; International monthly. That’s a good early indicator of future oil and gas production.

            IMO, US-based petroleum geologist Art Berman’s analysis about the state of play of US oil markets is sound – he backs his analysis with good data and reasoning – some free, some by subscription.

            IMO, earth scientist J. David Hughes provides a realistic assessment of future production in the top 13 tight oil and shale gas plays in the United States.

            IMO, Sydney-based Matt Mushalik at his blog provides a wealth of energy statistics and analysis.

            You state:
            “The inevitable market driven price rise of oil won’t happen gradually enough to avert major disruptions to society. I see that the Chinese President has announced that they will peak before 2030 and be zero emissions by 2040. That’s about lines up with the end of cheap conventional oil supplies.”

            Conventional oil supplies peaked around 2005 and have been on a bumpy plateau since. In the last few years conventional crude production has only been one million barrels per day higher than in 2005, mainly due to Iraq. Nearly all growth in global oil production in this last decade or so (prior to COVID) is due to expensive unconventional oil, primarily US tight oil, and to a lesser extent, Canadian oil sands. US oil production is currently in the process of crashing (as discussed in an earlier comment).

            You state: “So, $5.00 a litre now is better in the short *and* in the long run.”

            What makes you think petroleum fuel prices will stop at $5/liter, if global oil production plummets to half its current volume in the next 10 to 14 years? All the indicators I see suggests oil is only going to get more and more expensive from about now on – enjoy it while you can!

            Re ag harvesting equipment, you state: “HFCs, biofuel, or synthetic fuels seem like practical alternatives.”

            IMO, you put a good argument for HFC tech based on available battery tech – you may be proved right – we’ll see.

            Biofuels have fatal petroleum-dependence, poor energy return on investment (EROI), low energy density, abysmal power density, huge water footprint, demonstrable food competition regardless of feedstock, increased environmental damage, promotion of land confiscation and human rights violations, and the supreme irony of increased lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. I don’t think the arguments have changed substantially since this report was published in Jan 2013, see:

            Synthetic hydrocarbon liquid fuels via direct air capture (DAC) or carbon capture utilisation (CCU) technologies are much worse than HFC, in terms of energy efficiency – you can’t beat the Laws of Physics.
            See my comment at:

          • randy wester says

            “Europe seems to manage”

            Because it’s a comparatively mild climate, and because they can burn coal or substutute North Sea or Russian gas, they’re just barely managing. Europeans who don’t understand that their climate is mild, have tried invading Russia several times, and not done so well. Norway is heated by hydro power, Iceland also has geothermal power, but nowhere north or south of 45 degrees is there a city heated solely by wind power or winter solar.

            Yes, you do keep going on about the threat of climate change. Like the auctioneer said “you’re bidding against yourself, sir”. Groundwater depletion and wars over resources are also bad, let’s plan to not have any more of those.

            Not suggesting that fuel prices won’t rise beyond $5 a litre. The demand for gasoline, and to a lesser extent diesel fuel, is highly elastic, so probably nothing but a tax or an actual shortage could get it there now.

            Prime Minister Joe Clark’s minority conservatives lost a confidence vote over a 3 cent a litre increase in excise tax, the next (Liberal) government raised it by 5 cents. We’ve had the Temporary War Income Tax Act for 102 years, I’d say time for the Temporary COVID-19 deficit reduction transport fuel tax of $1.00 a litre, adding another dollar each year until there’s no more federal deficit. Some gonna take the bus to work, some gonna carpool, some will ride a bike in summer, knowledge workers gonna work from home, EV owners gonna drive a lot of rides.

            Please stop repeating the bit about the U.S. and shale oil, yes, it might be difficult or even impossible for the U.S. to remain self sufficient in oil if there is a prolonged return of 2019 demand. It doesn’t really matter, except to the U.S. economy, and even then, really not that much. The U.S. is what… 17 % of world demand? Oil is highly portable and world demand and supply are elastic. The U.S. will import increased amounts of oil, prices will spike, people who drive Escalades will complain, people like me will laugh at them. Municipalities will buy electric buses.

