Individual 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. Lower density and longer trips have resulted in urban-rural disparities in micromobility adoption as well. Closing these gaps will help rural residents, businesses, and communities more quickly realize the significant economic, environmental, and health benefits from EVs. This section describes the benefits that EVs can provide to individual vehicle owners and to rural communities as a whole. It also discusses key challenges in implementing EV charging infrastructure in rural areas along with emerging solutions for overcoming these challenges. As emphasized in EV Infrastructure Planning for Rural Areas, rural planners should work to ensure these benefits are equitably distributed across the community.
EVs offer numerous benefits to individual vehicle owners and businesses, including lower operating and maintenance costs, the ability to charge vehicles in a variety of locations, increasing range of vehicle options available, and the ability to provide a backup power source during outages or natural disasters.
Lower Vehicle Fuel and Maintenance Costs
Although EVs can have a higher purchase price than similar gasoline- or diesel-fueled vehicles, their lower maintenance and fuel costs can yield significant savings for as long as an EV is owned. For most vehicle owners, these fuel and maintenance savings will more than make up for the higher purchase price and result in a lower total cost of ownership. Moreover, some automakers project the up-front costs of EVs will continue to decrease, reaching purchase price parity with conventional vehicles around 2025 to 2030.
EVs take advantage of the inherent high efficiency of electric motors, making the average EV 3.6 times more energy efficient than a similar conventional vehicle. EVs also use regenerative braking, which allows the vehicle to recapture energy when braking. Because EVs are more efficient than conventional vehicles, they use far less energy and, considering the lower cost of electricity compared to gasoline, have substantially lower operating costs. Efficiency for EVs is typically measured in miles per gallon of gasoline equivalent (MPGe), which represents the number of miles a vehicle can travel using a quantity of electricity with the same energy content as a gallon of gasoline (33 kilowatt-hours [kWh])1. Most light-duty BEVs and PHEVs in electric mode can exceed 130 MPGe and can drive 100 miles consuming only 25–40 kWh. At the same time, EVs generally perform better than their conventional counterparts, with quicker and smoother acceleration, and better towing capacity, due to the fact that electric motors generate full torque at all revolutions per minute (RPMs) and EVs do not need a transmission.
While the cost of charging will depend on the cost of electricity in particular areas, the high fuel economy of EVs leads to lower fueling costs compared to gasoline or diesel vehicles. For example, the electricity required to drive an EV 15,000 miles in a year costs an average of $600, while the gasoline required to drive the same distance averages $2,700, representing a savings of over $2,100 per year.2 Argonne National Laboratory’s EVolution tool allows users to compare the expected fuel usage and costs of specific EVs and conventional gasoline vehicles based on gas and electricity prices in a given area. Lower fuel costs are especially beneficial in rural areas, where residents drive on average ten more miles per day than urban residents in vehicles that are, on average, larger and less fuel efficient. Largely due to these factors, rural drivers ultimately spend 44 percent more on gasoline and motor oil than urban drivers.
While the cost of charging will depend on the cost of electricity in particular areas, the high fuel economy of EVs leads to lower fueling costs compared to gasoline or diesel vehicles. For example, the electricity required to drive an EV 15,000 miles in a year costs an average of $546, while the gasoline required to drive the same distance averages $1,255, representing a savings of over $700 per year.
Argonne National Laboratory’s EVolution tool allows users to compare the expected fuel usage and costs of specific EVs and conventional gasoline vehicles based on gas and electricity prices in a given area. Lower fuel costs are especially beneficial in rural areas, where residents drive on average 10 more miles per day than urban residents in vehicles that are, on average, larger and less fuel efficient. Largely due to these factors, rural drivers ultimately spend 44 percent more on gasoline and motor oil than urban drivers.
In addition to fuel savings, average maintenance and repair costs for an EV are up to 50 percent lower than a conventional vehicle, as EVs are free of many vehicle components that require regular maintenance (e.g., engine oil, spark plugs, air filter, transmission fluid). The use of regenerative braking also reduces brake maintenance costs. Altogether, these cost savings are particularly important for rural households for which transportation is a larger part of the household budget, as seen in the table below. Rural drivers who switch to an EV could potentially save thousands of dollars in maintenance costs over the vehicle’s lifetime.
