Hurdles remain as Biden’s EV push comes to life
President Biden’s push for more electric vehicles (EVs) on the road and more charging stations around the U.S. is gaining fresh traction while Americans continue to face historically high gas prices at the pump.
The president has been focused on an ambitious climate agenda, which has largely stalled in the Senate, but federal funding for electric vehicle infrastructure manufacturing was passed in the bipartisan infrastructure law, which the president signed in November.
The law included $7.5 billion for electric vehicle chargers and since then, the Biden administration has allocated funding to kick-start programs with the goal of making electric vehicles more prevalent on American roads by the end of the decade.
“I think the amount of money makes me optimistic. Of course, most of it is being distributed to the states, and the states are going to have to use that infrastructure money strategically. And that I believe is going to mean a heavy emphasis on making charging access available to apartment dwellers,” said Jenny Carter, assistant professor at the Vermont Law School Institute for Energy and the Environment.
Biden’s targeted goal of 50 percent EV sale shares in the U.S. by 2030 also includes manufacturing a network of 500,000 chargers that will help make EVs accessible to all Americans for both local and long-distance drives.
The White House has stressed its focus on equity in its push to get more EVs on the road, while electric cars are largely still considered an item for the wealthy or solely for people who can afford and have the space for chargers at their homes.
“The challenge with electric vehicle charging, if you look at how people currently charge who own EVs, it’s all at home. People who own EVs tend to be higher income and have a garage or driveway,” said Tim Johnson, chair of the Master of Environmental Management Energy and Environment Program at Duke University.
“Building our public charging network is critical really for half the U.S. households. What the administration is doing, yes, I think from the charger standpoint and the money going in, it’s critical. It compliments what the manufacturers are doing,” he added.
Carter agreed that most people will want to charge at home, but the millions of Americans who live in apartment buildings also need to be taken into consideration, pointing to an increase in charging stations on streets and in parking lots.
“Nobody’s going to want to have to drag a charging cable from their house, from their apartment, 200 feet down the road to plug into their car. We’re going to have to make charging accessible to people,” she said.
But experts are optimistic by the amount of money and focus from the administration on the issue.
“I’m really optimistic that we can overcome some of these obstacles. With gas at $5 a gallon, there’s a huge incentive for people to want to move to electric vehicles,” she said.
The Department of Energy in early May announced a $3.16 billion grant program, funded through the bipartisan infrastructure law, to aid domestic manufacturing of electric vehicle batteries.
Recent research from the Federal Consortium for Advanced Batteries projected an increased demand for electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries, indicating the lithium battery market will grow by a factor of five to 10 within the next 10 years.
Johnson said that building up EVs and charging networks is a “chicken and egg issue,” because domestic manufacturing and supply chain issues need to be sorted out to make more in the U.S. He said that to make more vehicles, the cost of batteries and the constraints of minerals has to come down.
In April, Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to step up mining of rare earth metals used in the production of batteries.
But, once these electric cars are more common on the roads, the demand will increase.
“The more people who see them, know people who drive them and are happy with them, more people will become comfortable with them,” Johnson said. “But you need all three pieces: the charging network, the cost to go down and for electric vehicles of all types to seem normal.”
With high gas prices top of mind for Americans, Biden has put the blame on Russian President Vladimir Putin with the messaging out of the White House centering on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the cause of the high prices at the pump seen at home.
Also since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the administration has framed its domestic moves on renewable energy as a way to create jobs and reduce Putin’s leverage over international energy supplies.
In February, Tritium, an Australian company, announced it is building a U.S. electric vehicle chargers manufacturing plant that will begin production in the fall.
Biden, at the time, said the creation of a facility to build chargers for electric vehicles in Tennessee is part of a comeback for American manufacturing and a sign of the post-pandemic jobs resurgence. The plant will have room to expand to building 30,000 units per year and plans to employ more than 500 people over the next five years.
But, in order for the U.S. to reach its EV goals, experts say that provisions in Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, which ultimately died in the Senate late last year when it didn’t garner enough votes to pass, needs to be resurrected.
Build Back Better included enhanced EV tax incentives of up to $12,500 per vehicle, which aimed to lower the cost of buying an electric car and in turn, increase consumer demand.
The administration has made broad commitments to climate change, including cutting carbon emissions in half by 2023. But much of its climate agenda had been tailored in Build Back Better, which the administration is now trying to advance in smaller pieces.
“We need at least parts of Build Back Better to kind of reach the vision of this transformation to electric vehicles. It really can’t happen with making electric vehicles affordable for everyone. There’s a lot of promise in this,” Carter said.