            Of course oil is going to get more expensive than it is now, possibly by a lot.. There’s a global supply glut and a price war, with one of the combatants armed with nuclear-fuelled, nuclear tipped missiles and not likely to be intimidated by the Saudi oil minister. Demand and decline will push oil back over $120 U.S. within three to five years, then maybe even higher.

            Re energy for machinery, thank you for not suggesting swappable, solid state battery packs made of highly energetic nonexistium. I agree with your objections regarding biofuels, but only to a point. Some crop inputs are currently made using combustion without carbon capture. Most transport is done using fossil fuels. Some biofuel processing is done using fossil fuels, or fossil fuelled electricity. Given a clean electric grid, farming can fuel itself. There’s a 2 percent biodiesel and 10 per cent bioethanol requirement here that could fuel the farms. A clean grid and reduced city waste could fuel the farms cleanly, but quickly accomplishing that would eliminate the need for an alternative farm fuel.

          • randy wester (Re your comment Sep 25 at 5:29pm),
            Re Europe, you state: “Because it’s a comparatively mild climate, and because they can burn coal or substutute North Sea or Russian gas, they’re just barely managing.”

            I confess I had a chuckle reading your absurd proposition. I think Icelanders, Russians, Swedes, Norwegians, Finns, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Belarusians, Poles, etc., may perhaps disagree that their climate is “comparatively mild” in winter – compared with what? The North Pole perhaps? The Scottish Highlands is not what I would call a “mild climate” in winter either. Perhaps you are thinking of European countries further South, like Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain?

            North Sea oil production peaked in 1999 at around 6 million barrels per day (Mb/d) and has been declining since. The Norwegian sector holds circa 55% of these oil reserves, and 45% of gas reserves. The COVID-19 crisis could hasten the decline of the North Sea oil and gas sector further. See:

            Per BPSRoWE-2020, in 2019, the Russian Federation was the world’s second largest gas producer (after USA) at 17.0% global share. Russian oil and gas production could also be heading into decline, not because of geology, but it seems due to gross mismanagement and corruption.

            Europe (and the rest of the world) will need to “manage” with inevitable declining global oil and gas supplies. Figure 6 in:
            … shows world oil production to 2012. Since then China peaked in 2015 and is now in decline. USA is in the process of decline. There aren’t that many pre-peak countries left.

            You state: “Yes, you do keep going on about the threat of climate change.”

            It seems to me that you keep dismissing an urgent existential threat as a trifle, which suggests to me you are a climate science denier. Are you, Randy?

            You state: “The demand for gasoline, and to a lesser extent diesel fuel, is highly elastic…”

            Diesel fuel currently powers most primary industry equipment (i.e. agriculture, forestry, mining, fishing), trucks, rail locomotives, and ships, that enables the production and transport of nearly all food/commodities/goods. Diesel consumption is an indicator of economic activity. Disrupt diesel supplies, or increase diesel prices, and economies contract accordingly and prices for essentials like food, drink and medicines, etc., generally rise.

            You state: “…it might be difficult or even impossible for the U.S. to remain self sufficient…”

            The US has been a net importer of crude oil for decades, despite the hype. In Nov 2019, it imported 5.8 Mb/d of crude oil and exported 3.0 Mb/d of crude, and was a net exporter of petroleum products (since Sep 2019). See:

            You ask: “The U.S. is what… 17 % of world demand?”

            Per BPSRoWE-2020, in 2019, US oil consumption (includes inland demand plus international aviation and marine bunkers fuelled at US ports and refinery fuel loss) was 19.4 Mb/d (or 19.7% global share – almost one-fifth). Total liquid fuel consumption (includes inland demand plus international aviation and marine bunkers and refinery fuel loss, plus bio-gasoline, biodiesel, and derivatives of coal and gas) was 20.466 Mb/d (or 20.3% global share).

