There are at present 276 million registered vehicles in the United States. About 1 million of them are electric.
If the Green New Deal is to have any chance at achieving the Green part of the New Deal, almost all of this vast fleet of cars, pickups and SUVs will have to be electric by 2030. Is it possible? Yes. Will it be easy? No.
Let’s start with the glass half full. 2018 saw a phenomenal jump in the sales of electric cars–an 81% increase over 2017, which was also a banner year. Put another way, half of all the electric cars in America were sold in the past two years.
To get to 276 million electric vehicles, sales would have to grow at a phenomenal rate–but less than the 81% recorded in 2018. We’d ‘only’ need sales to grow at a 60% rate every year for 12 years. But things are not that simple, obviously.
The average age of all cars on the roads today is 11.6 years, which means that the attitudes of car buyers would have to turn towards electric more or less today to have any chance at getting that rate of growth–and it also means that charging stations would have to be ubiquitous across the land. Manufacturers would have to change their mindsets as well–most of their profits come from SUVs and pick-ups that pay little heed to environmental concerns, although hybrid vehicles are not too hard to find.
Attitudinal change is a heavy lift. We’ve seen it happen–most notably in the shift of acceptance of LGBTQ people in the mainstream of American society over the past, umm, 12 years. It can be done. But we not only need people preaching about that–we need an environmental ‘Will and Grace’ normalization of this attitude, and sadly, characterizations of environmental passion tend more towards Portlandia than Will and Grace.
But the reason electric vehicles are a foundation stone of the Green New Deal is that by itself, EVs are sort of a bait and switch. If the electricity powering your electric car is generated by a coal plant, we’re not really solving the emissions problem. (Emissions are lower–even if powered by coal, electric cars reduce emissions by about 20%.) But 20% is definitely less sexy than 100%.
The ideal setup, at least in those states with adequate sunlight, is to have solar panels on the roof charging a battery in the garage during the day which recharges your electric car overnight. Which poses a problem if you live in an apartment building. Or in North Dakota in winter.
But approaching clean power generation from the top down is slow and difficult. Telling an energy company with high powered lobbyists that their $1 billion investment in a clean coal power plant needs to be written off doesn’t play well. Legislative push factors work better if accompanied by citizen/consumer pull factors–people saying they did their part by buying a potentially emission free vehicle and it’s time industry did their part as well.
Electric vehicles can stimulate take-up of solar power (and residential wind, if it ever becomes a ‘thing’) and provide impetus for conversion of electricity generation as well. Because it starts with us, it sends the right signals to the market place, to politicians and to industry.
It is the big deal.