This is an extract from a recent report by ICF titled “The impact of electric vehicles on climate change”.

The stage is set for significant electric vehicle (EV) growth in the coming decades, but even the most optimistic scenarios bring dramatic plot twists. The Biden administration has set a goal for the U.S. economy to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. Achieving that goal will require a nationwide transition to EVs and clean energy.

The future of EVs across the country

While EV adoption is surging, reaching many goals set by automakers and policymakers will require extensive changes that go far beyond just the vehicles on the road. The transformation will be felt across auto-manufacturing facilities and processes, the type and location of infrastructure used to fuel our vehicles, and power generation, transmission, and distribution systems.

EV market growth

EVs are poised to play a leading role in on-road transportation in the coming decades. Across the U.S., EV sales more than doubled in 2021 compared to 2020, surpassing half a million despite supply chain issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. EVs now account for 4.5% of U.S. car sales. In sheer numbers, LDV EV adoption will outpace MDV and HDV adoption due to greater availability of purchase options. Many types of MDV and HDVs don’t even have EV models available yet, but that’s beginning to change as battery costs fall and demand from fleets increases.

The EV market at the national level appears, at a minimum, to be headed to 22% of LDV sales by 2050, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s reference case estimate. There are about 275 million registered vehicles in the United States today and the baseline population growth assumes an increase to about 310 million vehicles on the road by 2050. This Business-as-Usual projection would result in electric cars comprising about 30% of the on-road LDV population in 2050.

Automakers and policymakers have more ambitious goals. The “Big Three” U.S. automakers—Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler parent Stellantis—jointly announced they expect 40%-50% of their new sales in the U.S. to be electric models by 2030, while EV-only automakers like Tesla continue to grow in popularity. The Biden Administration has set a goal for 50% of all new vehicle sales in the U.S. to be ZEVs by 2030 as part of a broader target for the U.S. economy to achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. The Nationwide EV Policy scenario envisions the potential for LDVs and MDV/HDV sales to be 100% electric by 2035 and 2050, respectively. Under this aggressive EV adoption scenario, EVs could grow from less than 3 million vehicles on the road today to 265 million by 2050, or 86% of all vehicles in 2050.

Understanding EV scenarios

This analysis presents six different scenarios of EV adoption that leverage ICF’s CO2 Sight data. The scenarios model increasingly aggressive decarbonization policies at both the state and national level for the on-road transportation and electric power sectors.

  • The “Business-as-Usual” scenario models current state-level ZEV and clean electricity policy targets. For states without ZEV sales targets, EV adoption follows the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Reference Case projection, which reaches LDV ZEV sales of 22% by 2050.
  • The “Moderate State Policies” scenario layers in the ZEV sales targets that 15 states and Washington, D.C., recently agreed to work toward when they signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Zero-Emission Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles. Most ZEV targets to-date have focused on LDVs, but this MOU sets a goal of 30% ZEV sales for MDVs and HDVs by 2030 and 100% by 2050. All the MOU signatories also have clean energy policies in place, half of which are targets for a 100% clean electricity grid. As such, the MOU signatories are used as a proxy for a future where state-level action continues to dominate without any significant policies at the national level to decarbonize the transportation and power sectors.
  • The “Expanded State Policies” scenario assumes the MOU signatories adopt a similarly aggressive policy for LDV electrification, reaching a 100% sales target by 2050. State EV and clean electricity policies remain unchanged from today for non-MOU signatory states.
  • The “Nationwide EV Policy” scenario includes an aggressive national ZEV sales mandate across all categories: 100% sales by 2035 for LDVs and 100% sales by 2050 for MDVs and HDVs. State clean electricity policies remain unchanged from today.
  • The “Nationwide EV + 2035 Energy Policies” scenario mimics the Nationwide EV Policy scenario but adds a national clean electricity policy for a net-zero power sector by 2035, which is aligned with the Biden administration’s goal.
  • The “Nationwide EV + 2050 Energy Policies” scenario mirrors the Nationwide EV Policy scenario but adds a national clean electricity policy for a net-zero power sector by 2050.

Electric grid impacts

In the Nationwide EV Policy scenario, national electricity demand increases 40% by 2050 compared to the Business-as-Usual scenario, adding about 2,000 TWh of load from EV charging. Even the Moderate State Policies and Expanded State Policies scenarios result in electricity demand increasing 13% and 17%, respectively, from the Business-as-Usual scenario by 2050. The amount of electrification—and when it impacts the grid—will have significant implications for utility reliability planning and grid infrastructure development. This peak hour impact is especially critical for EV charging behavior, which if unmanaged could add nearly 450 GW per hour to peak demand in the late afternoon, at the same time electric demand already peaks today with
relatively few EVs on the road (Figure 7).

Unless managed, EV charging could strain the grid to the point of compromising power reliability for customers. The goal of managed charging is to mitigate these peak impacts such that EV charging occurs during periods of low demand and, preferably, high renewable generation. The definition of managed charging will change over time based on when non-emitting resources are available and when the system peak is occurring, which will shift due to electrification in the transportation and building sectors. Managed charging can also be used to minimize the use of emitting resources to meet demand.

In areas with significant solar resources, for example, EVs can be used to store excess power. EVs can also reduce charging levels in the evening when solar resources go offline to combat the phenomenon known as the duck curve: a discrepancy in timing between peak demand and high renewable supply periods, resulting in reliance on fossil-fuel emitting resources to meet the sharp increase in demand for grid power when solar becomes unavailable.

Managing the new and varied peaks due to EV charging and other end-use sector electrification will be difficult, but load flexibility strategies can play a key role in helping to provide reliable power. For example, co-locating batteries with EV chargers can help mitigate not only their impact on grid demand, but also defer transmission and distribution upgrades that may have been required for a constrained area of the grid.