            You state: “The U.S. will import increased amounts of oil…”

            At 2019 global consumption levels, from where, Randy? Art Berman suggests a decline in US total oil production of circa 6.5 Mb/d by 3Q 2021. Where do you suggest 6.5 Mb/d (‘ballpark’) of extra crude oil imports would come from to make up the inevitable US oil production shortfalls next year, Randy? Which oil net-exporting countries do you think have spare capacity to do that? None I see. I don’t think you appreciate the magnitude of the situation. Perhaps you need to hope US (and global) oil demand stays suppressed, or geopolitics could get very interesting, eh?

            Humanity needs to leave oil, before oil leaves us. Unfortunately, most people are focused on COVID (and US elections) and not looking at the looming energy security and climate change risks.

          • randy wester says

            Yes, the northern European climate has milder temperatures than Alberta because 1. The North Atlantic Current, 2. Lower altitude. It may be more miserable because Scotland isn’t a ‘dry’ cold, but it’s not as cold.

            Alberta is already seeing climate change, crop failures due to drought are much less common, summer rains are more frequent during the critical growing season. Higher CO2 levels are allowing significantly higher grain yields.

            Europeans would be wise to keep their nuclear power for as long as possible.

            No, the COVID Crisis won’t greatly change the reserves in the ground. Yes, the U.S will import more oil. Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Peru, the Middle East. Their production will taper, not stop.

            Prices will rise, but not quickly enough. The U.S. needs to double fuel prices now.

            Oil isn’t the evil that coal is. And nucllear power is 60 years old. France knew what to do in the 1970’s. No, most people around the world aren’t focused on the U.S. I’m focused on going all in on natural gas.

          • randy wester (Re your comment Sep 11 at 5:11pm),
            You state: “Alberta is already seeing climate change, crop failures due to drought are much less common, summer rains are more frequent during the critical growing season. Higher CO2 levels are allowing significantly higher grain yields.”

            Canada (and northern Europe) will be one of the few countries/regions benefiting from climate change, with a trend to ‘milder’ temperatures. Higher CO2 levels will favour higher grain yields in Canada and higher latitudes of USA and Europe.

            Lower latitude crop growing regions, like Australia, will be worse off with more extreme high temperatures due to escalating climate change. Overall, the world will likely have less food produced.

            A PNAS research article headlined “Temperature increase reduces global yields of major crops in four independent estimates”, includes:

            “Without CO2 fertilization, effective adaptation, and genetic improvement, each degree-Celsius increase in global mean temperature would, on average, reduce global yields of wheat by 6.0%, rice by 3.2%, maize by 7.4%, and soybean by 3.1%.”

            You state:
            “No, the COVID Crisis won’t greatly change the reserves in the ground. Yes, the U.S will import more oil. Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Peru, the Middle East. Their production will taper, not stop.”

            It’s not about how much oil is in the ground, but the rate that the oil can be extracted. Most oil producing countries are post-peak, meaning there will be inevitable declining oil production in future.

            96% of Canada’s proven oil reserves are located in oil sands. Nearly all of Canada’s oil exports already go to USA. Canadian oil sands and tight oil are expensive to produce compared with ‘conventional’ oil. Baker Hughes drill rig count for Canada was at 71 in the week ending Sep 25, increased by 7 from previous week to Sep 18, down 56 from 27 Sep 2019 (or down 44% compared with the same time last year) – Canadian tight oil production will inevitably be much less in 2H 2021. Per BPSRoWE-2020, in 2019, Canada was the fourth largest oil producer at 5.651 Mb/d (or 5.9% global share). I’d suggest it’s unlikely Canada has capacity to significantly increase production further to supplement a likely reduced US production shortfall of 6.5 Mb/d by 3Q 2021.

            Mexico oil production peaked in 2004 and has been declining since, so there will be less and less oil (if any soon) exported from Mexico to supply USA in future.

            Although Venezuela reportedly has the world’s largest oil reserves (17.5% global share), production has been falling, due to gross mismanagement. Unless there’s a regime change, there will be less and less oil (if any soon) exported from Venezuela in future.

            Peru doesn’t have significant oil – did you mean Brazil? Brazil looks like its oil production is close to peaking, so it’s unlikely Brazil has extra capacity to export significantly more oil to USA.

