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Energy, Environment

Tourism to go electric in Queensland’s tropical north

Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) 2 mins read
Tropic Wings

Electric buses are set to roll out in Far North Queensland in a new project backed by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) — an Australian first in the private tour and charter sector.

On behalf of the Australian Government, ARENA is providing $4.75 million in funding from the Driving the Nation Fund to Cairns tour and charters operator Tropic Wings for its Sustainable Transport in Tourism Project.

The project will support Tropic Wings to transition nearly a third of its fleet to electric with the delivery of 12 electric buses.

ARENA funding will contribute to the installation of 11 electric vehicle chargers, associated enabling infrastructure and two battery energy storage systems (BESS). The BESS helps to optimise the electrical infrastructure upgrades needed while providing Tropic Wings with short-term storage of renewable electricity and resilience during storms and emergency situations. The project will also support the use of several EV bus models that are yet to be seen on Australia’s roads.

The project follows Tropic Wings’ purchase of a single, battery-powered bus in 2019, the first to be used in Australia outside of the public transport sector.

Tropic Wings is a family operated business running tours from Cairns to the Daintree, Kuranda and other local attractions, as well as a busy charters operation.

In collaboration with the Electric Vehicle Council, Tropic Wings will turn the lessons from the project into a blueprint for transitioning to battery electric vehicle (BEV) fleets for the tourism sector.

Small and medium operators face greater barriers in transitioning to BEVs compared to larger players. Higher upfront vehicle costs, limited existing electrical infrastructure and limited access to capital disincentivise small businesses from electrifying their fleets.

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said use of electric buses in the tourism sector at this scale is an Australian first.

“ARENA is glad to see companies like Tropic Wings taking the lead and showing how smaller players can play their part in transitioning the nation’s bus fleets,” Mr Miller said. 

“With roughly 100,000 buses in Australia, the scale of the challenge is enormous. For smaller family-owned businesses, the barriers are even greater.

This is what the Driving the Nation fund is for, supporting companies that are finding solutions and paving the way for zero emissions vehicles on our roads.”

Tropic Wings Director Michael Woodward underlines Tropic Wings’ unwavering commitment to regional sustainability.

“We’re committed to sustainability in tourism. Tropic Wings is at the forefront, shifting a substantial part of its fleet to BEVs, reducing carbon footprint, and inspiring others in the industry to embrace electric vehicles for sustainable tourism.”

The Driving the Nation Fund includes $500 million to invest in cheaper and cleaner transport. ARENA currently has an active Focus Area related to Innovation in Charging with $70 million of funding available to support innovation in both public charging and management of charging. 

For more information on the Driving the Nation Program, including eligibility and how to apply, visit https://arena.gov.au/funding/driving-the-nation-program/

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