The White House set the course for America to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. Widespread electric vehicle (EV) adoption will play a starring role.
The challenge: the United States’ transportation sector, the largest generator of GHG emissions, is currently not on track to meet those ambitious goals. While the number of EVs on the roads is growing rapidly, battery electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles currently make up only about 5% of light-duty vehicle sales. According to original ICF
At the same time, significant work needs to be done by utilities and the public sector to shift the electric grid to be primarily powered by clean energy and get us closer to the net-zero emissions goal. Here’s what these key stakeholders can do now to accelerate EV adoption, pivot more toward reliable clean energy, reduce GHG emissions, and extend benefits to every community:
Advance EV adoption through charging infrastructure build-out
Nationwide EV adoption simply cannot happen without strategic, widespread placement of charging infrastructure across the country. Implementation may be straightforward in more urban and suburban areas where there are ample energy grid connections. But in more rural and remote regions, like the Mountain West, the challenge of where to put charging infrastructure is made more complicated by the question of how to ensure it remains up and running with minimal support. Careful planning and policy action from stakeholders at every level will be needed to make a reliable nationwide network of charging stations a reality.
Plan for power sector integration
Utility leaders, state regulators, and policymakers need to start modeling how multiple EV adoption scenarios, including nationwide (EVs for everyone) and region-specific variations (a large number of EVs in Northern Virginia versus a limited in Southwestern Virginia, for instance), as well as levels of managed charging will impact electricity demand. Running these types of scenarios will help to identify and prioritize the most cost-effective pathways to achieve ambitious net-zero goals.
In addition to focusing on EV charging infrastructure needs, utilities should explore and leverage strategies to monitor and influence EV charging behavior. If left unmanaged, the daily periods of peak demand we see currently, while there are relatively few EVs on the road, will only be exacerbated. Managed charging can help mitigate the peak impact by shifting charging away from peak hours or aligning with periods of excess renewable generation.
Pave the way for a cleaner grid
A crucial element of transportation electrification success lies on the grid side of the equation. On one hand, America’s grid needs enhancements and adaptations to welcome the surge of electricity brought on by EVs – this is where managed charging comes into play. On the other, the grid needs upgrades to diversify power sources and inject clean energy into the net-zero transportation equation. Additionally, faster EV adoption could impact overall electric grid reliability. At scale, EV charging needs could add 2,000 Terawatt-hour (TWh) to annual energy demand by 2050, according to ICF Climate Center analysis. Consequently, utilities and state regulators will need to adopt tech and tools for new and clean sources of energy, transmission infrastructure, and solutions for managing increased total and peak load in the coming decades.
Shifting America’s transportation sector toward electrification and other clean fuels saves lives through improved public health, especially in neighborhoods near transit corridors or in dense city centers. In addition to expanding access to EVs and charging stations, boosting electrified public transportation options, particularly buses, will deliver significant benefits to disadvantaged communities. For utilities, prioritizing equity will require more funding and focus on local community need. Minimizing the cost of the transition for the American public (especially underserved and disadvantaged communities)—both in terms of electricity rates and the upfront cost of an EV—should be a key consideration. Access should remain front-and-center regardless of EV adoption speed or scale.
We’ve made great strides toward a cleaner transportation sector in recent years, but there is still significant work that needs to be done to reach our ambitious goals. The bottom line is that utilities and public agencies need to model how various EV adoption rates and levels of managed charging will impact electricity demand. Taking that action now will enable utilities to design and implement EV infrastructure programs and necessary grid upgrades—with the most cost-effective investments funneling toward a largely clean energy-powered grid. And, most importantly, it will enable America (and its transportation sector) to achieve the country’s ambitious GHG reduction goals by 2050.
For further insight into how that can be done on a national, state, utility, and local level, explore ICF Climate Center’s ‘The impact of electric vehicles on climate change’ report.