            The Middle East doesn’t have significant spare production capacity to export much more oil to USA. Matt concludes: “We better get prepared to live with much less oil than we take for granted.” That was said before COVID. COVID has drastically reduced further investment in oil and gas exploration and future production, with many oil and gas producers facing bankruptcy.

            You state: “I’m focused on going all in on natural gas.”

            The evidence I see suggests you will soon find that would be a mistake. I’d suggest don’t expect fossil gas to remain cheap and abundant for much longer either. Humanity needs to leave fossil gas, before gas leaves us.

    • Martin Copelin says

      Geoff, if there is a limited nuclear war between warring countries and perhaps a few more volcanoes erupting, you can say goodbye to solar and windmills. For quite sometime there would be very cold conditions which would devastate agriculture. None of you climate change fanatics ever consider this aspect.

      • Ronald Brakels says

        Peak effect on solar insolation utilized by PV reaching the ground from 1991 eruption of Pinatubo under 0.4%. Peak effect of 1815 Mount Tambora eruption, estimated under 0.6%. Effect on wind not noted. A limited nuclear war may easily have more of an effect on oil, coal, and natural gas shipments than solar and wind generation.

      • Geoff Miell says

        Martin Copelin,
        What makes you think a nuclear war, if it begins, would then stay “limited”?

        Rather than worrying about the ‘what-if’/maybe events of thermonuclear war, super-volcanic eruption(s) and/or major meteor impact(s), that may not happen, I’d suggest we/humanity need to be dealing with the urgent and escalating risks of climate change that would render increasingly more areas of this planet Earth uninhabitable and end human civilization before 2100, if we don’t rapidly reduce our GHG emissions and get atmospheric CO2 levels back down to 350 ppm. The current atmospheric CO2 level at Mauna Loa is around 420 ppm.

        Per ERA5 data, the Earth System was already at +1.3 °C global mean warming (relative to Holocene Epoch pre-industrial age) in 2020.

        +1.3 °C warming is already dangerous, as we know, because we are already experiencing it.

        Barring super-volcanic eruption, major meteor impact, and/or global thermonuclear war event(s), the Earth System is ‘locked-in’ to surpass the +1.5 °C global mean warming threshold, likely before 2030, and on current GHG emissions trajectory, is likely to surpass +2.0 °C global mean warming threshold before 2050.
        See Table 1 in:

        Risks of simultaneous crop failure will increase disproportionately between 1.5 and 2 °C warming, so surpassing the 1.5 °C threshold will represent a threat to global food security.

        Inadequate global food supplies mean global famine, and if that continues long enough, then billions will likely die. These are ‘threat multipliers’ for geopolitical conflict, and ultimately civilization collapse.

        Above +2 °C warming may trigger a “Hothouse Earth” scenario of self-reinforcing warming that would be beyond human control. There are also increasing risks ‘tipping points’ could begin to manifest between +1.5 to +2 °C warming.

        +3 °C or more warming means for quite sometime there would be very hostile climate conditions which would devastate global agriculture and be unliveable in many regions for people. Climate science deniers don’t ever consider this aspect.

        Ian Dunlop, a senior member of the Advisory Board for Breakthrough, National Centre for Climate Restoration, a member of the Club of Rome, and former Chair of the Australian Coal Association, was in a Zoom conversation on 3 Jun 2021, on how Bradfield CAN find solutions to Australia’s immediate existential national security threat – climate change, which is now available in the YouTube video titled “Bradfield can do better on climate – In conversation with Ian Dunlop – 3rd June 2021”, duration 0:55:27. Ian’s presentation is introduced from about the six minute mark and ends around the 25 minute mark, followed by Q&A.

        • randy wester says

          Australia produced 264 TWh of electricity in 2019, more than half (56%) from coal, and 20% from natural gas.

          The Bruce Nuclear powerplant in Canada produces 48 TWh a year, cost $6 billion to build between 1970 and 1987. Variations on the type have operated partly on thorium and can produce medical isotopes, but of course they also produce highly radioactive waste.

          Australia has a fantastic solar energy resource, especially compared to Canada’s, yet the growth in renewable generation is just now catching up to 1970’s ratio of 21%.

