Community Cards

Reliability is a term often heard used in the road transport industry.

Along with reputation, its conceptual cousin, reliability is not so much a certitude but rather the extent to which something can establish an internal consistency, stability and equivalence.

Of course this must be validated by its predictive, concurrent serviceability despite myriad chance factors. The clause is important.

In a world of trucks and equipment built to be worked without reprieve under varying conditions and applications there are many unknowns.

Engineers and manufacturers try to minimise these while fleet managers and bosses accept the price of these unknowns on the condition they are worth tolerating.

Which brings us to the question of electrification. Like the poker player down to a short stack who stands up at the final table, industry, it would seem, has gone all in on electric vehicles.

But is the hand that it holds good enough to prevent it being caught with its pants down?

Last year electric cars and light trucks, including hybrids, displaced an estimated 50,000 barrels of oil a day.

The world now uses 100 million barrels of oil a day and China, who will gain the most from the development of electric transport ecosystems, is, at present, its biggest oil importer.

Electric vehicles are neither emissions free in the sense that they rely, only if indirectly, on the consumption of fossil fuels.

Even when ignoring the industrial consumption of hydrocarbons required to mine the materials needed for EV batteries, the function of charging the battery still burns oil, coal and natural gas.

That brings us to the grid.

The indices that confer electricity reliability, like load point average failure rate, average outage duration, and the average annual outage time, can be misleading, irrespective of undergrounding, circuit hardening and surge protection and before factoring in summer temperatures, natural disasters and increasing threats of cyberattack.

In May, a report by the Australia Institute found the resilience of Australia’s electricity infrastructure continued to be undermined by a chronic pattern of underinvestment in maintenance and upkeep, the result of rent-seeking by private electricity producers and a deeply flawed regulatory system.

After a detailed review of empirical and qualitative data on the transmission and distribution system, the industry it was revealed, allocates just 15 per cent of its revenues to capital spending.

It’s worth noting the retail market for electricity, at least in the sense of true competition, does not really exist in Australia.

When the availability of a product is no longer attuned to its affordability, predatory, not to mention inflationary, practices abound.

Get used to it.

Economic regulation of energy for instance, often blurs the line between government and business, turning each into the other’s client.

Without dedicated maintenance, reliability is being sacrificed on the altar of administrative objectives that makes it increasingly harder to justify investment in uniformity of power equality.

Egalitarianism can be measured in many ways but viewed from this dramatic departure public utilities is no longer one of them. When dependence on network connectivity is reduced by intelligent resources on a smart grid analytics shift to its edge.

The highest quality electricity on a decentralised microgrid therefore comes down simply to those who can afford it.

Thomas Edison, the so-called ‘Father of Electrification’ knew this. He waged a battle of public opinion designed to impel political action, rather than by selling a superior product.

At this moment industry is singing from the same hymn book under supposed threat it risks becoming an orphan of history.

For all that, the electrification of road transport at both commercial and consumer levels is seemingly a case of not how but when, regardless of whether it is worthy of our reliance and trust — metrics we profess to put stock in.