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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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America's EV Boom Faces Grid Challenges And Parking Puzzles

  • The Biden administration aims for 50% of all new vehicle sales to be electric by 2030, challenging an already aging energy grid.
  • To meet the EV targets, the US will need massive expansion in public and private EV chargers, increasing current capacities by 20-fold.
  • The challenge of charging infrastructure intertwines with the US's ongoing parking crisis, emphasizing the need for shared charging solutions.

The electric vehicle revolution is already well underway, and estimates of future EV adoption are enormous. While the EV industry and the policymakers who back it are charging full speed ahead, however, there are some major infrastructure challenges that the EV boom will have to work around if it wants to maintain its projected growth trajectory. And for some of those problems, there’s no clear answer. The main two logistical issues facing EV are grid infrastructure and public charging infrastructure, and both issues are more complex than they may seem on the surface. 

EV sales reached a record high in 2022, and future sales are expected to explode as electric cars become more affordable, the public becomes more trusting of the vehicles’ utility and reliability, and the policy atmosphere becomes increasingly supportive. The Biden administration has set a goal of having 50% of all new vehicle sales be electric by just 2030 and has thrown a considerable amount of money behind the cause through initiatives such as the Inflation Reduction Act. While 50% by 2030 may be overly ambitious, the United States has consistently kept ahead of projected EV adoption, and domestic EV usage could continue to grow quicker than experts have anticipated. 

On a global scale, the International Energy Administration reports that “the global auto industry is undergoing a sea change, and electric vehicle sales are expected to expand by 35% this year to reach 14 million, in an increase that the IEA referred to as “explosive growth.” The agency estimates that the growth of the EV sector will offset the need for 5 million barrels of oil a day by 2030. 

In order to keep up with all that growth, EV infrastructure will have to expand at a breakneck pace. This will present a major challenge for the energy grid, especially in the United States, where grid infrastructure is already aging and strained. Nationwide, the cost and scale of the upgrades needed are enormous. Required updates, according to a recent CNBC report, include “more high-voltage transmission lines to transport electricity from rural wind and solar power plants to demand centers; smaller distribution lines and transformers for last-mile electricity delivery; and hardware such as inverters that allow customers with home batteries, EVs and solar panels to feed excess energy back into the grid.” California alone will have to spend $50 billion by 2035 in distribution grid upgrades in order to meet its own stated EV targets.

And then there’s the other issue: charging stations. If the nation meets its stated EV goals – 50% of new car sales by 2030 – the country will need 1.2 million public EV chargers and 28 million private EV chargers by that time, according to calculations from McKinsey. That means it will have to increase its current charging capacities 20-fold. Expansion of chargers will be key to pushing adoption, as charging anxiety is one of the most significant barriers for EV adoption. This expansion represents a major expense and a significant infrastructure hurdle. It is also a parking nightmare.

The United States is facing an increasingly recognized and an increasingly crazy-making parking crisis. Parking in the United States is simultaneously a problem of scarcity and abundance. In certain places at certain times, people fight – sometimes fatally – over access to parking, but at any given time the majority of parking spots in the country sit empty. And that massive over-abundance of parking makes our communities less navigable, less comfortable, less business-friendly, and even more prone to extreme heat. And EVs are going to exacerbate all of those issues, as parking spots also become essential car-charging stations. 

While most EV-owners will do the vast majority of charging at home, there are many people in the United States – and a great many more worldwide – who do not have that option. The EV industry is already calling the one-third of US households that lack private parking ‘garage orphans.’ “Access to parking, already a struggle that brings out the worst in American drivers, is about to become an all-important factor in decarbonizing the American economy,” journalist and parking expert Henry Grabar recently wrote for the Atlantic in his article EVs Make Parking Even More Annoying. “Tens of millions of drivers will have to learn to share.” 

A focus on much faster, accessible, and easily shared public charging stations will be an absolute necessity for the EV revolution. “Most EV experts agree that infrastructure must precede EV adoption,” Grabar says. “But it’s going to be a very expensive change if we can’t get comfortable with the idea of a shared plug, a shared parking spot, and a little more attention to the practice of parking.”

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com 

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