          A two percent annual increase in renewable power with a 1 percent increase in usage will eventually get Australia the last 80% of the way to 100% carbon emission free power. Or there’s the route Ontario, Canada took, which was a lot faster and cleaner.

          Gas is cleaner than coal, with a lower carbon content per TWh of energy. But if my doctor told me to flat out stop drinking, and I told him a year later that I’d swapped out 20% of my whiskey for port, and 2% of my average consumption for water, but I was drinking more because of the heat, he might not like my kidneys’ chances of making it another 40 years.

          Ontario saved the cost of building more power plants by adding (mostly rooftop) solar. But without the nuclear plants they couldn’t have stopped burning coal, and without the wind power they’d be burning a lot more natural gas.

  7. Manne Schulze says

    Hey Ronald etc,

    As always your posts are both informative and entertaining, so thanks a lot.

    Considering lithium batteries are not recycled as we speak, and some of the electrode metals they use are mined in questionable circumstances (i.e. child labour in the Congo), what’s your take on the sustainability and environmental impact of that type of batteries? For household purposes and car batteries, is there anything on the horizon that’s better than the current lithium ones. Something that can be or is worth to be recycled easily?

    • Ronald Brakels says

      A 480 kg battery pack in a Tesla Model 3 Long Range electric car will potentially result in no additional emissions after its made if charged with renewable energy. Over ten years the average Australian passenger car will burn around 10 tonnes of fuel and result in around 37 tonnes of CO2 emissions. So while not perfect, batteries can be way better than burning oil.

      Now I’ve gotten that out of the way, the main improvement we are likely to see in the sustainability of batteries over the next few years is increased lifespan and reliability and increased energy density, reducing the amount of material required per kilowatt-hour of storage. While there are various possibilities for non-lithium energy storage for electric vehicles, nothing looks able to replace lithium for years to come.

      Obviously materials should not be bought from anyone who obtains them inhumanely. My father was a child laborer, has a mildly deformed skeleton as a result, and never thought it was much fun.

  8. Randy Wester says

    Tesla is plannng to source cobalt ftom mines in the Cobalt, Ontario area. The average age there in 2016 was 47.6 and rising at almost 1 yeaer per year, so probably not going to use child labour.

    Also probably not going to pollute the place worse than it is today, and Tesla has greatly reduced the amount of cobalt in natteries.

    There’s no shortage of lithium, and battery recycling efficiency continues to improve.

  9. Tesla Battery Day Tomorrow morning Wed 23 Sept. 06:30 Aust Eastern Standard Time
    Let’s see if Elon has some answers to questions above.

  10. Stephen English says

    I think Australians have already shown that they do not want to buy battery electric cars and as we supposedly have freedom of action why should we be forced to. Hydrogen cars are a much better way to go but we are not there yet. Remember fax machines? All businesses had one starting in the 1980s (and they superceded telex). Emails have now replaced faxes. People will ask in the future ‘How did you run a car on a battery?’
    The idea of making cars in Australia again is ridiculous. The cost of a Holden Cruze in Adelaide was four times the cost in Korea. We would never generate the volume in Australia to be competitive even if we invested lots of capital. The Holden Commodore was a very good car but it had one problem – it had a badge that said ‘Made in Australia’. The richer people all bought cars that say ‘Made in Germany’. The poorer people want to be able to buy very low cost cars which rules out battery vehicles because when they buy them they will be needing a new battery. The people in the middle want to buy quality cars with many of the same features as the German ones and are happy for the badge to say ‘Made in Korea’ or ‘Made in Japan’ or even ‘Made in China’ because that means they get excellent value for their invested dollar. Why is Hyundai so successful? We have been driving four of them over the last 16 years. They might be one of the first with Hydrogen cars. The Commonwealth government is on the right track with their emissions reduction.

    • Stephen English,
      You state:
      “I think Australians have already shown that they do not want to buy battery electric cars and as we supposedly have freedom of action why should we be forced to.”

      I think many Australians are waiting for better battery-electric vehicle (BEV) choices, and I’d suggest their next vehicle purchase won’t be an internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV). ICEV sales have been in decline since 2017, and I think it will only get worse for ICEV sales in future.

