Thought Leadership

Investing in EV Charging Infrastructure Will Drive the U.S. to a Cleaner, Greener Future

 

By Nicholas Cain

May 13, 2021

Co-authored by D.W. Hoard

Just as Americans once invested in railroads, highways and rural electrification to spur productivity, improve quality of life and create a fairer society, we now need to invest in public electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure to accelerate the transition to a cleaner, healthier and more equitable future. The Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan calls for creating federal grant and incentive programs to invest in developing 500,000 publicly available EV charging stations across the U.S. by 2030. Our research shows that this will have many benefits for human health, the environment and the economy.

Investing in public charging will encourage the adoption of EVs, create jobs, protect our environment and reduce the deaths and illness caused by pollution from cars and other vehicles. Investing in public charging will also ensure that the benefits of EVs, which include saving thousands of dollars on gasoline each year, will be available to all Americans – even if you don’t have access to a charging station at home.

We share some facts about why investment in publicly available charging is important now, how much charging is needed, what benefits will result, and how we can make the most of public and private investment in EV infrastructure.
 

Why do we need to invest in EV charging? It encourages EV adoption.

When the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) surveyed auto dealer sales staff about selling EVs to customers, the top questions they fielded weren’t about the cars, they were about the charging. Their customers want to know: How can I charge at home? And how and where do I charge if I can’t charge at home?

Although the average American travels less than 40 miles per day, many prospective car buyers cite range anxiety as a major stumbling block to buying an EV. Public and workplace charging are important balms to this anxiety – especially for people, many of them low- and moderate-income, who live in apartments, condos or townhouses.

According to 2019 data from the American Community Survey, about 36% of Americans are renters and 32% live in multifamily homes, both of which make it difficult to install a home EV charger. More broadly, studies consistently indicate that developing EV charging infrastructure is critical to encouraging large-scale adoption of EVs. Visible public and workplace charging infrastructure has been shown to improve confidence in EVs.

When do we need to act? Now.

We need to act quickly to encourage the development of public EV charging stations because studies suggest infrastructure should be available two years before the EVs are on the road. With automakers expected to roll out over two dozen new models of electric cars and trucks over the next two years, we’ve got to move quickly to ensure sufficient public charging is available.


How much charging do we need? Estimates vary widely.

Estimates of the amount of EV charging needed to support a certain number of EVs depends on a wide array of assumptions. (CSE covers these in detail in a brief.) The key assumptions include estimate of the types of EVs that will be on the road and the capacities of their batteries, how many will be home-charged, what type of charging stations will be available and how many EVs each charger will support.

Across a range of different assumptions and models, our research shows that the goal of 500,000 charging stations is a good first step.

What do we get from investing in EV charging? Consumer savings, a cleaner environment and jobs.

According to CSE’s EV forecasting platform, Caret™, an investment of $174 billion over 10 years focused on consumer purchase incentives for non-luxury EVs, could yield $80 billion in health savings from reduced particulate matter pollution over 30 years. Caret is a dynamic software platform for planning EV programs, but the benefits equation is simple: More EVs and fewer gas-powered cars lead to a big reduction in toxic air pollution and fewer cases of asthma, heart disease and cancer – and fewer premature deaths.

If we use a social cost of carbon approach – which accounts for the long-term impacts of climate change on agriculture, property damage, ecosystem services and human health –the $174 billion investment could yield $444 billion in avoided damages assuming a conservative 3% discount rate. This 30-year benefit from a 10-year program is in addition to the $80 billion in estimated health savings from cleaner air.

This means that for each $1 billion we invest in clean vehicles, we get back that original investment, plus $2 billion in additional benefits.

Building 500,000 EV chargers will also create nearly 100,000 U.S. jobs. These are high-quality jobs building charging stations and connecting them to the power grid, manufacturing charging equipment and operating and maintaining the network.

We’ve been talking about the broad benefits thus far, but EVs also save individual American drivers money. EV drivers, compared to those driving fossil fuel cars, can expect to save up to $1,000 per year and $9,000 over the lifetime of an EV on fuel costs. Because EVs are simpler and have fewer moving parts, drivers can also expect to save $4,600 on repairs over the lifetime of the vehicle. Consumer Reports finds that over the first 50,000 miles, the average gas-powered car requires $1,411 in maintenance while the average EV requires $577.

How do we get the most cost-effective impact? Data-driven public policy.

A short, focused investment in EV technology will help manufacturers rapidly innovate and bring clean cars to market. Investing in well-placed public EV charging stations will ensure that everyone gets to benefit from EVs. To reach our goals, we need to be smart. Public investments must be guided by data so that our programs are effective, efficient and equitable.

As we develop the technology of the 21st century, we also need to ensure that public data on charging is available and shared. A national database of charging station utilization data will be like turning on our high beams to light up the road ahead. A national effort to share anonymous public charging data will provide insights on how EVs are being driven, ensure that charging stations are being built in the right places and help utilities serve EVs and integrate renewables into the grid.

In decades past, America rose to great challenges with a combination of public investment and private innovation. We are on the cusp of another such era with the opportunity to set a course to create a cleaner, fairer and more prosperous future. The smart use of public funds to advance EVs will create high quality jobs, save consumers money and protect the health of our families and communities.

Nicholas Cain

Senior Research Analyst

Nick is a social and environmental scientist who manages research projects for the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (CVRP), the Self Generation Incentive Project (SGIP), and the California Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Project (CALeVIP). Before joining CSE, he was an energy analyst and technology…

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