The U.S. transportation sector is at a pivotal tipping point: It is responsible for almost 30% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the country, but it is also electrifying at an unprecedented rate. An influx of federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is supercharging electric vehicle (EV) adoption. In Q3 of 2023, the U.S. had reached a total of more than 4.2 million EV sales, and analysis shows that between 30-42 million EVs may be deployed by 2030. This transition brings with it the promise of decreased GHG emissions, improved air quality and new good-paying jobs in communities across the country, including areas with longtime auto manufacturing.

But to maximize EVs’ decarbonization potential, the increased demand for electricity must be fully met with clean generation resources. Without active management, this additional demand could also strain the power grid. A range of EV stakeholders, including WRI, are advancing solutions to address these challenges.

WRI U.S. works with local and state governments, the federal government, corporations, school districts, electric utilities, vehicle manufacturers, charging companies, labor unions, community-based and environmental justice organizations and other stakeholders to speed up the equitable adoption of EVs and EV charging infrastructure in communities across the country; ensure that EVs are increasingly powered with clean, reliable and affordable electricity; and support the use of EVs as distributed assets that help the grid become more efficient and resilient. We research, identify and advocate for supportive policies and programs; maintain datasets on adoption, fleet composition and other important indicators; identify barriers to widespread adoption and associated solutions; and integrate privately owned EVs into a broader transportation vision that includes micromobility, safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and increased access to clean, electrified transit.

Across all these efforts, we work to ensure that the transition is equitable, for both the current vehicle manufacturing workforce and disadvantaged communities that bear the brunt of decades of transportation-related air pollution, and that a trained pipeline of workers is available to meet the needs of the rapidly growing EV industry. Additionally, WRI has begun work on overcoming critical mineral needs to achieve clean transportation and energy goals.

WRI’s EV work in the U.S. largely sits at the intersection between transportation, climate and energy. We focus on the following strategies:

1) Accelerating Fleet Electrification

Governments, school districts, businesses and other large fleet owners can play a major role in supporting the transition to a zero-carbon transportation system by transitioning their own car, truck and bus fleets to EVs. WRI works with fleet managers around the world to support vehicle electrification, including transit and school buses, where electrification can provide significant health, equity, climate and resilience benefits. In particular, WRI has led research and activities on key considerations related to last mile challenges, full fleet electrification, adoption trends, markets, workforce development, business models, utility make-ready programs and other topics.

The WRI U.S. program staffs the Electric School Bus Initiative, a 5-year effort created in partnership with the Bezos Earth Fund to electrify the entire U.S. school bus fleet. The Initiative collaborates with school districts, advocacy organizations, electric utilities, manufacturers, financing entities and policymakers across the U.S. to accelerate an equitable transition to electric school buses. 


2) Ensuring an Equitable and Just EV Transition

The benefits of EV growth will be inequitably distributed without an intention to address the challenges faced by workers and communities who have been historically underserved, marginalized and disproportionately affected by climate hazards. Issues such as EV affordability, access to charging infrastructure, grid reliability, access to good jobs, and concerns around production and battery disposal must be approached with strategies that prioritize the needs of those impacted most. Not doing so can result in the transition reinforcing ingrained systems of inequality, further burdening underserved communities and leaving them behind. WRI’s US team approaches its EV work with these issues at the front and center, from deploying equitable EV charging infrastructure across cities to tackling equity challenges in school district adoption of electric school buses.

Additionally, shifts in automotive production will change where and how people work — meaning the 3 million Americans currently employed by the U.S. auto industry (as well as their communities) will need sustained support to ensure a just transition to the clean transport economy. Local and state governments can grow the transport industry of the future by investing in workers.

WRI works to enable this just transition in a number of ways, including analyzing equitable EV adoption measures; developing and sharing strategies for EV charging infrastructure deployment that ensure access for low-income areas; and identifying where jobs will be eliminated and created across the value chain as a result of electrification efforts. WRI is also aiming to gain a better understanding of the workforce and skills needed for the rapidly growing EV industry and how policymakers can create a talent pipeline to meet this need. This work is done in partnership with labor unions, environmental justice organizations, state and local policymakers, academia and the private sector.


3) Expanding Public Access to EV Charging

Increased adoption of EVs requires a drastically expanded network of EV chargers. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) projects a medium scenario of 33 million EVs on the road in 2030, which would require 28 million charging ports — 26.8 million privately accessible at homes and workplaces, 1 million publicly accessible chargers near homes and workplaces, and 182,000 fast chargers along highways.

WRI works with state and local governments to plan for and scale access to affordable, reliable, public EV chargers across U.S. communities. For example, the team has researched the potential for pole-mounted charging to make EV charging more accessible and conducted educational sessions for local governments.

WRI has also run peer learning cohorts for U.S. local governments and Clean Cities coalitions on equitable and grid-friendly EV charging infrastructure deployment, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and NREL’s Clean Energy 2 Communities program. These cohorts have focused on communitywide EV readiness planning, funding and financing chargers, emerging ownership and businesses models, procurement, equitable solutions to scale charger access, coordinating with utilities on installation and interconnection, expanding the benefits of transportation electrification beyond passenger vehicles and more.


4) Pairing EV Loads with Renewable Energy

EVs are two to three times more energy-efficient than conventional gasoline-powered vehicles and have no tailpipe emissions. Driving and refueling an EV is already cleaner than gasoline-powered vehicles today, and EVs will only continue to get cleaner as the grid decarbonizes. As such, in order to reduce GHG emissions as much as possible, EV deployment should be paired with strategies for achieving fully renewable generation sources.

In response to this multifaceted challenge, utilities, automakers, cities and charging providers across the country are offering pilot programs and rates designed to match EV loads with renewable energy. WRI’s work in this area explores the ways in which residential and commercial EV charging can increasingly pair with clean energy sources.


5) Analyzing and Mitigating the Future Impact of EVs on the Grid

Over the next decade, the United States will see EV deployment increase dramatically. To help cities, airports and other large energy consumers plan for more EVs in their communities, WRI partnered with the UPS Foundation to create a modeling tool that forecasts future EV load impacts on the local grid and assesses the impact of EVs on individual neighborhoods. WRI also modeled how on-site solar and storage could provide resiliency to commercial customers in the event of an outage. WRI is also expanding work on grid resilience strategies like managed charging, vehicle-to-grid and retail pricing to promote flexible demand from EV loads.


6) Transportation Decarbonization Pathways and Vehicle Standards

As the transportation sector decarbonizes, policymakers need to know when — and at what pace — EVs and other zero-emission technologies can replace conventional vehicle fleets. To help support policymakers, WRI leverages third-party economic analyses and modeling studies to assess the long-term impact of different EV adoption scenarios.

WRI helps inform clean transportation programs, including the greenhouse gas and efficiency standards for vehicles, zero-emission vehicle standards, low-carbon fuel standards and purchase incentives. WRI’s New Climate Federalism project also provides recommendations for state, federal and local governments when transitioning to EVs. WRI also provides recommendations on how Congress, federal government agencies and local and state governments can scale up programs to electrify school buses, support healthy communities and create jobs.


Photo credit: Noya Fields/Flickr