With electric vehicle adoption being dependent on both electricity supply and charging infrastructure, is it our chance to bring energy equity?
As electric vehicle (EV) sales went up 87% in the last year–the buildout of public EV charging stations is growing exponentially. However, access remains a challenge for most people, as “not all locations are created equal” with the status quo of charger siting. EV charging must be made ubiquitous, accessible to all, and affordable- democratizing the clean transition of transportation.
Traditionally, to drive uptake in EV adoption, more premium EV’s are built first, and then sold in regions that provide incentives. Naturally, the private investment in charging infrastructure prioritized higher-income areas. Despite the fact that California is one of the few states with an equity mandate, and at least 35% of utilities’ funding for charging equipment go toward underserved communities, low-income communities on average have the fewest total chargers per capita, while high-income communities have the most.
This is causing the rise of EV charging “deserts”, a phenomenon similar to that of food deserts.
In foreign markets, there has already been a precedent set for EV adoption by lower and middle-class communities. For most consumers, price (or more importantly, cost) is the key decision driver. A study in Norway found that for 41% of EV buyers, the primary reason to buy an EV was “to save money”. This share of price-conscious EV buyers is likely to be even higher in the general population compared to early EV adopters.
An ICCT report early this year finds that higher rates of depreciation for first owners of EVs will lead to larger benefits for lower-income second owners. Currently, once accounting for fuel and other operating savings, some households in all income groups could save money by replacing at least one vehicle with an EV; this increases to 45% of households by 2025 and 95% of households by 2030. Savings from EVs relative to income are significantly higher for low-income households, non-White households, and households in areas with higher levels of pollution.
For car owners in the lowest-income quintile, savings from switching to EVs amount to $1,000 per household annually, or 7% of income, by 2030.
These charging deserts have disastrous public health consequences. According to the California Dept. of Public Health, four in ten Californians, more than in any other state, live close enough to a freeway or busy road that they may be at increased risk of asthma, cancer and other health hazards. Nearly twice as many California residents die from traffic pollution as from motor vehicle accidents, and these negative health consequences disproportionately affect low-income communities who tend to live near busy highways and have longer commutes–the same groups currently being left out of EV charging infrastructure.
EV charging equity has the opportunity to not only improve public health but also economic opportunity for communities.
A Harvard study has shown that a person’s commute time is the most critical factor in their chances of escaping poverty, and new mobility technologies like EVs have the potential to improve equity and access to transportation because they are not limited by existing transit infrastructure.
Another report from the Greenlining Institute, says that driving on electricity in California is equivalent to paying only one dollar-per-gallon in a gasoline vehicle. Unlike gasoline prices, which fluctuate with the global oil market, the price of electricity is stable because it comes from a diverse, largely domestic supply and is carefully regulated by the state’s Public Utilities Commission. If the average American household were to drive on electricity, it would save over $2,000 annually, reducing its fuel bill by more than two thirds. This margin can make a critical difference for members of underprivileged communities that spend more than 30% of their income on fuel costs.
At ElectricFish, we have a novel, integrated approach for this problem. Our product is a modular battery pack integrated with state-of-the-art, extreme-fast electric vehicle chargers. We deploy these batteries at partner sites located ubiquitously such as gas stations, creating a network of distributed energy storage.
With this network we can support the need for accelerated scaling of charging infrastructure, and also the rising frequency of high-impact grid disruption events resulting from climate change, which disproportionately affect older adults, socially isolated people, and minority racial and ethnic populations.
We can locally counter the huge power draw caused by uncontrolled charging, along with the grid ties of status quo charging infrastructure, which is a design failure that compounds the reliability challenge. We will help utilities avoid the time-of-use electricity rate structures to manage this problem, alleviating the concerns of high retail electricity rates that would have disproportionately impacted lower-income, lower electricity-consuming ratepayers.
We have 3 facets of innovation for the solution: data-intelligence, scalable hardware, and the optimization engine.
First, using datasets like grid hosting capacity, traffic trip, and disadvantaged designation of the community–we choose deployment hotspots that are best for making fast revenue, while driving equitable services like community-power backup. Second, our hardware takes only a maximum of 12 weeks to do a production build. It is a containerized box that can be dropped at site and activated without needing any trenching, leveling, or site preparation. Third, inhouse optimization helps us exponentially grow the value of our distributed network. These elements allow us to lower deployment time and costs, and in turn pass on these savings.
Our mission is to bring fast, clean, and reliable power to the communities who need it most. We believe it is essential for infrastructure programs to put equity as priority for disadvantaged communities historically impacted by a lack of transportation investments.
This is the sixth post in a recurring series of ElectricFish insights around the transition to a modern electricity infrastructure. Stay tuned for our upcoming posts!
Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, Klinenberg