Should Australia ban petrol cars?

7 February 2020
"A necessary step towards a zero-carbon economy"
Britain has announced it will ban petrol and hybrid cars by 2035. University of Sydney experts comment on whether Australia can and should adopt a similar policy.

Britain's ban on petrol and diesel car sales has been brought forward to 2035.

Move towards electric vehicles achievable in Australia

Professor David Levinson is an academic from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering who specialises in transport engineering and believes a similar move would be achievable if implemented in Australia.

“It is great to see Britain taking the lead on banning new internal combustion engine vehicles, which is essential to reduce pollution and carbon emissions. Electrification of the vehicle fleet is coming, as the technology for electric vehicles (EVs) and batteries steadily improves and costs drop with scale, and policy can accelerate the change," said Professor Levinson.

“It is expected that EVs will be less expensive to buy and operate in the next few years. Unfortunately, Australia has been unwilling to move aggressively on EVs, despite the almost unlimited sunshine providing the opportunity for truly inexpensive renewable power," he said.

“Cleaner vehicles will make cities smell nicer, less noisy, and overall more pleasant to be in.

“One issue that needs more attention is the charging infrastructure. While people with garages at home can install chargers, those living in multi-family housing and parking on-street will need convenient charging locations. As EVs get more widely deployed, cities will need to build more charging facilities, and petrol stations will need to adapt.”

Electric cars require charging infrastructure to run.

Transport is Australia’s second biggest polluter – petrol car ban necessary for zero-carbon economy

Dr Gareth Bryant is an academic from the University of Sydney’s Department of Political Economy who says that while a petrol car ban is necessary for a zero-carbon economy, governments should invest in other clean, public transport alternatives.

“Banning petrol cars is a necessary step towards a zero-carbon economy. Australia has one of the lowest uptakes of electric cars in the OECD, at less than 1 percent of new sales," said Dr Bryant.

“For electric cars in Australia to make climate sense, we also need to make sure they are powered by renewable energy, not fossil fuels," he said.

“Moves to ban electric cars need to be part of a broader plan to transform the transport sector, which is Australia’s second highest polluter behind energy.

“Governments should invest in genuine alternatives to cars, such as public and active transport (walking and cycling), to ensure that clean transport is accessible to everyone.”

Grid capacity must be expanded to accomodate electric vehicles

Mengyu Li is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Integrated Sustainability Analysis in the School of Physics at the University of Sydney. 

Her recent research modelled how many electric cars can be supported by the current Australian grid.

“We found that the energy grid in Australia could only support a maximum 10 percent penetration of the car market by electric vehicles with an unregulated recharging regime," said Ms Li.

“If Australia was to adopt targets as ambitious as Britain’s on electric vehicles, controlled charging and an expansion of the capacity of the grid would be required.”

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