People living in regional areas are at risk of becoming the “last people in the world” left driving petrol cars because incentives for electric vehicles have been targeted towards city drivers.

Most EVs on the market are likely to have the battery range needed for those living long distances from urban centres, however Australian policy is currently geared only towards encouraging uptake among citydwellers, new research from the Australian National University has found.

This could leave remote Australians exposed to ever-rising prices for fossil fuels.

Though Australia has historically been slow to embrace electric vehicles, state and territory governments have introduced a range of incentives to encourage the transition over the past few years.

Most of these policies however have been focused on city drivers thanks to a widespread assumption that the limited range on electric vehicles makes them unsuitable for regional areas.

The ANU research has turned that assumption on its head by investigating whether electric car drivers in regional areas could make the journey to major service hubs in one trip.

In the analysis, researchers considered the Tesla Model S and the Audi e-tron 50 Quattro as both were 4WD vehicles already available on the Australian market with larger battery ranges.

They did not account for variables such as topography, sealed or unsealed roads and extreme heat which all may influence battery life.

The result was nine out of every 10 people living in regional Australia were within range of the nearest service hub and would be able to make a one-way trip without having to stop to charge.

With the right infrastructure installed at the destination, like fast chargers, most could charge their vehicle and easily make a return trip.

Dr Bjorn Sturmberg, research lead at the ANU Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program and co-author on the study says the result shows the tyranny of distance is not as much of an issue as previously thought in Australia.

“It means greater resilience, much lower cost of electricity supply, lower cost of transport and then potential benefit of more reliable supply,” Sturmberg said.

Where solar rigs were installed at the point of origin in order to charge the cars, and to power-charging infrastructure along routes for the most remote locations, the benefits of electric vehicles were multiplied.

“The running costs of an electric vehicle are very cheap, irrespective of where you fill it up. If you fill it up with solar, then the running costs – not counting the cost of getting solar installed out there – is near to zero,” Sturmberg said.

With the number of service stations having declined from 20,000 in the 1970s to 6,400 today, this would also boost energy security, especially among communities that have to ship or truck in supplies of diesel.

Sturmberg said the research highlights a blindspot among policymakers who have largely been focused on bringing electric vehicles to urban areas when the potential gains for regional people, including remote Indigenous communities are significant.

“Their reliance on fossil fuels for transport leaves them vulnerable in an economic sense. It’s always been expensive in the economic sense and especially now when fuel prices continue to skyrocket,” he said.

“I feel like they’ve been left in the too hard basket where everyone assumes the distances are too great. [If this continues] they’ll be the last ones driving ICE vehicles in a world where it is cleaner and more efficient to run electric vehicles.”

Extracted in full form: EV incentives focused on urban centres leave rural Australians stranded with fossil fuels | Electric vehicles | The Guardian