President-Elect Joe Biden has unveiled a plan for building a modern sustainable infrastructure and an equitable clean energy future. It’s a vision based largely on the assumption of a massive wave of investment in electric vehicles. But Biden is not just dreaming, he intends to act:
“Biden also plans to invest big in carbon-free public transport and will aim to provide all cities of more than 100,000 people with quality public transportation by 2030. And also to invest in building electric vehicles with sufficient charging stations across the country — he will create 1 million new jobs in auto manufacturing, auto supply chains, and auto infrastructure .”
He’s going to be busy turning vast fleets of government vehicles electric, and installing 400,000 charging stations across the country. To think the U.S. now only has 150,000 gasoline stations.
If all goes according to plan, we could be looking at a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation in the U.S. is petroleum-based and contributes 28% of all U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (2018 data) – larger than electricity (27%), industry (22%) and commercial and residential (12%). If the U.S. could take a big bite out of petroleum-based transportation, that would go a long way towards reducing GHG emissions.
Cars and trucks contribute 82% of transportation GHG emissions in the US (Figure 1) where there are almost 300 million cars driving around.
Cars have started going electrical, but plug-ins are less than 2% of all US cars on the road (2.2% globally), and widespread adoption will be dubious if charging stations are not built quickly enough.
Auto manufacturers are reorienting. By 2025, thirty models of electric cars and electric trucks will be available from GM according to Mary Barra, CEO. They will include an SUV and an electric pickup, as well as a hummer electric sport utility by late 2021. “Climate change is real, and we want to be part of the solution,” Barra said.
Driving change: Norway versus the US
But let’s see how the US is progressing compared with other countries. Figure 2 reveals projected sales of electric vehicles versus year for different countries. Norway (top curve) is the leader by far, with right now over 50% of new vehicle sales being EVs. But the US is near the bottom.
Note that the modeling assumes a saturation level of 65% sales, which may reflect the difficulty of ever getting to 100% in a reasonable time-scale.
The secret to accelerate uptake of EVs is to make them cheap enough. Norway lowered taxes in EVs to keep the price down, and even exempted road tolls, as an incentive. The opposite approach would be to raise taxes on traditional cars – a kind of pollution tax.
What else can be learned from Norway? EVs in Norway are a diverse group, and there are also established electric buses, trams and trains. The Nissan Leaf, an unpretentious little car, is the best seller. But not so in the US where Tesla models are a clear winner with total 71,000 sales (data from first half of 2020). Chevy Bolt has about 8,000 and Nissan Leaf 3,000.
Costs come into the EV uptake of course, but if the federal tax credit of up to $7,500 is deducted, an EV may not cost much more than a gasoline counterpart. Tesla Model 3 prices are $38,000 – $55,000.
So given the Biden Administration’s will to boost EV fortunes, we can expect Biden to push for generous incentives on EVs alongside a rollback of Trump’s rollback (to 40 mpg) of Obama’s fuel economy standards (54.5 mpg). California, naturally, is in the middle of this with its own goal of lowering greenhouse gases. Despite clashes with the Trump administration, they have reached a deal with five car makers that is only slightly less strict than the Obama plan. Looking beyond 2025, Governor Gavin Newsom has stated he will ban all sales of new gasoline vehicles by 2035.
Read more: Forbes