Max Baumhefner & Roland Hwang, NRDC
America’s utilities are uniquely positioned to supercharge the national electric vehicles market by spurring a rapid deployment of charging stations, increasing public awareness of EVs’ economic and environmental benefits, and incentivizing drivers to charge cars at times that will help bring more solar and wind energy onto the grid, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“If we want to avoid the most destructive impacts of climate change and clean our air, we need to ditch petroleum and instead plug our nation’s cars, trucks, and buses into an electric grid fed by more renewable energy. Utilities can give the EV market a critical boost by putting charging stations where drivers live, work, and play,’’ said Max Baumhefner of NRDC’s Clean Vehicles and Fuels Program, one of the report’s authors.
NRDC’s report, “Driving Out Pollution: How Utilities Can Accelerate the Market for Electric Vehicles,’’shows the electric industry can:
Use spare grid capacity to charge vehicles, which will reduce the oil-dominated transportation sector’s 30 percent share of U.S. carbon emissions. (Researchers estimate there is enough unused electric generation capacity to power virtually of America’s passenger cars and trucks); Leverage existing customer relationships and partner with independent EV charging companies; and Design rates that maximize EV owners’ savings, such as offering lower rates for charging during periods when excess renewable power may be available.
“A dramatic increase in electric vehicles, fueled by clean energy such as solar and wind power, will put us on the road to meeting our climate goals, reduce harmful pollution, and insulate drivers from roller-coaster gasoline prices while strengthening the grid,’’ said Roland Hwang, director of NRDC’s Energy and Transportation Program.
EVs can store electricity for use later, enabling more wind and solar to displace fossil-fuel generation. Electric vehicles currently account for less than 1 percent of new vehicle sales, and scientists tell us that number needs to grow to 40 percent or more by 2030 to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. This is not an impossible task: Almost 400,000 people put down $1,000 deposits for the next-generation, moderately priced Tesla during a two-week period earlier this year, for example. However, potential EV customers may change their minds if the charging infrastructure network does not catch up to consumer demand.
The report provides a roadmap for utility policies to help grow the EV market, including:
Working with third-party charging service providers to deploy a robust network of charging stations beyond single-family homes (where over 80 percent of today’s EV owners live), adding them at workplaces, multi-family dwellings, and other locations where cars are parked for extended periods of time;
Providing electric rates that maximize fuel cost savings and encourage EV charging during times when wind or solar energy are abundant and/or the electric grid is underutilized; Deploying fast-charging stations, which charge about 10 times more quickly than standard home chargers, at public locations to alleviate drivers’ “range anxiety” (fear of running out of electricity); and Educating the public on the benefits of EVs that run on the cost-equivalent of $1 per- gallon gasoline and are the cleanest vehicles on the road.
The report notes that while far more aggressive action is needed, some utilities and states already are taking steps to increase EV use. California and Oregon adopted laws directing the electric industry to accelerate the electrification of the transportation sector, and utilities in the West, Midwest, and South have made EV infrastructure investments. Power companies nationwide are pursuing EV infrastructure deployment as a new and emerging revenue stream. (One study put the potential at $2 billion to $8 billion in California, alone.) This can lower rates for all utility customers and help pay for new charging stations.
The report also notes that expanding the EV charging network can pave the way for a broader, more diverse EV market. Providing charging stations in lower-income communities, for example, could open it to a population most vulnerable to volatile gasoline prices.
“With the right policies and programs in place, utilities can reduce our exposure to harmful air pollution and the worst effects of climate change and provide consumers with a viable alternative to the volatile world oil market,’’ Baumhefner said.