Farmers listen to talks about electric vehicles outside Lismore, May 2023
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Farmers’ questions answered about electric vehicles and tractors

Farmers for Climate Action and Solar Citizens teamed up on Thursday night at Blue Fattoria Farm outside Lismore to talk to local farmers about how electrifying transport can help stop climate change.

electric cars outside lismore
Image: Bridie Schmidt

Stuart Watson, a former Essential Energy engineer and owner of a solar company business in Port Macquarie spoke about his early efforts converting a Daihatsu Charade to electric in 2007. Watson outlined how regional areas in particular can benefit from electrification, and that in fact the grid is under-utilised – meaning more EVs will equal better utilisation of the network.

“My involvement with Essential Energy really highlights the fact that Essential Energy is … going to get the most out of the increased use of the network,” he said to the audience.

“We can use the asset – that the wires that bind us together more effectively…farmers can utilise electrification to save money, to keep the money in the district so you’re not filling up your diesel ute and sending the money to Singapore, so we’re getting better energy security, it’s a really good news story.”

Watson highlighted that in terms of farming equipment, there are manufacturers overseas already selling electric tractors. He cited Solectrac, which he says is selling small electric tractors priced similarly to combustion engine tractors.

“There’s massive maintenance savings,” he also added.

Farmers concerns about EVs

One farmer expressed concerns about thermal runaway in the case of crashes in regional areas. Watson said that statistically, EVs are safer in accidents because thermal runaway is slow. However, in combustion engine vehicles, explosions are immediate and death is more likely.

Others pointed out that new battery chemistries such as BYD’s lithium-iron phosphate Blade battery is much safer and very resistant to thermal runaway when punctured.

(EV Fire Safe also provides free resources for emergency responders on this topic.)

Another farmer asked about charging speeds for EVs with large batteries. Watson cited the example of Janus, which is converting prime movers and planning a battery-swap system for long haul transport.

Another concern is around the need for numerous apps in order to use various public charging networks. Whilst the need for apps will remain for some time, there are EV fast-chargers that can “plug and play” already in operation in Europe (vehicles need to have appropriate hardware and software to be able to talk to these chargers.)

“You’re talking to someone who doesn’t like having even one app on his phone!” said the farmer.

Electric ute on show

On show was an electric ute made by LDV – the all-electric version of the T60.

However, its lacklustre specifications did not whet farmers’ interest. The eT60 is a rear-wheel drive utility truck that offers a 1-tonne payload. Solar Citizens says it can tow 1-tonne, but is not rated for towing in Australia (the government’s department of infrastructure however does list a 1-tonne towing capability on its Rover website however.)

electric ute
The LDV eT60. Image: Bridie Schmidt

As Solar Citizens pointed out, the lack of 4WD and low towing capacity would not be suitable for on-farm use.

Additionally, the eT60 is priced some $20,000 higher in Australia – more than $90,000 – than in New Zealand due to a lack of government incentives aimed at the sector. (While certain states have $3,000 rebates and other incentives in Australia, they have cut-off points of less than $69,000.)

Part of the issue here is that Australia remains, among developed nations, alone with Russia in not having legislated Fuel Efficiency Standards.

Whilst in other countries carmakers need to sell electric vehicles to bring down their average fleet emissions – Australia only has voluntary standards introduced by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.

This means that Australian drivers and farmers have less choice of electric vehicles than in other nations – both at the affordable sub-$40,000 end of the market, and also at the upper utility vehicle end of the market.

The federal government is currently inviting submissions on what should be built into a legislated Fuel Efficiency Standard. Solar Citizen’s Clean Transport Campaign Manager Ajaya Haikerwal outlined the importance of ambitious standards, and also invited people to sign its petition.

Zero Emissions Byron is also inviting comment for our own submission. If you would like to let us know your thoughts, please email Submissions close next Wednesday, May 31 2023.


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