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Wednesday, 31 August 1994
Page: 738

(Question No. 1483)

Senator Coulter asked the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, upon notice, on 22 June 1994:

  (1) Given that electric vehicle technology is advancing rapidly and that existing battery technology is the main impediment to widespread usage of electric vehicles, how much funding has the Government provided for researching energy storage technology in the past two years.

  (2) How much funding has the Government made available for researching energy storage technology in the present budget.

  (3) What would be the effect on greenhouse gas emissions and urban air pollution of a shift from fossil fuelled to electric transport.

  (4) Has the department made any assessment of the public acceptability of electric vehicles, should suitable long-range battery technology be developed.

  (5) Is the Minister aware of a report by the US-based World Resources Institute that has concluded that if we are to deal with all the problems fossil fuelled vehicles cause, any investment in vehicle technology that is not designed to advance electric vehicles is a waste of time and money.

Senator Collins —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) The major avenue through which the Government provides direct support for energy research is the Energy Research and Development Corporation (ERDC). Over the past two financial years, ERDC has committed $2.4 million to the development of energy storage research in general, including $0.75 million to storage research of relevance to electric vehicles (eg. batteries). Including funds provided to these projects from other sources, the total funding under ERDC for energy storage research was $6.6 million.

  Apart from ERDC investments, total Government funding also arises from grants made by bodies such as the Australian Research Council and the internal allocation of resources within public sector organisations such as CSIRO and the universities. Up to date information on total Government funding of energy research is not available.

  (2) The Corporation's investments in a specific area are dependent largely on the quantity and quality of proposals received in the particular field. Several energy storage proposals are the subject of current discussion. This year's expected expenditure, therefore, is not known at this stage

  (3) A major report by the International Energy Agency entitled "Cars and Climate Change" concluded that the greenhouse gas emissions arising from the use of electric vehicles would be comparable to petrol engine vehicles if the electricity used by electric vehicles was derived from coal fired power plants. Some 80% of Australia's electricity is presently produced by coal fired power plants. Therefore, any change in total greenhouse gas emissions would come from vehicles using the one-fifth of electricity generated from sources other than coal. The net effect of this depends on the electricity generation mix.

  The use of electric vehicles in place of petrol engine vehicles would lead to a significant reduction in urban air pollution arising from emissions of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides.

  (4) Yes. There is no doubt that the public acceptability of electric vehicles would be enhanced if an advanced battery was developed which would extend the range of electric vehicles. However, other factors such as the cost of the electric vehicle and the recharging time of the battery, will also determine consumer acceptability.

  (5) The Department of Primary Industries and Energy is aware of the arguments advanced in the World Resources Institute study and of other studies relating to this issue. The Department's assessment of research findings in this area is that there is considerable potential to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and urban pollutants arising from the use of motor vehicles generally. Greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by improving the fuel efficiency of petrol engine vehicles, using some alternative transport fuels (eg. natural gas, ethanol) and using electric vehicles which rely on electricity produced from sources other than coal. With regard to urban air pollution, studies conducted in the US suggest that it would be far less costly to address the problem by reformulating petrol than using electric vehicles.