The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has announced it will provide $2 million to help boost a Melbourne-based company’s driverless electric vehicle prototype.

Applied Electric Vehicles (AEV) will develop a prototype of an autonomous vehicle, powered by both a solar PV roof and a lithium battery, and designed for short, low-speed trips with passengers as well as industrial and agricultural applications.

ARENA chief executive, Darren Miller, said electric vehicles would play a significant role in the next decade, creating new commercial opportunities as the transport sector shifted to lower greenhouse gas emissions technology.

“There is significant opportunity in the low-speed vehicle market, which is expected to gain considerable traction in cities, campuses and factories over the next decade that AEV could tap into,” Mr Miller said.

“We hope to see AEV commercialise a homegrown driverless electric vehicle and be among the first to unlock the global driverless EV market.”

Federal Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister, Angus Taylor, said the Federal Government will release an electric vehicle strategy by mid-2020, focusing on “practical actions to address barriers to EV uptake”.

Australia trails the world in electric vehicles, which accounted for just 0.6 per cent of vehicles sold last year. But sales of electric cars, including hybrid plug-ins, more than tripled in the past year to 6718, up from 2216 in 2018. The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics forecasts 60 per cent of new cars sales in Australia will be electric by 2046.

Australian Energy Market Commission chief executive, Suzanne Falvi, said Australia needed to do more to prepare the electricity grid for the coming growth in the electric vehicle market, and to “lock in lower-cost ways to support consumers who want them”.

“If we get ahead of the curve, we can make sure this technology makes a positive contribution to our future power system and doesn’t become another cost driver,” Ms Falvi said.

The AEV vehicle’s solar capacity reduces its reliance on an electric battery and makes it easier to charge.

AEV chief executive, Julian Broadbent, said the technology could be incorporated into a range of electric vehicles, reducing pressure on the electricity grid.

“Our project with ARENA is focusing on passenger vehicles but the learnings will be applied to other vehicles, helping to reduce the charging infrastructure burden as EVs roll out globally,” Mr Broadbent said.

“The Modular Vehicle System will offer companies access to transport that is cost effective, pedestrian friendly, gentle on the environment and very customisable to their business needs.”

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