Last week, the White House made a serious down payment on America's zero-emission future, investing $5 billion over five years to help states create a network of electric vehicle charging stations across the country. The funds — a direct result of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that Congress passed last year — come with some strings attached: each state must submit an EV Infrastructure Deployment Plan to the new Joint Office of Energy and Transportation that abides by its guidelines and describes how the state intends to use its share of the $5 billion.
Of course, the transition to zero-emission vehicles is broader than just implementing this funding, and must include coordination among key actors in each state. Utility regulators and utilities should work hand-in-hand with state policymakers to ensure these plans take into consideration the complexities of charging and facilitate effective EV-grid integration, among other critical factors.
According to Edison Electric Institute, there are more than 2 million EVs on U.S. roads today. That number is expected to reach 22 million within a decade — and this does not even account for all the electric trucks and buses that will be on U.S. roads by 2030, motivated by state and federal policies. This presents both challenges and opportunities for utility regulators.
A handful of state utility commissions are addressing this head-on by initiating EV planning frameworks. For example, in Illinois, the state Commerce Commission is conducting a series of stakeholder workshops to discuss considerations for forthcoming utility transportation electrification plans. In New Jersey, regulators are considering a straw proposal outlining the development of charging infrastructure for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (MHDV) throughout the state.
However, most states are still in the early stages of planning for the transition to a zero-emission vehicle future.
In a new report released today, Environmental Defense Fund outlines seven principles to help state policymakers untangle the wires of supporting this transition in a way that's clean, equitable, reliable and cost-effective.
- Differentiate policy approaches for electric cars vs. trucks and buses. Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles have much different charging requirements than passenger cars, and therefore should require special consideration. For example, recharging electric MHDVs powerful enough to haul freight generally involves equipment that is bigger and more expensive than for passenger vehicles, and may therefore require more maintenance. To capture the benefits associated with electrification across the full range of vehicle types and business models, state policymakers and utilities should create tailored policies and programs that support electric MHDVs as well as electric light-duty vehicles. Public spending on widespread charging infrastructure — at least including equipment on the utility side of the meter, and potentially rebates and customer-side installations — will be necessary in the near term to promote greater levels of private investment.
- Ensure equitable infrastructure deployment. Communities of color and disadvantaged populations make up a higher percentage of the populations near roads and highways, meaning they shoulder the greatest health burden from vehicle pollution. Therefore, deployment of charging stations, particularly those needed to support electric MHDVs, should be prioritized in low-income, pollution-burdened communities where the air quality benefits of electrification will be felt immediately. Efforts at both the state and utility level need to be concentrated around proactively and meaningfully engaging stakeholders from these communities to identify and overcome barriers to EV deployment. In addition, equitable outcomes will also mean that small businesses seeking to make the transition to electric vehicles will have the means to do so — with financial assistance provided by states and utilities — and the education to understand the benefits of zero-emission vehicles.
- Collaboratively build marketing, education and outreach plans. Utilities should develop targeted marketing, education and outreach materials to help educate potential EV purchasers about the benefits of these vehicles, how to respond to price signals and available rebates and incentives. They must recognize that different communities and market segments may require nuanced messaging and approaches to resonate. For example, communities that have long suffered from harmful transportation pollution may find the air quality benefits of zero-emission vehicles persuasive, though are more likely to respond to a message about the lower upfront cost of EVs. Fleets, on the other hand, may need to hear about the significant total-cost-of-ownership benefits that come from a transition to zero-emission vehicles. Utilities should collaborate with various local organizations and businesses to inform their marketing, education and outreach plans.
- Monitor load data. State policymakers should require utilities to collect and monitor data to show the extent to which EVs are being effectively integrated into the grid, ensure prudent expenditure of ratepayer funds, and demonstrate progress against predetermined metrics and goals. By collecting load data, utilities can see how effective rate design and other means of managing charging are — and have a clear vision of where course corrections need to be made.
- Design rates that maximize the benefits of EVs. Utilities should structure rates to incentivize charging at times when low-cost, renewable energy is abundant and when demand is lower. They should provide a suite of options that accommodate the varied needs and capabilities of electric passenger cars and MHDVs, ensuring fuel-cost savings where feasible, and minimizing grid infrastructure build-out.
- Harness the potential for vehicle-grid integration (VGI) and on-site distributed energy resources. State policymakers and utilities should develop policies and programs that effectively facilitate VGI as a way to increase grid asset use, avoid costly grid build-out, integrate renewable energy resources and increase grid resiliency.
- Ensure the use of standards that will future-proof equipment and ensure a better customer experience. To more effectively harness the benefits of EVs and provide a better customer experience, state policymakers and utilities must develop across-the-board standards for infrastructure, communication and safety. As an analog, having open standards is akin to being able switch your cell phone to another network or swap out your SIM card if you are in another country.
By adopting these guidelines, state policymakers and utilities will be able to drive more rapid, widespread and equitable deployment of EVs and their infrastructure. Moreover, these strategies will help ensure that the transition occurs in a way that maximizes climate, health and economic benefits.
With the right approach, state policymakers and utilities will be able to rise to the challenge of ushering in this new era of electric vehicles — one that is cleaner, greener, more socially equitable and results in a more resilient electric grid system, too.