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The Future of Transportation is Electric
Innovation, Smart Cities February 1, 2021

Electric vehicles are a ray of hope in the fight against climate change and there are many signs that the industry is taking off.

Transportation is currently the top producer of greenhouse gases in the United States, accounting for nearly a third of net US emissions, and 75% of that pollution comes from cars, trucks and buses.

Concerns about climate change and air pollution, the increased affordability of electric vehicles, and government incentives are all driving growth in the global market. So far, 17 countries have announced 100% zero-emission vehicle targets or the phase-out of gasoline-powered vehicles through 2050. China, the market leader, has said that most vehicles sold in China must be electric by 2035.

The General Motors announcement that they will only sell zero-emission vehicles by 2035 is a signal that the US also intends to make a major shift. The US lags behind China and Europe but the Biden administration has promised $400 billion investment in clean energy, including battery technologies and electric vehicles.

In 2020, there was a 43% increase in global sales, rising to over 3 million and the pace is expected to accelerate as the price of batteries decreases and even more models become available.  However, we have a long way to go, only 2.7% of global vehicle sales are electric.

This shift towards zero-emission vehicles bodes well for the climate. An Environmental Defense Fund analysis shows that making new zero-emission vehicles a reality industrywide could cut U.S. climate pollution by 600 million metric tons each year by 2040, boosting the economy and saving lives. EDF estimates that by 2050, zero-emissions vehicles could deliver more than $100 billion in net societal benefits each year (economic and pollution) and provide $1.6 trillion in cumulative net benefits to Americans by 2050.

Several studies show that electric vehicles are not only good for the environment, they are also increasingly a good economic choice for consumers. MIT researchers found that over a car’s lifetime, calculating purchase price, maintenance and fuel, electric vehicles are cheaper than vehicles powered by gasoline. Another study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that in 50 major US cities, charging a vehicle is cheaper than filling up with gas. EV drivers spend the equivalent of about $1.20 per gallon, based on average residential electric rates.

And the continually improving technologies mean these vehicles are only getting better, and more affordable to purchase.

For the next five years, automakers have announced plans to release another 200 electric car models, many in the SUV segment. By next year, BloombergNEF estimates there will be more than 500 EV models available around the world.

The growth in the EV market will require smart planning for the electric power grid to support it. Utilities will need to generate more clean electricity to support the predicted growth in electric vehicles, and the vehicles will have a far more significant impact on the environment if they are powered by clean energy.

Another key to the success of electric vehicles is having the charging infrastructure in place to address “range anxiety”. The Biden administration’s climate plan includes public investment in 500,000 new electric vehicle charging outlets by the end of 2030.

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and the Institute for Electric Innovation predicts that, by 2030, U.S. EV sales will exceed 3.5 million per year with 18.7 million passenger EVs will be on U.S. roads, requiring about 9.6 million charging stations. There is increasing public and city-level support for expanding the charging infrastructure. According to the US Conference of Mayors, 61% of cities support public EV charging stations.

And utilities will need programs to incent consumers to charge their vehicles during the day when the sun is shining vs. everyone charging in the evenings. Utilities and cities will need technologies to help them predict and manage the load on the grid to understand opportunities and vulnerabilities, and help consumers have the data to have power over their energy consumption.

2021 shaping up to be a pivotal year as electric vehicles could move from novelty into the mainstream, with several major manufacturers scheduled to release much-anticipated EV models that consumers crave, like SUVs and pickup trucks. The speed and success of their deployment will depend on a strong partnership between federal, state and local governments, industry and consumers.

It’s an exciting time that could re-shape the auto landscape –– with a positive impact on carbon emissions –– for decades to come.

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