The same day President Biden unveiled an infrastructure plan that devoted $174 billion to building a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle (EV) chargers—CRES Forum held a webinar to explore faster, smarter and less expensive ways to increase the share of EVs on the road, entitled, “Driving Innovation: How Can Private and Public Sectors Speed EV Deployment.”
EVs will almost certainly help reduce emissions long term because the transportation sector is now the number one source of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the U.S. In fact, while emissions in other sectors like manufacturing are declining, emissions from transportation continue to rise. This isn’t surprising – our nation’s population is growing – but it means we must prioritize innovation and investment to address this issue. And that’s easier said than done.
“Transportation is really on the front edge of where we need to be in terms of making that transition to clean energy,” explained CRES Forum’s Charles Hernick, who moderated the event’s panel of EV experts. “It’s difficult; Americans love their automobiles, which makes any policy that touches automobiles very sensitive.”
Hernick presented three policy areas for lowering transportation emissions: increasing fuel efficiency, better utilizing alternative fuels, and commercializing the vehicles themselves.
Progress is being made, thanks to recent bipartisan Congressional efforts like the Energy Act of 2020. Today, electric vehicles are more cost effective, their range is improving, and the industry is working hard to communicate their benefits to the public. Prices are coming down for the vehicles themselves, the supply chain and manufacturing inputs are scaling up, and the average family can save $800 to $1,000 a year on fuel alone with an EV.
General Motors’ Advanced Vehicle and Infrastructure Policy Manager, Jamie Hall, said his company is going all-in on EVs, aiming to deliver exciting new cars and trucks that are not only affordable, but attractive and appealing to consumers. He emphasized the company knows that, ultimately, EVs must simply be better vehicles to create the necessary demand.
“GM does believe the future is all electric, and we are working hard to make this a reality. We think to actually get there, and this is sort of a no brainer, we’ve got to get to the point where EVs can meet everyone’s needs,” he explained. “This means longer range, it means more types of vehicles in different segments of the market, it means a seamless charging experience, and it means having all of this at a price point that makes sense for people.”
GM recently announced it is investing a total of $27 billion on all-electric and autonomous vehicles through 2025, an increase of $7 billion, and it plans to release 30 new EVs globally by 2025, including more than 20 for North America.
Alliance to Save Energy Vice President of Research & Analysis, Dr. Natasha Vidangos, discussed her organization’s 50×50 initiative, a bipartisan effort launched in 2018 with the goal of reducing energy use in the transportation sector by 50 percent by 2050. GM is a member of the initiative.
“The industry is really bullish on this; this is a really exciting market,” she said. “This isn’t just automakers that are excited. We’re also seeing a lot of energy utilities, technology companies, logistics firms, battery manufacturers, ports and airports—even local governments are getting really interested in these opportunities because it often implies a lowering of operating costs and better use of their taxpayer dollars.”
She noted the power and transportation sectors used to be very separate, but now EVs are increasingly considered to be a potential grid resource that could be a transformative asset for demand response and demand flexibility.
Paul Allen from the Coalition for A Better Business Environment (CBBE) made the observation that the only five or six years ago, electric companies had not yet been fully persuaded that the transition to clean power was important to their long-term plans, but that has changed. He highlighted partnerships established through the Transportation & Climate Initiative, a “cap and invest” program based on states auctioning off allowances and reinvesting revenue into clean transportation initiatives, as an example of how EV deployment is being advanced.
Moving from private cars to electrifying entire public and private fleets, Hernick asked, “How do we take some big bites out of the apple with some of these bigger vehicles?”
“We’re definitely hearing a lot of excitement, especially around the medium- and heavy-duty vehicles that have shorter routes—school buses, local buses, refuse trucks—all those vehicles that tend to have short routes each day, charge at regular times, charge at regular depots, are very often a really great opportunity for electrification,” responded Dr. Vidangos. “Additionally, fleets have greater opportunities in the sense that many companies have a greater ability to absorb a longer pay-back period. Government agencies would love to save money over a longer frame, it doesn’t have to pay itself back in two or three years.”
Mr. Allen added the importance of business certainty and building a resilient clean electric grid in attracting investment to electrify fleet vehicles. He said that his organization is working with the 16-state Zero Emissions Vehicles (ZEV) task force and will be ready to release a new action plan this summer.
“It’s very, very helpful to the manufacturers of the vehicles to have some sense of what the policy framework is going to look like, so that they know there is going to be a market,” he said. “That helps to drive change in a more orderly way.”
Later, he described how his organization, along with the Georgetown Climate Center, has developed a GIS-based mapping tool that enables policymakers to see what traffic patterns look like and understand where there might be optimal locations for charging infrastructure. He added that the tool is also very helpful for the utility companies to understand their future transmission needs. In spite of all the data, planning remains driven at least in part by a trial-and-error process.
“I think we have to recognize that we won’t get it perfect. There will be things where will say, ‘Well, that particular investment probably didn’t work out,’” he clarified. “It’s very important that we learn from those kinds of failures, because they will be very, very instructive. If we just adopt an approach where we can’t ever make a bad investment, this will not go so well. We’re going to have to approach this with a spirit of experimentation.”
Center for Sustainable Energy Senior Director of Transportation and DER Markets Karen Glitman spoke throughout the webinar about how the benefits of EVs are driving adoption. She said incentives work if they are simple and part of a holistic program that aligns all market actors toward a common goal.
Moreover, she talked about how industry and, most importantly, state and local governments need to ensure the benefits of EV deployment are visible, tangible, and intuitive.
“Consumers need to be able to see how this technology, this vehicle, is going to work for them,” she claimed. “We know from our experience and from the literature that EV charging serves an accelerant to EV adoption. As folks see it, they get it.”
“Ideally, there is a build-ahead of two years in advance—that is what the literature is suggesting—of when you want to see the vehicles arrive.”
The webinar concluded with a demonstration of that software tool, known as Caret™, conducted by her CSE colleague, Dr. Jesse Emge.
Caret™ makes it easy to determine the right mix of EV incentives to cost-effectively reach program goals in four simple steps. First, the policymaker selects the dollar amounts and duration of any mix of EV adoption incentives. Next, the user can compare how the choices they input affect program costs and progress toward their goals. The calculator then identifies affordable makes/models based on household income. Finally, Caret™ allows the policymaker to fine-tune their programs based on new market data to avoid “set-it-and-forget-it” syndrome.
A recording of the entire webinar is archived and can be viewed here. Join CRES Forum’s monthly deep-dives into clean energy and climate policy, including a look at natural solutions to climate change, coming in May. Sign up for advance notice of CRES Forum’s events at https://cresforum.org/contact/