How to bring electric cars into low income communities?

The California Energy Commission said in June that the state needs around 1.2 million electric vehicle chargers in shared public and private places, such as office complexes and multi-residential buildings, to achieve its mandated goal of putting 8 million zero-emission passenger vehicles on the road by 2030.

With only 73,000 public and shared chargers available today, that means the number of chargers statewide is expected to increase by around 15 times. An expansion of this magnitude over a nine-year period cannot be achieved if current trends persist in terms of who buys electric vehicles and where charging stations are built.

To accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles and achieve state goals, electrification must be done in a more equitable and cost-effective manner. Currently, most electric fast-charging stations in Los Angeles are located in neighborhoods where residents can afford electric vehicles; in contrast, areas where average incomes are less than $ 50,000 are often “deserts in charge”.

The problem is, the public electric vehicle charging network was designed to serve early adopters – drivers who can afford the higher initial cost of an electric vehicle. But if charging station developers wait for increased demand for charging to organically emerge, low-income communities will continue to be left out and state targets for vehicle electrification will remain out of reach. scope.

Fortunately, economic and political factors are starting to align in a way that catalyzes the development of a much larger electric vehicle charging network that works for everyone.

First, electric vehicles are becoming increasingly affordable, in part thanks to rapidly declining battery costs. The initial cost of some electric vehicles could reach parity with their gasoline alternatives as early as next year, according to the latest research from BloombergNEF. Meanwhile, the first generation of lower-cost, long-range electric vehicles, such as the Chevrolet Bolt and the Tesla Model 3, are starting to change hands as they pull out of leasing or the owner of the vehicle. origin sells.

These cars create a market for used electric vehicles that was almost nonexistent until now. As new and used electric vehicles become more affordable, more drivers will be able to purchase them, generating demand for public charging in the areas where they live and work.

Second, according to the new California Clean Miles standard, rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft are due to start electrifying their California fleets in 2023. And by the end of the decade, 90% of ridesharing miles in the state must be electric. The Clean Miles standard adds regulatory pressure on clean promises for electrification.

A recent RMI analysis of 101 million carpooling miles has shown that electric carpool drivers currently have to leave their neighborhoods and operate in wealthier neighborhoods where public charging stations exist. And according to Lyft statistics, 46% of Lyft trips start or end in low-income areas, meaning there is a strong demand for ridesharing within those communities to support an electric fleet if public charging stations exist.

The Clean Miles standard requires investments in charging infrastructure everywhere, but especially in low-income communities that are underserved by the existing charging network. It would also extend the benefit of reducing local air pollution by replacing internal combustion engines.

The electrification of vehicle fleets is crucial in part because each vehicle is used much more than a personal vehicle. A 2020 study by Alan Jenn of UC Davis found that electrifying a single Uber or Lyft vehicle gives the environmental and emissions benefits of electrifying about three private vehicles.

By electrifying en masse, a fleet of vehicles can also change the economics of large-scale charging. RMI analysis found that LA’s charging network will need to be increased three to six times just to support electrified ride-sharing fleets.

With carpooling drivers as anchor customers, we have found that a robust and extensive charging network can quickly achieve profitability for station operators. In our analysis, we focused on DC fast chargers – stations where drivers can charge on the go – which are especially important for fleets that need to minimize vehicle downtime. They also benefit low-income drivers in general, who may not have access to private charging at home or at work. But despite the promising economic outlook, setting up fast charging remains a challenge, with frequent allowing for delays, complex regulatory processes and other costs.

These barriers will need to be removed for California to meet its electric vehicle, climate and air quality goals. Policymakers can allocate public funds to provide better access to charging in low-income neighborhoods and a more inclusive transportation system overall. And utilities need to make sure their pricing structures don’t discourage the development of new EV charging stations. For example, charges based on peak power consumption can be prohibitive for fast charging stations.

Alternatives include a short-term “suspension” of these fees, or a sliding scale approach that gradually puts them in place to allow stations to build a stable base of usage and revenue.

If California can spur the growth of a broad and equitable charging network, it will provide a model for the rest of the country in building a cleaner, more sustainable future for transportation.

Britta Gross is the Managing Director of the Carbon Free Mobility Program at RMI, a clean energy nonprofit research organization.


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