Electric cars are poised to play an important role in our clean energy future, but in order for everyone to benefit from EVs, they must have access to chargers. While the Build Back Better bill suffered a major setback over the weekend, potentially resulting in significantly less funding for the transition to electric vehicles, there is still hope that the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed in November will bring EV charging infrastructure to areas that have previously been overlooked.
This might make it easier for drivers from underserved populations to transition to electric vehicles while simultaneously improving air quality in their towns.
According to experts, the current distribution of charging stations is not equal nor convenient for many low-income and minority populations. The areas with the most access to chargers tend to be richer and whiter across the country. Experts think the Biden administration can go a long way toward addressing this issue if it listens to recommendations from those groups. Otherwise, current gaps may worsen as authorities rush to shift to electric vehicles.
“There’s probably not a city in which you can look and say there’s a proliferation of charging infrastructure in these underrepresented communities since the strategy was: let’s place charging infrastructure where EV car registration is,” says Terry Travis, managing partner and co-founder of EVNoire, a consulting group that works to increase industry diversity and equity. According to Travis, the typical EV driver is still a white guy from the suburbs.
With the cost of an EV likely to be equivalent to a gas-powered car this decade, that might soon change. When it comes to replacing gas-powered automobiles, access to charging will be the next most enormous challenge when EV costs fall. Many EV owners now prefer to charge their vehicles at home in their garage or driveway. Still, as EV adoption spreads beyond individual homeowners to those who rent or live in apartment complexes, public charging infrastructure will become increasingly crucial. There are only about 46,000 public charging stations in the country, and relatively few of them are fast-charging stations that can charge automobiles in less than an hour. According to one estimate, the country would require more than 100,000 fast-charging stations by the end of the decade.
In California, the EV adoption is pushed strongly, charging stations have been distributed unevenly depending on race and income. According to study published this year, census blocks with a majority of Black and Hispanic residents were “much less” likely to gain access to a charging station in their neighborhood than the rest of the state in 2019. The same was true for communities with incomes lower than the state median.
“The aspect that really shocked me [was] seeing that publicly supported infrastructure is dispersed in a less egalitarian way” than privately sponsored charging stations, says Chih-Wei Hsu, a researcher at Humboldt State University who conducted the study. According to Hsu, this gap is most likely the result of the state not being as deliberate in how it constructed its programs for subsidizing charging stations from the start. It’s a stumbling block the Biden administration will have to avoid now that it’s attempting to construct a nationwide charging network.
The recently passed infrastructure package contains $7.5 billion for EV charging infrastructure. This includes $5 billion for states and an additional $2.5 billion for subsidies to rural and “disadvantaged” regions. According to the White House, the intent is to construct a network of 500,000 charging stations around the country that is “convenient and egalitarian.”