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Transportation revolution is bringing its grid along with it

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Henry Craver's picture
Small Business Owner Self-employed

As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

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For at least a decade now, futurists have insisted that we’re on the brink of a transportation revolution. Just as the internet rocked our world in the 1990’s, and the smartphone in the late 2000’s, electric vehicles will impact different facets of society in profound ways. Oil is bound to take a hit, grids will be taxed, and our patterns of movement might change. Yet for all the anticipation, the electric vehicle trend still hasn’t arrived. 

According to estimates from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, just 306, 000, or 2.1%, of new car sales in 2020 were electric. Less than 2 million of the nearly 290 million registered cars in the country are electric. Those are pathetic numbers. 

Has all the hype about EVs been unwarranted, then? I doubt it. Technological revolutions often come a little later than expected, as tech author Stephen Baker explained in an interview last year with Energy Central: 

“Technology revolutions are hard to predict. The rule of thumb, though, is that they tend to arrive later than expected, and then deliver greater change than predicted. Twenty years ago, I was covering mobile technology in Europe for BusinessWeek. In my articles, I predicted that smartphones were going to transform human communication and create lots of new businesses based on geography and movement. But I had the timing wrong, and said it would happen in 2003/4. It didn’t happen until Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone in 2007.”

That’s all to say that just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. All signs indeed indicate that transportation will change dramatically this decade. On the policy side, President Joe Biden issued an executive order on August 5th calling for 50% of annual new car sales to be zero emission vehicles by the end of this decade. The administration is backing up the talk with dollars, too. The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $30.7 billion in zero emissions vehicle funding, split between the cars themselves and infrastructure to support them. What’s more, the House’s Build Back Better plan includes provisions to continue the federal $7,500 tax credit for electric and hybrid purchases.

If you follow the money, you’ll find that the private sector too is all in on EV’s. General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis have planned to release a combined 50 different EV models in the coming years. Perhaps most importantly, Ford is offering an electric version of its ridiculously popular  F-150 pickup next year. The auto company has already received 160,000 pre-orders. The entry of these big players into the market will make the decision to own an EV much easier. Unlike with Tesla, buyers can rest assured they can get their cars fixed and serviced without having to get on a month-long waiting list. 

I’ve seen the industry’s momentum start to take hold in the minds of buyers in my own personal life. I can’t count how many friends and relatives have told me they’re hesitant to buy a new gas car because they fear it will be obsolete technology in five years. 

How, assuming electric vehicles do boom in popularity, can we prepare our grids? We’ll need to add a lot of charging stations, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation: 

“To support an electric vehicle stock of 26 million in the United States in 2030, public and workplace charging will need to grow from approximately 216,000 chargers in 2020 to 2.4 million by 2030, including 1.3 million workplace, 900,000 public Level 2, and 180,000 direct current fast chargers.”

Utilities need not panic. As long as the market trends towards EVs, car and charger manufacturers will continue to build up the charging infrastructure. State legislation allowing utility investment collected from ratepayers should and will also accelerate. The federal infrastructure package will almost undoubtedly move the needle in the right direction in terms of both funding in regulation.


 

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