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Top 6 considerations for electric vehicle readiness—and equity

Top 6 considerations for electric vehicle readiness—and equity
Jan 28, 2021
What steps need to be taken to make electric vehicle adoption a more attainable reality for greater numbers of people?  

Climate action is having a moment. Yesterday, the Biden administration issued an executive order on tackling the climate crisis. The order emphasizes clean and zero-emissions vehicles for federal, state, local, and tribal government fleets, including vehicles of the United States Postal Service.

State and local governments have made important commitments as well. Many state and local governments provide zero emission vehicle rebates or incentives targeted especially for low income buyers. When Governor Gavin Newsom of California announced in September that all new car sales in California must be zero-emission by 2035, he raised the stakes in the fight against climate change. New Jersey and Massachusetts quickly followed suit by announcing similar goals to eliminate sales of internal combustion vehicles by 2035. California is part of a coalition of 14 other states plus Washington, D.C. that already set targets for zero-emission truck sales, and this past summer agreed to a goal of 100% zero-emission truck sales by 2050. In addition, Governor Newsom signed a bill into law that requires utilities to cover the costs of grid upgrades and meter infrastructure to support electric vehicle (EV) charging deployment. 

These bold actions will cause a ripple effect across the country, and likely the world. The governments of the 189 countries that ratified the Paris Agreement are looking to meet ambitious GHG targets, of which transportation is a big factor. EVs are one of the most promising tools to reduce emissions from transportation. As California is the largest vehicle market in the country, other states will likely follow in its footsteps, seizing on the federal momentum to speed the process of adopting zero-emission cars sooner than the 2050 deadline.

Now that the wheels have been set in motion, EV readiness planning is top-of-mind for state and local governments. This coordinated planning exercise is a community-wide effort that requires participation and input from a diverse group of stakeholders. The objective of EV readiness planning? To set goals and timelines regarding EV planning, charging infrastructure, policies, and related support services—and to make sure all parties are aligned. As you can imagine, there are many potential bumps in the road on the path to EV readiness. Here are six key elements for EV readiness planning that can remove barriers and increase equitable ownership of EVs across the board. 

1. Recruit a wide range of partners

While EV adoption may be an individual driver's personal choice, many decision makers factor into the equation of making EV ownership a possibility. EV readiness planning should bring a diverse group of stakeholders to the table, including state and local governments, businesses, and community groups. Governments, community leaders, and nonprofits all have a role to play in informing the public about the health, environmental, and financial benefits EV adoption will bring to their communities. Active teaching about the benefits of EVs helps make their adoption a reality.

2. Lead by example

Communities that want to encourage EV adoption can start by electrifying public fleets and hosting charging stations on their property. Changing city-owned vehicles and utility fleets to EVs is a good way for local governments to lead by example. This amplifies the importance of EVs, thus encouraging residents to think of alternative vehicle options. This may spark interest and enthusiasm among potential car buyers, and encourage them to get an EV sooner rather than later. 

3. Map out your territory

Charging stations cost money to install and operate; the business case for the station improves the more they are used. A previous study showed that stations cited through a careful planning process got much higher use than those that were placed without a planning process. Because higher utilization improves the business case, conducting a planning process before siting new charging stations means that the governments and businesses that install new charging stations will reach a return on their investment sooner—encouraging even more investment in charging stations.

It’s not easy for a city or county to know where to put charging stations. Fortunately, there is a way to determine the placement of EV charging stations that benefits everyone involved. Our WayPoint platform uses geographical information software (GIS) to transform complex geographical data into easy-to-understand visual data, which helps decision-makers plan EV charging station placements in a strategic manner. We worked with the Fuels Institute to map charging demand in ten major metropolitan areas across the U.S., and have done similar analyses for other cities, counties, and government agencies across the country. 

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LA EV readiness map

Using data and mapping tools, local governments can place EV charging stations in locations where demand projections are high, so charging stations will be well used. Places such as high-traffic metropolitan areas and rural areas with limited transportation options (i.e., little to no public transportation) are logical starting points to expand access to EVs. 

4. Align city and local government policies

A common roadblock to EV adoption is overlapping city, state, and local jurisdictions with different policies. Often, getting permits for EV charging stations can be cumbersome and take a long time. So, it is essential to look for opportunities to streamline permit policies for EV charging stations.

There may be different drivers for why each jurisdiction wants to see increasing EV adoption—whether it’s reducing emissions from vehicle segments, improving air quality, or more general concerns about the climate. But seeking alignment on making EVs and zero-emission vehicles a key element of state and local climate action plans and transportation plans is important for EV readiness planning.

There are also funding opportunities for EVs and charging infrastructure at the federal, state, and local level. Local governments should seek out—and align—EV adoption incentives, partnering with local utilities and other local partners to increase participation and drive results. (This is another reason to recruit a broad set of partners early on.)  These incentives may be in the form of purchase-based incentives (such as tax rebates) or use-based incentives, which include a rebate on vehicle registration fees, a discount on their electric bill, or free parking while charging. 

5. Increase access and equity 

Over the past decade, EVs have become increasingly prevalent on the roads. But concerns about the access to and availability of charging stations continues to stall wider adoption. Consumer data tell us that the typical demographic for EV owners are people who live in single-family homes. One reason these individuals have higher adoption of EVs is they can more easily charge their vehicles at home, compared to drivers who live in apartments, condominiums, or other multi-family dwellings where they cannot easily access charging where they park their cars.

State and local governments can help narrow the gap between typical EV owners and those for whom EVs have traditionally been out of reach (e.g., individuals who live in multi-family dwellings). To make EV ownership more practical for multi-unit dwellers and non-homeowners, they should also consider using public-private collaborations—such as utilities and local businesses—to provide additional charging stations. More charging stations in shared spaces (apartments, condos), public spaces (parking lots, street sides) and popular destinations (shopping centers, local attractions) opens doors for new demographics to purchase an EV knowing they will be able to charge it.  

6. Communicate the benefits

Beyond broader access for people already in the market for an electric vehicle, it’s important for local governments, community leaders, and nonprofits to craft compelling and effective educational outreach campaigns to communicate the health, environmental, and financial benefits of EV adoption. 

For example, the American Lung Association recently released its Road to Clean Air report using data and analysis provided by ICF. It calls for a transition to more electric vehicles by 2050 to slow climate change and bring down respiratory illnesses, medical costs, and deaths. 

Active teaching about the benefits of EVs can help make their adoption a reality. On top of the environmental and health benefits, this type of communication instills trust in the local government and jurisdiction bodies who make the efforts to educate and help their constituents.

A new day for EVs

The Biden administration is creating more opportunity for EVs than ever. The big federal push for EVs may include funding to support state and local efforts, so it’s important to have a strong plan in place. As states and local governments prepare for greater adoption of EVs, these lessons from previous EV readiness planning efforts can help them maximize the benefits and returns from their efforts.

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Meet the author
  1. Scott Walsh, Director, Climate and Transportation

    Scott has over two decades of experience advising companies, governments, and nonprofits to improve strategy, operations, finance, and sustainability. View bio