      You state: “Hydrogen cars are a much better way to go but we are not there yet.”

      Hydrogen fuel-cell battery electric vehicles (HFCEVs) can never compete with BEVs due to much worse energy efficiency – constrained by the limits of physics.

      Overall efficiencies for renewable electricity generated through to that energy dissipated at the road wheels to do useful work for equivalent mass vehicles (per Transport & Environment):
      • BEVs: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 73%;
      • HFCEVs: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 22%;
      • Power2Liquid Hydrocarbon Fuels-ICEVs: 13%.

      The Conversation article titled “Hydrogen cars won’t overtake electric vehicles because they’re hampered by the laws of science” posted on Jun 3, gives more favourable figures for HFCEVs but it’s still not enough:
      • BEVs: _ _ _ _ _ 80 watts delivered to vehicle final drive from 100 watts generated
      • HFCEVs: _ _ _ 38 watts delivered to vehicle final drive from 100 watts generated

      You state: “The idea of making cars in Australia again is ridiculous.”

      Yet I see Sweden, with a smaller population of circa 10 million (compared with Australia’s circa 26 million), for the full year 2018, Volvo global vehicle sales reached a record 642,253 (571,577) cars, an increase of 12.4 per cent versus 2017. And Sweden is the home of two of the largest truck manufacturers in the world: Volvo AB and Scania AB. I’d say it’s attitudes like yours that are ridiculous/defeatist.

      You ask: “Why is Hyundai so successful?”

      Because companies like Hyundai, Volvo, BMW, VW, etc. in their respective countries are willing to invest in and produce vehicles that people around the globe have been willing to buy.

      You state: “The Commonwealth government is on the right track with their emissions reduction.”

      I think the Feds are incompetent with their climate change and energy policies – not even close to what must to be done. Australia is unlikely to even meet its woefully inadequate GHG emissions reduction commitments.

      When the world or a country needs to stop emitting CO2 (includes “Earth System Feedbacks”, FF use, cement production, land use change, etc.):
      • Australia’s contribution is now too late to hold at 1.5°C;
      • Australia’s contribution by 2022 for 66% probability to hold at 1.8°C;
      • Australia’s contribution by 2024 for 50% probability to hold at 1.8°C.
      • Whole world contribution by 2035 for 66% probability to hold at 1.5°C;
      • Whole world contribution by 2042 for 50% probability to hold at 1.5°C;
      • Whole world contribution by 2055 for 66% probability to hold at 1.8°C;
      • Whole world contribution by 2067 for 50% probability to hold at 1.8°C.

      Australia is a GHG emissions laggard.

      • Randy Wester says

        The main impetus behind the original Prius hybrid was to reduce urban emissions and particulates, problems which either hydrogen fuel cells or batteries can solve. Hyundai and others are working at HFC technology to resolve the pollution angle first and foremost.

        Yes, there’s an efficiency problem with converting power to hydrogen and back. Probably there’s less pollution from an ICE hybrid electric directly burning Methane from CNG or LNG, than from ‘grey’ hydrogen. But otherwise curtailed electricity has no efficiency issue to be concerned about. Curtailment is a dead loss, except for equipment wear, which is minimal on wind turbines and zero on solar PV.

        While we know modern batteries have a far higher round trip efficiency than for hydrogen storage, they are also lower in energy density, slower to refill / charge, in chronic short supply, and not ideal for seasonal storage.
        For small vehicles only the short supply problem is relevant, at a grid level

        My last FLO session cost $0.44 per KWh, which is 6.6 cents per KM in summer, 15 cents per KM in winter. Grid electricity at 5 cents can produce hydrogen at $2.40 per KG electricity cost at the hydrolyzer, which is only 2.4 cents per KM in a Mirai. And the fuel cell reaction is exothermic, so if the heat is captured there’s no cold weather penalty.

        To be clear, I doubt that hydrogen fuel cell cars will be ‘everywhere’ if lithium ion (or sodium ion) production levels can be cranked up. But for shipping, heavy trucks, seasonal energy storage in northern climates there isn’t really any credible emission-free alternative, and lithium batteries can be destroyed by being left outside in the cold.

