How to Move America to Electric Vehicles

There is one action the new Biden administration can take that, more than anything else, will set the United States on a more successful course to electrifying the cars and trucks we drive: to communicate a bold vision of what transportation electrification looks like in 2030. Since 2010, when former President Obama set a goal to reach the first one million electric vehicle (EV) sales, we have been aimlessly patching together goals and mandates around the United States. We have lacked a real sense of where we’re trying to go. It’s hard to land on the Moon, if you don’t know that is the goal!

We need to applaud the phenomenal efforts of many leaders in the public and private sectors but recognize that the flurry of bold EV announcements from these leaders is still disconnected from any overall national vision. For example:

  • California and Massachusetts intend to require 100 percent EV sales by 2035
  • Xcel Energy plans to invest $110 million to prepare for 20 percent EV market penetration in Colorado by 2030
  • Uber and Lyft have announced intentions to be 100 percent electric by 2030
  • GM plans to invest $27 billion globally through 2025, including deploying 20 new EV models in North America
  • Amazon, UPS, and FedEx have announced large fleet electrification ambitions
Tesla Supercharger in Baker, California. Photo by Kyle Field, CleanTechnica.

The list goes on and on. But in the end, these are only a loose assortment of disconnected announcements. And it’s not clear whether this is enough to set us on a course to meet global carbon-reduction objectives — and whether enough market-critical others (with less deep pockets) will follow.

Electric Vehicles Are Inevitable

Just ask any of the over 1.6 million EV drivers today. They’ll tell you EVs are just plain better to drive: they are quick, quiet, and smooth-driving — a 30-minute commute never felt as relaxing. They’re typically much cheaper to fuel with electricity and require less maintenance. More than half of all Americans can conveniently plug right into an ordinary electrical outlet for an overnight battery charge-up and there are many more EV models coming to the market in the next two years!

But although the transition to electric vehicles is inevitable, if we don’t speed up the pace of EV adoption, we are going to blow right past the 2030 climate targets that are aimed at containing global temperature rise to less than 1.5oC. In the United States, transportation is responsible for more carbon emissions than any other sector — and it’s the cars and trucks we drive and the movement of goods that make up the vast majority of these emissions. The truth is it’s impossible to hit 1.5oC climate goals without addressing the 270 million cars and trucks driving on the roads today.

Key Players Are Poised to Take Action

The great news is that many key stakeholders, including those above, are poised to take action — they just need to see the right signals from the new administration. Auto, bus, and truck makers need to be confident that when they make these investments in EVs, customers will buy them! Utilities, cities and states need to be confident that if they make investments in EV charging infrastructure, the vehicles from ALL manufacturers will arrive! And consumers need to see a broader selection of compelling electric vehicles — at affordable prices — and the easy, reliable means of charging them!

If we’re serious about accelerating the EV adoption timeline there are four near-term actions the Biden Administration needs to take to frame a 2030 vision that will align all the key market and policy stakeholders and allow them to shape their programs and policies around a focused national goal:

  1. Establish a bold national vision with targets for transportation electrification and establish a government/industry commission to enable well-planned supply and demand-side actions.
  2. Communicate a national industrial strategy for EVs, including incentives for retooling manufacturing plants (engine, transmission, assembly plants) and adding new battery/cell manufacturing capacity.
  3. Set an aggressive public/private fleet EV adoption strategy and an implementation plan.
  4. Create a nationwide education and awareness campaign to gain consumer and fleet operator confidence in electric vehicles.
Image courtesy Volvo Trucks. Volvo Trucks to deploy 70 electric trucks in Southern California.

Establish a Bold Vision

Without a national EV vision and clear targets there will continue to be uncertainty and a lack of confidence in the market. This rudderless approach results in a lack of alignment between the parties responsible for supply and demand, which slows the amount of private investment entering this market. Therefore, stimulating private investment is all about confidently expressing a vision.

According to RMI’s analysis, the US transportation sector needs to reduce carbon emissions 45 percent by 2030 in order to align with 1.5oC climate goals — requiring that we electrify 50–70 million EVs by 2030. This EV range depends on whether we can also achieve in parallel a 10–15 percent reduction in miles travelled — that is, the more miles we continue to drive, the more vehicles we need to electrify. For perspective, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, a conventional gasoline vehicle emits about one pound of carbon every mile! So electrifying or eliminating the miles we travel are our two options.

The federal government should set a national vision of at least 50 million EVs by 2030 and 100 percent EV market share of new vehicle sales by 2035. In order to adequately “fuel” these vehicles, 300,000 DC fast-chargers and 200,000 L2 chargers should be installed before 2030. The aim is to provide charging stations as ubiquitous as gasoline stations along highway corridors, near all key destinations — including national parks and other tourist attractions, and at all federal facilities.