EVs can also act as distributed energy generation resources by discharging electricity from their batteries to the grid (or a building) during times of peak demand. Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) is not an accessible feature in all EVs today, but there is potential for V2G to both enhance grid reliability and provide resilience by powering a local community shelter or residential home during an outage.

Figure 7 illustrates the electric load impact of two EV charging profiles for the National EV Policy scenario: 100% unmanaged charging and 50% managed charging. The incremental impact from EVs on peak demand at 7 p.m. (a time of high overall system
demand) is roughly 230 GW in 2050 at a 50% managed charging level, but this could increase to nearly 450 GW with a completely
unmanaged charging system. In a system with high penetration of solar energy, unmanaged charging could heighten the potential for rising demand to meet or exceed falling supply at peak periods.

The added demand from EVs could also increase the use of emitting resources while the power sector transitions to reliable sources of clean energy. Meeting EV demand in the Nationwide EV Policy scenario with a clean electricity supply will require the development of about 1,000 GW of renewable energy generating capacity.

This report presents two national clean electricity scenarios with varying target years of 2035 and 2050. The main difference is that if a 2035 grid policy is established, there will only be 13 years to hit the target, rather than three decades. That has significant implications for the policy and regulatory landscape, mobilization of capital, siting and permitting, construction, and many other variables.

For example, the necessary transmission infrastructure development to support 1,000 GW of renewable deployment can take decades of financing, planning, and permitting. The technologies that may be needed (e.g., carbon capture, green hydrogen) are years away from being deployed at a large scale. As such, fully and reliably decarbonizing the grid by 2035 is a massive undertaking. Doing the same by 2050 is no easy task but provides more time to plan for overcoming current technological constraints, flexibility to adopt and develop new technologies, and offers more lead times for project development, which can take years. Utilities, generation developers, fleet managers, regulators, and policymakers would have to work together across sectors to ensure that the grid can handle the influx of demand. This coordination would need to go beyond traditional grid planning, especially when it comes to managing the increased peak demand when customers charge their vehicles.

U.S. states are on different paths

EV adoption will advance at different rates regionally and from community to community. In the Business-as-Usual scenario, it will mean 100% sales of zero-emission buses and other medium and heavy-duty vehicles by 2050 in 15 states and Washington, D.C. that signed the MOU. It’s very likely those states would drive toward 100% electric LDVs, as well, which is reflected in the Expanded State Policies scenario.

The governors of almost every state in the group signed on to a letter asking the president to phase out all gas-fueled LDVs by 2035 and MDVs and HDVs by 2045. MOU states currently represent 37% of the vehicle population, according to EPA MOVES data, and their EV penetration grows to 18%-32% of on-road vehicles by 2050 in the Moderate State Policies and Expanded State Policies scenarios, respectively. Turning to non-MOU states, both the Moderate and Expanded State Policies scenarios assume that only 1% of MDV and HDV sales per year through 2050 would be electric models and only 22% of LDV sales by 2050 would be electric. By 2050, EVs would only comprise 12% of on-road vehicles in non-MOU states.

Electric grid impacts

Increasing the number of EVs on the road will have significant impacts on the power grid. In the Moderate State Policies scenario, relative to 2020, electricity demand will increase in MOU states by 13%, or 193 TWh, by 2035 due to EV charging demand, and 31% by 2050. That’s a high demand bar to meet compared to the 4%, or 121 TWh, increase in demand expected by 2035 across non-MOU states. Even by 2050, EV charging demand in non-MOU states would only be expected to push demand 5%, or 181 TWh, higher in this scenario.

The bottom line is that utilities, state regulators, and policymakers need to start modeling how various EV adoption rates and levels of managed charging will impact electricity demand and peak demand now. It’s a “no regret” step that will provide the foresight necessary to design and implement the right plans that deliver the most cost-effective investments for a reliable grid.

Driving forward

Here are four key insights for public sector and utility leaders seeking to accelerate EV adoption, reduce GHG emissions, maintain power reliability, and prioritize equity

Advance EV adoption and charging infrastructure: Whether it comes in the form of new information, programs, policies, or technology investments, actions from all parties will be needed to increase adoption and access to EVs, charging infrastructure, and clean energy. Careful planning, such as the location of charging stations, is critical to support these actions.
Plan power-sector integration: Utility leaders and state planners need to understand multiple EV adoption scenarios, such as those presented in this report, and identify which actions are needed to keep power-sector emissions falling in concert with decarbonization goals. Strong data and forecasting provide the insights needed to make climate action align with needs.
• Prepare for electric grid impacts: Utilities, along with state regulators, will need to provide solutions and technologies for new and clean sources of energy, new transmission infrastructure, and solutions for managing increased total and peak load in the coming decades. Moving beyond scenario analysis into detailed transmission and reliability planning will help facilitate a smooth transition for the grid.
Prioritize equity: Reducing tailpipe emissions by switching to EVs will save lives by improving air quality, especially in neighborhoods near transit corridors or in dense city centers. In addition to expanding access to EVs and charging stations in disadvantaged communities, electrified public transportation options, especially buses, will deliver significant benefits.
Prioritizing equity will require significant funding and more locationally specific analyses. Minimizing the cost of the transition to disadvantaged communities– both in terms of electricity rates and the upfront cost of an EV–should be a key consideration, as well as the location and access to charging infrastructures.

For federal, state, and local officials as well as utility planners who want to maximize the benefits of EVs, a crucial first step is to conduct a range of analyses around how EV adoption will support GHG targets and interact with a complex set of variables.

The complete report can be downloaded here