  11. Why not look at the feasibility of moving manufacturing to the north eg. Darwin, where you would save a 3000km journey for vehicle exports and material imports. Having worked in automotive in Melbourne, it was always a major issue being so physically far away.

  12. Darwin makes sense. Easy shipping to the rest of the world. With lots of sunlight for solar panels. And lots of space for solar panels! Add storage batteries and you have 24 hours “free” energy to make the cars of the future.

    I spent 5 years in Cairns. Hot? Humid? Not so! We had solar panels and the aircon ran all day (no batteries for night use, but the evenings were passable with just ceiling fans).

  13. Frank Bakker says

    “Economists call it “the Dutch disease“. Fortunately, it’s not as disgusting as most things we associate with the Dutch.”

    Did you really say that Finn?? Yes my surname is Dutch because my parents were.

  14. “Humanity needs to leave oil, before oil leaves us.” Spot on! To think we can burn every year an amount of fossil fuel that took perhaps 1,000s of years to form and that we would not run out is simply foolhardy. Creating even solar panels that last only 20 years is still the best option – even if it costs more fossil fuel and it would create, but there’s a point when renewal energy will create more energy than it took to create it. What we need to focus on are batteries and PHS (pumped hydro storage) and perhaps low impact nuclear (300 years than 19,000 years radio-active danger after the fuel rods are spent) from Thorium Mollten Salt Reactors (check them out). Grey hydrogen (from fossil fuel) perhaps for trucking. Whatever the final solution or solutions, why is it all just talk and no action??

    • randy wester says

      Why all talk and no action?

      Michael Moore asked the same question, sort of, and in the after party discussion wondered aloud why there’s too many people and talked about his many grandchildren’s future. Individual action counts, scientific development can move the goalposts, and politicians will tell you what you want to hear.

      There’s been enough research to get solar PV and electric cars to a pretty good state of technical development.

      Once solar PV ia less expensive than grid power in a region, it gets bought. Once good performing electric cars became available they started to sell.

      GM builds a $5,000 city car in China, maybe there’s a need for something like the Bolt with half the battery. Or half the battery + space to add modules.

  15. I’m going to spruik the company I work for here. SEA Electric (

    We manufacture EV trucks (B2B mostly) as well as mini buses and van. Technology has been in development since around 2011, with production starting around 2017.

    Recently with O/S investment we have entered into a deal with Hino to use their SKD’s to produce more standardised and cost effective (build wise) trucks in Australia.

  16. Kevin Judah WHITE says

    On some broader issues raised by a friend of mine, eg. re road taxes. If no road tax is to be levied on battery electric vehicles (BEVs) then there should be a sunset clause put into the legislation so that this doesn’t drift on indefinitely. The reality though is that we need large investments to encourage the use of BEVs. Apart from their initial cost, the lack of infrastructure is the biggest hinderance to the take up of EVs (‘range anxiety’). Would you want to divert money from, say, social infrastructure to do this or would you rather have road users pay for it? Additionally, we may need to upgrade the electrical power distribution infrastructure, at least in certain areas, as most cars are going to charged at night from the grid.

    There’s also an economic fairness issue: that subsidising EVs via not having them pay for road use unfairly discriminates against-lower income people who are stuck with, or can only afford to buy used, ICEVs since most EVs are bought by the comfortable middle class.

    “Studies have demonstrated that the ability to promptly participate in an abrupt change in the transportation infrastructure is income-dependent. Any fiscal stimulus should be designed not to be disproportionally beneficial for people who can afford” to purchase EVs (Jan 2014, Bremen Univ.).

    Although the gap between EVs and ICEVs has been narrowing, affluent buyers still dominate the EV market (Oct 2019, . A recent article (2021-04-13, ) states that “there are still relatively few electric vehicle offerings, many of them marketed as luxury vehicles, such that EV sales and subsidies have typically gone to relatively wealthy households”.

