Opinion

The Electric Cart Before the Electric Horse

the electric cart before the electric horse

In the various announcements recently about moving the trucking industry towards zero carbon emissions, it appears that here in Australia we are still putting the electric cart before the electric horse.

The delivery of a growing number of electric trucks, the Mercedes eActros models going into the Centurion fleet and the electric Volvos and Fuso eCanters unveiled by Team Global Express, follow batches of truck deliveries to businesses like Woolworths with larger numbers of electric trucks going into their fleets.

However, the process of getting Australia ready for the transition across to electric/hydrogen/HVO powered fleets will not just happen in these large national fleets which are part of large national corporations. 

These seriously hefty businesses have access to real estate and infrastructure where it is possible to support a zero emission fleet. These kinds of businesses can go out and procure the right kind of site and power/fuel infrastructure needed to run a fleet.

In total, their fleets do amount to a large number of vehicles on our roads and over time they will transition across to zero carbon as capital equipment is replaced. 

However, the vast majority of the trucks on our roads do not belong to large national fleets. They belong to much smaller entities which are based all over the country and many in rural areas. Most trucks belong to entities which only own a few trucks.

These trucks will also need new low carbon infrastructure to supply the electric power, hydrogen gas or liquid, or the HVO diesel replacement. This will need to be scattered across the continent to ensure the effective delivery of road transport services.

Which is going to come first, the zero emission trucks or or the zero emission infrastructure to support them?

A trucking operation based in a rural area is not going to go out and start buying these low emission trucks when the nearest support infrastructure is hundreds of kilometres away, and the electric charging or hydrogen fuel suppliers are not going to set up infrastructure where there aren’t  going to be enough trucks to make it viable.

If the infrastructure existed, the local trucking operators would dip a toe in the zero emission waters and the trucks would come. If the trucks were based in that area, the energy suppliers would invest to support them.

That looks like a stalemate, and no-one is willing to take the risk to jump first, just in case the infrastructure or the zero emission fleets don’t eventuate.

This is where our governments, both state and federal need to step in. They have set out commendable carbon reduction targets without appearing to do anything to work out how such a transition will happen. It’s all fine words, but very little action. 

If there are no incentives, either financial or in terms of compliance allowances to make that first move, not much is going to happen until it’s too late. We can’t rely on market forces to maks the kind of structural change needed in our industry and to take us forward in the brave new zero carbon world.

 

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