The administration should also establish a government/industry commission to design a plan and the supporting policies required to enable this vision — including automakers, bus makers, and truck makers, key utilities and associations like the Edison Electric Institute, infrastructure providers, and major public and private fleet operators. The Department of Energy and Department of Transportation can jointly sponsor this commission to:

  • identify the policies and actions needed to successfully achieve the 2030 and 2035 targets
  • advise research and promote best practices broadly across the entire US city, state, fleet and utility landscape.

EVs as a National Imperative

The auto industry is one of the most important industries in the United States, historically contributing 3.5 percent of GDP. Fewer than 325,000 EVs were produced in the US in 2019. China produced 1.2million. China, Germany, India and other countries view advanced EV technology development and manufacturing as a national imperative to remain globally relevant and competitive in this critical jobs sector. In fact, these nations plan to use EVs as an opportunity to leapfrog all other countries and take the lead in global vehicle manufacturing.

Furthermore, private investment (including automakers) cannot keep pace with the level of government investment that China and other countries are applying to the transformation of their automotive sectors. Inaction here in the United States could cripple the industry’s global competitiveness.

Viewed as a national imperative, this requires an aggressive investment plan to accelerate both new production capacity and the retooling/conversion of existing manufacturing plants — from engine, transmission, and internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle assembly to the production of battery cells, battery packs and electric vehicle assembly. This will put people back to work in the near-term (building and retooling factories) and secure future high-paying jobs by ensuring the automotive and technology-related sectors remain globally competitive.

This can also be a critical component of a climate and clean energy strategy that will require vast numbers of new and used batteries for use in capturing and storing renewable energy for the grid. Leading utilities are setting aggressive renewable energy targets for 2030 and in many cases these targets will drive a 10-fold increase in renewables and energy storage. A domestic supply of batteries (new and second-use from automotive) is a major economic opportunity for the United States.

And this is an area where there is growing bipartisan support. Supporters see this invariably as a vibrant source of high-paying US jobs and an economic security issue or a climate and clean energy issue — and often both.

Set an Aggressive Fleet Strategy

Nuvve’s V2G AC chargers and platform connected to Lion Electric school buses on Con Edison’s grid in White Plains, NY.

The federal government operates 645,000 vehicles (including the US Postal Service, the largest fleet operator in the nation, with about 200,000 vehicles). And yesterday, President Biden signed an executive order which will, among other actions, replace this entire federal fleet with electric vehicles. This singular move has the power to drive confidence into the EV market by signaling demand certainty to auto and truck makers and is critical in driving private investment into product development and manufacturing.

The administration can now take this ambition further and not only back it up with a strategy, target dates and an implementation plan, but also expand the strategy more broadly across the entire public and private fleet sectors. All federal funds that make their way to fleets should be directed toward replacing ICEs with EVs, resulting in only EV purchases after 2030 and setting a date of 2035 by which all fleets are fully electrified.

The federal government can help further drive EV adoption across both state and local government fleets as well as private and commercial fleets by dusting off the former DOE Workplace Charging Challenge program. This program can be repurposed and expanded to provide much-needed technical support for all aspects of fleet electrification, including public and depot charging solutions. And it can be renamed the US Fleet Electrification Challenge.

Communicate a Unifying Message

A national awareness campaign that communicates the vision and value of vehicle electrification is desperately needed. Outside of a few hot EV markets in the United States, general EV awareness is still broadly lacking.

We can spend the next decade convincing one fleet operator and one consumer at a time to reap the personal and societal benefits of switching to an EV, or we can more effectively approach this as a national path we’re all on together. From megacities to small rural American towns, we need to build consumer confidence by communicating accurate, validated information to consumers with clarity and consistency.

Aiming High

Finally, we can learn from other sectors. Fifteen years ago, renewable energy portfolio standards, calling for modest amounts of clean energy on the grid, were introduced. Today, not only is renewable energy cheaper than fossil fuel-fired power plants, but it’s also straightforward to finance and simple to connect to the grid. As a colleague of mine would say, “It was costly and challenging until it wasn’t.”

A 2030 vision to electrify transportation is the jump start we need. And with some very intentional leadership and planning at this precise moment in time, there probably won’t be another gasoline or diesel vehicle sold after 2035. We have everything to gain — inherently better cars and trucks, jobs, economic growth, technology leadership, global competitiveness, and no tailpipe emissions polluting our air and our atmosphere — by aiming high.

Article courtesy of RMI by Britta Gross.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x