    I would not be entirely against removing the road tax subsidy if it was tapered against income. This would get people into EVs who otherwise would not and at the same time wouldn’t dissuade affluent EV devotees (although they might grumble). Hence, such a move would increase the uptake of EVs. “Incentives for used EVs and tiered subsidy levels based on income would bring the benefits of vehicle electrification to a more diverse cross-section of Canadians, explain researchers at the International Council on Clean Transportation”.

    Also, there are other less discriminatory ways to encourage use of BEVs: reduced tolls, use of bus lanes and removal of the luxury car tax to name three. Governments can also use income-qualified incentives to retire old vehicles similar to what the Bay Area in San Francisco has done .

    In Victoria, “electric vehicle owners will pay on average an additional $330 a year in distance-based road usage charges” which compares with “average internal combustion engine vehicle owner’s almost $600 in fuel excise” . So, EV owners are already $270/yr ahead on average even with the road tax. Complaining about having to pay a road tax for EVs is starting to look like middle class welfare to me.

    The debate about EVs’ impact on the environment is quite complex as it necessarily involves a full LCA (Life Cycle Assessment). (I have attached a report from the Congressional Research Service (2020-06-16)) which is not too long but looks at many of the important issues.) Some assessments come to the conclusion that BEVs are overall more damaging that ICEVs but most others conclude the opposite, albeit that BEVs do have their own environmental problems, mostly to do with the battery. Crudely, BEVs require more energy and resources to build than ICEVs but pay this back over time. How much is still open to calculations for different vehicles and modelling. A 2017 Christmas Day edition of ‘The Guardian’ said the following:

    A report by the Ricardo consultancy estimated that production of an average petrol car will involve emissions amounting to the equivalent of 5.6 tons of CO2, while for an average electric car, the figure is 8.8 tons. Of that, nearly half is incurred in producing the battery. Despite this, the same report estimated that over its whole lifecycle, the electric car would still be responsible for 80% of the emissions of the petrol car. More recently, an FT analysis used lifecycle estimates to question the green credentials of electric cars, especially heavy ones.

    Also, “Studies generally suggest that BEVs could be responsible for greater human toxicity and ecosystems effects than their ICEV equivalents, based on current mining and recycling technologies” (Environmental Effects of Battery Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles, p31, Congressional Research Service, p31).

    One of the major problems occurs at the end of the battery’s life. Li-ion batteries have not been designed with recycling in mind. Performance and longevity have been emphasized and the post-lifecycle has not been given much attention. In 2019 less than 5% of Li-ion batteries were recycled. Recycling has not historically been cost-competitive with using virgin materials.

    There’s also a dark side to EVs:

    “Mining activities in countries like China or the Democratic Republic of Congo often cause human rights violations and vast ecological devastation: deforestation, polluted rivers, contaminated soil.”

    “Amnesty International says human rights abuses, including the use of child labour, in the extraction of minerals, like cobalt, used to make the batteries that power electric vehicles is undermining ethical claims about the cars.

    Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty’s Secretary General, told the recent [Mar 2019] Nordic EV Summit in Oslo, that climate change should not be tackled at the expense of human rights. ‘Without radical changes, the batteries which power green vehicles will continue to be tainted by human rights abuses,’ he said.”

    For instance, >70% of Co comes from the DRC and is a conflict mineral. There are dangerous mining practices involved in the DRC to get this metal and too often children are forced into labour to obtain it.

    The quest for Li also has its problems. Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Australia are big exporters of Li but it takes a lot of water to get at this metal with the concomitant risk of ground water damage. “The race is on to find a steady source of lithium, a key component in rechargeable electric car batteries. But while the EU focuses on emissions, the lithium gold rush threatens environmental damage on an industrial scale.”

    • randy wester says

      Most EV buyers also get rooftop solar, either before or soon after getting the EV, and some of the same ‘but the poor…’ arguments against solar subsidies, feed in tariffs, etc have been offered against both.

      Most of all new vehicles are bought by the ‘comfortable’. Maybe the trick is to figure out how to arrange the financial cost of electric to get and keep the all-in cost of electric below the cost of gas or diesel, and maybe shift more of the general taxation from wages to fossil fuels.

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