Readily Available Fueling Infrastructure
EVs can be charged at home, as well as at workplaces, public facilities, grocery stores, businesses, and other locations that offer parking with EV chargers. While EV charging takes longer than refueling a vehicle with gasoline, convenient at-home, public facility, and workplace charging is sufficient to support most rural travel and eliminates the need to drive to a gas station that may be far away, saving time and money. In fact, more than 80 percent of EV drivers rely on home charging. Detached single-family residences with off-street parking and readily available standard power outlet access are common in rural areas and can easily accommodate EV charging. Micromobility devices frequently do not require dedicated charging infrastructure and may also be charged at home or at work. For longer trips, the growing number of publicly available fast-charging stations can provide a near-full charge (80 percent) in under an hour. Additionally, owners of public or private vehicle fleets can establish EV charging infrastructure for business use at their own office locations or fleet depots. Charging stations will become even more accessible to drivers in all parts of the country as BIL funding becomes available.
The number of EV models for sale in the United States is growing at a rapid pace. In 2010, there was only one EV model on the market, while by 2022, that number had grown to 129 models (see figure below). The expanding EV marketplace includes a wide array of vehicle types and styles, including cars, SUVs, and light-duty trucks, at price points ranging from entry level to luxury models. This is in addition to a steeply growing number of options for electric motorcycles, micromobility, and transit buses. Full-size pickup trucks are the top-selling vehicles in States and Tribal Lands with large rural populations, whereas smaller cars and compact SUVs are most popular in highly urban States. Increased availability of full-size BEV pickup trucks starting in 2022 will provide rural drivers with EV technology in familiar and favored vehicle platforms. About 30 models of BEBs and 15 models of ESBs are available in the U.S. market as of summer 2022. For information on available EV models, see the DOE Alternative Fuel and Advanced Vehicle Search tool as well as the car finder page at Fueleconomy.gov.
Resilience and Power on the Go
Some EVs can themselves serve as a power source for electrical tools, equipment, and lighting for commercial and recreational purposes. When coupled with bidirectional chargers, EV batteries can even power homes during blackouts and extreme weather events in place of diesel generators. While the amount of time that an EV could offer backup power depends on the size of the battery, at least one new model could power a house for up to three days based on daily average usage of 30 kWh. Several automakers are planning to release EVs with bidirectional charging capability beginning in 2022. EVs can be complementary to residential renewable energy generation like rooftop solar by providing battery storage capacity, acting as a backup power source for homes, and potentially selling energy back to the grid at high-demand times.
Shared micromobility such as bikeshare systems can also support resilience by providing redundancy and filling service gaps during unplanned infrastructure failures and planned repairs (e.g., during extreme weather- or pandemic-related transit closures).
E-Bikes: Electric Mobility for Short Trips in Small Towns and Adjoining Rural Areas
“Electric micromobility” refers to small, low-speed personal vehicles such as electric bikes (e-bikes) and electric scooters, typically with an electric range of dozens rather than hundreds of miles.
Since many trips in small towns and adjoining rural areas are short trips, and since e-bikes can plug into any 120V outlet (Level 1 charging), rural communities can immediately benefit from e-bikes even before they significantly invest in EVSE for electric passenger cars and trucks.
E-bikes can play a role in giving rural residents and visitors a new, fun, realistic choice for short trips, including trips on unpaved roads and, depending on local regulations, paths and trails. E-bikes or scooters can also provide first- and last-mile connections to transit or intermodal transportation facilities for longer trips.
Simple Level 1 chargers can be provided next to secure parking and bike repair tools at these facilities so that e-bikes are charged and ready for riders to use on their return trip. Depending on the community, bikeshare stations like those in rural Ohio, Kansas, or Alabama could also be rolled out to help residents, especially those unable to afford an e-bike, to make short trips between retail, school, medical, and other destinations.
1Electric vehicle efficiency can also be expressed as kilowatt-hours per 100 miles or miles per kilowatt-hour. This calculator enables easy conversion between these units of measure.
2The analysis assumes 55% city driving and 45% highway driving, and fuel costs of $3.999/gallon.