WellBeing 203 Editor’s Letter
My eldest daughter is 17.
You can read that sentence as a declaration of virile accomplishment or as a plea for help. I can assure you that it’s mostly the latter, with a modicum of hapless spectatorhood thrown in. Teenage girls have always been a potent brew but add social media into the mix and you have a potion that is at once entrancing and terrifying. Not the least of the concoction is that precisely at their time of opening to burgeoning personal power and exotic influences, the capacity to drive becomes part of the equation. For me, that has in turn opened a question, and finding the answer to that question is like tap-dancing on a landmine.
There are a few pathways Elder Daughter may take once the HSC is accomplished and many of them will entail her moving away from home. Some of them will require possession of a vehicle. The most likely course appears that she will be bequeathed my current car and I will get another, which is where the rub occurs: what vehicle to buy?
My disposition and beliefs tell me that I must buy an electric vehicle (EV), but it’s not that simple. As a starting point, EVs are still relatively expensive in Australia but that really is just the start. There is talk out there that the batteries for electric cars have a short life and can cost between $8,000 and $20,000 to replace. From what I can research, the short-life part of that is not necessarily true. It seems that batteries these days are expected to last around 500,000 kms. The replacement cost is also projected to come down to around $2,500 in the next few years. That seems reasonable, but what if the worst case scenarios are right?
Then there are the questions raised as to the genuine environmental credentials of EVs. Manufacturing EVs does generate more emissions than ICE vehicles but that is soon offset in the running of the car. However, how long it takes to offset those production emissions will depend on how you charge your car. At the moment in Australia around 80 per cent of the energy supplied by the grid still comes from burning coal. If you charge your EV using the grid then it will take upwards of 125,000 kms to get into positive emissions territory but if you were to use your own solar power from a home charging station then you would be in positive territory by the time of your first service (around 15,000 km).
That all changes of course, if the grid becomes more substantially supplied with sustainable energy sources, and it looks as though it will. Then there is the possibility that when plugged into a home charging station your EV battery might be able to act as a battery for the whole house when needed, this is called bidirectional charging or V2G (vehicle to grid). Not all EVs are capable of V2G and in Australia we are only in the pilot phase of it being allowed by power companies. Home chargers of course also add to the cost of it all, by between $5000 and $10,000.
The other factor with emissions in production of EVs is that most of them accrue due to the battery manufacture and it is likely that the processes will improve and emissions will reduce. On a purely practical level, EVs do have a shorter drive range than ICE vehicles. In the city this is not an issue but in rural areas where distances driven are greater it does become one, and I don’t live in a city. The icing on the cake is that as yet the public charging infrastructure in Australia is not extensive and that will impact any planned journeys.
I have not even touched on the hybrid vehicle option here, but it is a real and viable choice too. The reality is that we are just at the beginning of this switch to living more sustainably and it’s a multi-horned beast, the EV-horn just happening to be the one on which I am currently skewered. I’m fully aware that many of the fear-inducing stories about EVs come from sectors with a vested interest in internal combustion engines (ICEs) but detecting the source of claims is difficult and infinitely time consuming in a retweeted, cut-and-paste world. We can’t just keep polluting this planet with emissions and expect it to sustain us but having said that, concerns of practicality and financial viability are also real.
Believe me, I want to choose an EV but is it the best thing to do right now? Adding to the dilemma is that I have a time imperative in that my daughter will need a car in the near future. I don’t have the luxury of waiting and seeing, I have to make a decision and I have to make it soon, which brings us to the nub of the issue: what do you do when you have to make a decision but you know that you don’t have all the information required to make it?
First, it’s important to not let incomplete information stop you from doing your best. Decisions require you to gather all of the benefits and costs that you can, evaluate what is under your control and what is not, consider how what you do will impact others, and make the best choice that you can. Most importantly, be brave and be prepared to change your mind. It’s been said that if the road to hell was paved with a readiness to change your course, then it would not be the road to hell.
Along with my daughter and the rest of the family, we will make that decision soon. It won’t be “right”, but it will be the best that we can make and we will deal with consequences as we need to. It’s not a perfect situation but it is as it should be.