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Community Benefits of Rural Vehicle Electrification

Today, the rate of EV adoption in rural areas is roughly 40 percent lower than it is in urban areas, and EV charging infrastructure expansion has mostly been concentrated in cities and along major highways.

Closing this gap will help rural communities more quickly realize the significant benefits from EVs, including  economic development opportunities from offering people a place to charge their vehicles, health benefits from improved air quality, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. 

Three Key Community Benefits from EVs

Economic Development

A well-to-do-looking man in a suit leans against an electric vehicle while it’s charging in a parking lot. He’s holding a bag of groceries and looking at a smartphone. Given current limits on the range of EVs, those drivers may be especially attuned to the availability of charging stations along their routes, and plan their stops accordingly.

Given the significant time required even when using fast charging infrastructure, EV drivers may also be inclined to combine their refueling stops with other activities, including visits to local stores, restaurants, parks, and attractions in the vicinity.

Providing EV charging stations can thus enable rural communities to draw regional travelers driving EVs and to stay connected to the broader EV charging network, benefiting both local residents and outside visitors alike, as well as bringing in revenue for local businesses.  

While it may require substantial investment in charging infrastructure to realize these outcomes, much of those costs can be covered by a variety of funding opportunities. Many public and private organizations offer grants, loans, or financial incentives to help individuals, businesses, and communities purchase both EVs and EV chargers. See EV Infrastructure Funding and Financing for Rural Areas for information on Federal funding programs that could support entities in planning for and purchasing EV charging infrastructure.    

Health Benefits

According to the American Lung Association, transitioning to a nationwide electric transportation system by 2050 would save about 6,300 lives every year and avoid 93,000 asthma attacks and 416,000 lost work days annually.The tailpipe emissions from internal combustion engine vehicles cause air pollution, which leads to adverse health impacts. Battery electric vehicles run with zero tailpipe emissions, while plug-in hybrid electric vehicles produce some emissions when they operate on gasoline, but less than comparable conventional vehicles. As a result, EVs can reduce air pollution around rural homes and businesses and provide health benefits.

According to the American Lung Association, transitioning to a nationwide electric transportation system by 2050 would save approximately 6,300 lives every year and avoid 93,000 asthma attacks and 416,000 lost work days annually.

Due to regenerative braking, EVs also have less brake dust pollution than conventional vehicles.

Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The transportation sector is responsible for 29 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, more than any other U.S. sector, and approximately 60 percent of these emissions come from passenger vehicles. Compared to conventional vehicles, EVs have significantly lower GHG emissions, especially if electricity is generated with renewable energy sources like hydroelectric, solar, or wind. Transitioning from conventional vehicles to EVs can contribute to climate change mitigation and national emission reduction goals.

The effects of climate change are felt in different ways in different communities, but examples in rural areas include increased frequency and severity of wildfires, increased frequency and severity of storms and flooding, and increased heat and droughts.

EV Manufacturing and Employment in Rural America and Traditionally Underserved Communities

As a young and rapidly growing industry, the manufacturing and supply chains for EVs, their components, and charging equipment present an opportunity to expand investment in the American workforce and local communities. While the motor vehicle sector as a whole shed 9 percent of its jobs in 2020, the electric vehicle sector added 6,000 jobs (8 percent growth).

Recent announcements promise further strong investment—for example, in late 2021, Ford and partner companies announced plans for three plants for EVs and batteries in Kentucky and Tennessee, investing more than $10 billion and creating more than 10,000 jobs.   

The growth of EV manufacturing also offers the opportunity to increase employment in ways that ensure the economic benefits of EVs are equitably distributed, across both urban and rural populations, as well as among communities of color and traditionally underserved communities. Several studies have examined potential policies to help guarantee that communities can get the most benefit from EV investment and employment gains. 

A technician assembles part of a vehicle in a manufacturing warehouse.
Nissan built and upgraded facilities to manufacture its zero-emissions LEAF vehicle and created more than 1,300 jobs at its facilities supported by an Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan. (Nissan North America photo)

Federal Action to Support the EV Manufacturing Base

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed in November 2021 provides extensive funding to support domestic manufacturing for EVs and related equipment, including more than $6 billion for programs to support a domestic supply chain for battery production and $750 million for “advanced energy” manufacturing facilities (including those for EVs and charging infrastructure). 

In addition, DOE has launched several initiatives to support the domestic EV industry, including a National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries 2021-2030; the “Li-Bridge,” a public-private consortium for lithium battery manufacturing; and a multi-agency Federal consortium to support a domestic industrial base for lithium batteries.

DOE is also pursuing additional actions and plans to “bolster the domestic supply chain of advanced batteries.” In November 2021, DOE awarded funding for “Electric Vehicle Community Partner Projects” focused on building an EV ecosystem in underserved communities, with one award specifically focused on economically distressed Appalachia and another focused on rural Tribal communities in the Upper Midwest.

Developing Tomorrow’s EV Workforce  

As the American workforce adapts to the growing needs of the EV industry, researchers are working to understand the potential workforce impacts of a large-scale transition to EVs. As with any new industry, many new jobs will be created, while others may be eliminated. Some studies have pointed to the uncertainties around net job creation from EV manufacturing.

It is expected that most automotive-parts manufacturing jobs will not change significantly, although this will vary based on job type. 

In terms of overall impact, a 2021 report by Energy and Environmental Research found that the Biden Administration’s plan for 500,000 fast chargers by 2030 would “generate workforce needs of around 28,950 job-years from 2021 to 2030.” That report also analyzed California’s workforce needs and found that the greatest needs for light-duty EV charging infrastructure would be for electricians and electrical contractors, general contractors, and planning and design consultants. 

Federal action in EV workforce development is spearheaded by DOE, which supports relevant programs for EVs and other kinds of alternative fuels and alternative fuel vehicles—including efforts to train technicians, first responders, and code and safety officials. A major expansion of DOE’s efforts will focus on building a clean mobility workforce to support the decarbonization of the transportation sector by 2050.

DOE-funded activities in EV workforce development include two programs managed by Argonne National Laboratory, with new initiatives in this area in development:

  • The Clean Cities University Workforce Development Program places interns at Clean Cities coalitions around the United States, where they work on infrastructure deployment, data collection, outreach and education, and marketing. This program works extensively in rural areas, and includes a specific focus on representing diverse populations.
  • Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTCs) challenge university teams to design and build next-generation clean mobility solutions and apply theoretical and applied knowledge in engineering to solve the toughest challenges facing the mobility industry. This program engages extensively with universities in more rural States, including the University of Alabama, Mississippi State, West Virginia University, University of Tennessee, and others. In 2022, DOE will launch the EcoCAR EV Challenge AVTC series, which will offer broad opportunities for participation from minority-serving institutions, as well as rural and other historically underserved educational institutions.

Additional advanced mobility workforce education programs are in development to enable upskilling and reskilling of the workforce to support the decarbonization of the transportation sector and fill future clean energy jobs.

Other examples of activity in EV workforce development include: 

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Last updated: Wednesday, February 2, 2022