Community Benefits of Urban Mobility Electrification
Electric mobility—and the charging infrastructure that supports it—also offers benefits to urban communities. This includes economic development opportunities from offering people a place to charge their vehicles, workforce development, health benefits from improved air quality, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and quieter vehicles.
Given current limits on the range of electric vehicles (EVs), those drivers may be especially attuned to the availability of charging stations along their routes and plan their stops accordingly. Given the 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 urban 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. For example, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Alternative Fuel Vehicle Refueling Property Credit provides a tax credit for EV charging stations placed into service. See Electric Mobility Infrastructure Funding and Financing for Urban Areas for information on Federal funding programs that could support entities in planning for and purchasing electric mobility charging infrastructure.
The tailpipe emissions from internal combustion engine vehicles cause air pollution, which leads to adverse health impacts. These impacts are predominant in urban areas, which encompass most areas designated to be in nonattainment with Federal air quality standards. Urban residents experience significantly more unhealthy air-quality days than rural residents, including about 12 times more excessive ozone days and 12 times more excessive PM2.5 days per year.
Battery electric vehicles, including BEBs and ESBs, 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 urban 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. Commercial drivers do not breathe toxic exhaust in EVs as they drive or idle, reducing health impacts such as fatigue that can reduce driver attentiveness and safety. Due to regenerative braking, EVs also have less brake dust pollution than conventional vehicles. These health benefits are particularly important for areas overburdened by pollution, which are predominantly certain communities of color and low-income communities.
Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The effects of climate change are felt in different ways in different communities, but examples in urban areas include increased frequency and severity of storms and flooding, and increased heat and droughts. 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.
In addition, transitioning from conventional vehicles to electric micromobility can contribute to climate change mitigation and national emission reduction goals. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, high adoption of shared micromobility can save 2.3 billion gasoline-equivalent gallons per year nationwide.
Less Noise Pollution
Urban areas have an average background noise level of 60 decibels, with regular spikes up to 85 decibels or more, and the two largest sources of this environmental noise are transportation and industrial activity. The World Health Organization has found that traffic noise is second only to air pollution in impacting public health, and various studies have linked noise exposure to increased risk for insomnia, high stress levels, cardiometabolic diseases, and cardiovascular diseases and strokes.
In contrast to an internal combustion engine vehicle, EVs, including BEBs and ESBs, can be virtually inaudible due to a lack of engine noise. This is especially true in urban centers and residential areas, where most vehicle noise is created by engines and not by wind and tire noise, as on highways. The reduction of noise levels through the introduction of EVs offers community benefits by reducing general noise pollution, as well as individual benefits for the driver of the vehicle, potentially lowering stress level.
At the same time, enough sound level is important for the safety of people walking, biking, and rolling, particularly for those who are vision-impaired, who rely on being able hear vehicles to safely navigate streets and parking lots. Light-duty electric vehicles are currently regulated to produce minimum sound levels when driven at low speed. Similar solutions could be applied in the future to heavy electric vehicles such as buses and trucks.
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 to have 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 the Clean Cities University Workforce Development Program, which places interns at Clean Cities coalitions around the United States to support work on infrastructure deployment, data collection, outreach and education, and marketing. This program includes a specific focus on representing diverse populations. DOE and the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation are also developing other initiatives with external partners to help workers transition from a fossil fuel-based set of skills to a new clean energy set of skills.
The Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP) provides training and certification for electricians installing EVSE. The EVITP is the only EV charging-specific, brand-neutral training program that exists today and is utilized by both large and small contractors. It was created through a collaboration of many stakeholders to provide qualified electricians for the installation, operations, and maintenance of EVSE.
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, including at colleges and universities, as well as technical and vocational schools. Many have developed next-generation training curriculums providing workforce education on EV repair and emergency response and charging infrastructure installation and servicing. The National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC) hosted at West Virginia University (Morgantown) maintains a national training center network offering these and other EV-focused technical programs at schools across the country, including many within major cities. Other programs such as the NC Clean Energy Technology Center at North Carolina State University (Raleigh) offer in-person and virtual education and outreach to the general public on EVs and EV charging, as well as services to help organizations analyze their fleets to determine how to best approach EV adoption and charging infrastructure planning.
Other examples of activity in EV workforce development include:
- The National Auto Dealers’ Association is partnering with Chargeway to develop a program to improve knowledge of EVs among sales staff.
- ChargerHelp! provides maintenance and repair services for EVSE and has a workforce development program focused on training workers from the local service area.
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Benefits and Implementation Challenges of Urban Mobility Electrification