UNSW forum brings transport sector together on solar-electric revolution

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Last week the University of New South Wales’s (UNSW) Digital Grid Futures Institute brought together actors from all over the transport and electric vehicle (EV) industry to discuss the electrification of the transport sector, the challenges of the task and the collective road forward.

The aim of UNSW’s Electrifying Transportation forum was to bring together players from throughout an expansive, and sometimes disparate industry, with researchers and technology innovators. In addition to addresses from UNSW academics, the forum also featured talks from representatives of Tesla, AGL Energy, Tritium, NRMA and Aurecon.

Despite the expansiveness of perspectives in the room, all agreed that the electrification of the transport sector is being stalled by three major concerns; the perennial concern of range anxiety, the paucity of public charging infrastructure and the lingering price disparity between EV and petrol vehicles.

That all in attendance agreed upon these issues is hardly surprising considering the investment and resultant technological innovation seen in the market in recent months, particularly, as Professor Martin Green notes, the integration of solar technology. The consensus is even less surprising when we remember the EV manufactures the world over are involved in an unprecedented collaborative push in EV R&D. Such collaboration could provide the economies of scale required to bring down the costs of EV.

The integration of solar, such as Lightyear One prototype released in June, mentioned explicitly by Green, set the tone for a series of solar PV integrated EV projects looking specifically to overcome the problem of range anxiety. Toyota and Hyundai followed suit with the announcement of trials for the new Prius PHV and the unveiling of the hybrid Sonata respectively.

However, for a variety of reasons, these ventures can only ever prove to be linkages to the electrification of the transport sector, for the technology is not yet self-sufficient or affordable enough to reach economies of scale, nor, it must be said, is the technology aesthetically variable. To the last point, UNSW academics noted advances made at the university in recent years, such as spray-on solar cells, could result in a technological solution aesthetically akin to solar paint

The dearth of EV charging infrastructure is similarly on the radar of young companies like Chargefox and Evie. The latter, Australia’s only public ultra-rapid EV charging network, now provides regular charging stations enabling EV users to drive from Adelaide to Cairns.

Clearly these three problems are on everyone’s radar, but the type of troubleshooting facilitated by the UNSW forum is just the manner of interaction between willing players

that can accelerate the electrification of the transport system, an eventuation that could prove one of the most defining of the century.