Climate Change Is an Infrastructure Problem – Map of Electric Vehicle Chargers Shows One Reason Why

By Paul N. Edwards

Most of America’s 107,000 gas stations can refuel multiple cars at multiple pumps every five or ten minutes. Not so with chargers for electric cars – at least not yet.

Today there are around 43,000 public charging stations for electric vehicles with around 106,000 sockets in the United States. Each outlet can only charge one vehicle at a time, and even fast-charging stations take an hour to charge 180-240 miles; most of them take a lot longer.

The existing network is acceptable for many purposes. But chargers are very unevenly distributed; Almost a third of all retail outlets are in California. This makes electric cars problematic for long journeys, like the 850 miles of sparsely populated desert highway between Reno and Salt Lake City. “Range fear” of longer journeys is one reason electric vehicles still make up less than 1% of US cars and trucks.

This uneven, limited charging infrastructure is a major obstacle to the rapid electrification of the U.S. vehicle fleet and is seen as critical to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change.

It’s also a clear example that climate change is an infrastructure problem – my specialty as a climate science historian at Stanford University and editor of the Infrastructures book series.

For many decades, the United States has built transportation, heating, cooling, manufacturing, and farming systems that rely primarily on fossil fuels. The greenhouse gas emissions these fossil fuels release when burned have increased global temperature by about 1.1 ° C (2 ° F), with serious consequences for human lives and livelihoods, according to the recent report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows.

Like the previous special report on global warming of 1.5 ° C, the new assessment shows that minimizing future climate change and its most damaging effects means moving quickly away from fossil fuels and instead switching to renewable, sustainable energy sources such as wind and energy sources Will require solar power and tidal power.

This means rethinking how people use energy: how they travel, what and where they build, how they manufacture goods and how they grow food.

Petrol stations were also a transport infrastructure

Gas-powered vehicles with internal combustion engines have completely dominated American road traffic for 120 years. It is a long time before path addiction sets in as America built a nationwide system to support fossil fuel vehicles.

Gas stations are just the endpoints of this vast system that also includes oil wells, pipelines, tankers, refineries, and tankers – its own power generation and distribution infrastructure that also powers industry, agriculture, heating oil, shipping, air travel, and power generation.

Without them, your average gasoline sedan wouldn’t make it from Reno to Salt Lake City either.

Fossil fuel burning in the transportation sector is now America’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Switching to electric vehicles could significantly reduce these emissions. A recent life cycle study found that in the US in 2021, a battery-electric vehicle – charged from today’s grid – will produce only about a third as much greenhouse gas emissions as a similar gasoline-powered car made in 2021. Those emissions will decrease as more electricity increases comes from renewable sources.

Despite higher up-front costs, today’s electric vehicles are actually cheaper than gas-powered cars due to their higher energy efficiency and far fewer moving parts. An EV owner can expect to save $ 6,000 to $ 10,000 over the life of the car compared to a comparable conventional car. Big companies like UPS, FedEx, Amazon, and Walmart are already switching to electric delivery vehicles to save money on fuel and maintenance.

All of this is good news for the climate – but only if the power to power electric vehicles comes from low-carbon sources like the sun, tides, geothermal energy, and wind. (Also, nuclear power is low-carbon, but expensive and politically problematic.) Since our current power grid relies on fossil fuels for about 60% of its generating capacity, this is a major challenge.

In order to achieve maximum climate benefits, the power grid not only has to supply all cars that used to run on fossil fuels. At the same time, it must also meet the increasing demand through other changes to fossil fuels, such as B. electric water heaters, heat pumps and stoves to replace the millions of similar devices that currently run on fossil natural gas.

The Infrastructure Act

Princeton University’s Net-Zero America 2020 study estimates that developing, building, and deploying a low-carbon grid that could replace most fossil fuels would require around $ 600 billion in investments by 2030.

The infrastructure law now being debated in Congress was originally designed to achieve this goal halfway. It originally comprised $ 157 billion for electric vehicles and $ 82 billion for grid modernization. In addition, $ 363 billion in clean energy tax credits would have supported low-carbon power sources, along with energy storage to provide backup power during periods of high demand or reduced capacity from renewable energy sources. However, during the negotiations, the Senate completely dropped clean energy credits and cut funding for electric vehicles by over 90%.

Of the $ 15 billion left for electric vehicles, $ 2.5 billion would buy electric school buses, while a planned electric vehicle charging network with about 500,000 stations would get $ 7.5 billion – about half that needed According to Energy Minister Jennifer Granholm.

As for the power grid, the Infrastructure Act provides about $ 27 billion in direct funding and loans to improve grid reliability and climate resilience. It would also create a grid development agency under the US Department of Energy tasked with developing a national grid that can carry renewable energy across the country.

The Infrastructure Bill can be further modified by the House of Representatives before it reaches President Joe Biden’s desk, but many of the items that were deleted have been added to another bill intended for the House of Representatives: the $ 3.5 trillion budget.

As agreed by Senate Democrats, this plan includes many of the Biden government’s climate proposals, including tax credits for solar, wind and electric vehicles; a carbon tax on imports; and requirements for utility companies to increase the share of renewable energies in their energy mix. Senators can approve the budget by a simple majority during “reconciliation”, although it will almost certainly be cut again by then.

Overall, the bipartisan Infrastructure Act looks like a small but real down payment for a more climate-friendly transport sector and a more climate-friendly power grid that will take years to expand.

But to claim global leadership in avoiding the worst possible effects of climate change, the US needs at least the much greater commitment promised in the Democratic budget.

As with an electric car, this commitment will seem expensive upfront. But as the recent IPCC report reminds us, the potential savings from avoided climate risks such as droughts, floods, forest fires, deadly heat waves and sea level rise would be far greater in the long run.The conversation

Paul N. Edwards is a William J. Perry Fellow in International Security, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University.

Disclosure Statement: Paul N. Edwards is one of 234 lead authors on Working Group I 2021 Report for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment. This article reflects his personal views. His previous work, relevant to this article, was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Sloan Foundation.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.

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