The United States is undergoing a momentous shift in the way we produce and distribute energy: away from abundant fossil fuel resources, such as coal and gas, toward cleaner and renewable energy sources. It’s a necessary – arguably inevitable – transformation that will ultimately reduce our contribution to global climate change, and also mitigate other environmental impacts closer to home.
At the same time, when it comes to overhauling your electricity grid, the recent experience of states like California and Massachussetts underscores the importance of careful planning and judicious timing. That’s why PEC’s Energy and Climate program is working closely with decisionmakers and stakeholders to highlight opportunities, identify obstacles, and help chart a smooth path to Pennsylvania’s clean energy future.
Pennsylvania’s EV market is small but growing…
One potential speedbump on this road is the introduction of electric vehicles (EVs) and the infrastructure needed to support their future growth. According to data accumulated by Meister Consultants, Pennsylvania’s EV market is small but growing: 36% per year, on average, since 2011. While this is great news, it also bears noting that EVs still account for only 0.6% of the state’s total vehicle market share, earning Pennsylvania a nationwide ranking of 24th in EV market share. What’s more, a lack of appropriate laws and programs to cultivate and guide the EV market puts us at risk of falling even further behind other states.
In particular, the relative scarcity of EV charging stations remains one of the more stubborn impediments to market share growth in our state. Currently, Pennsylvania has just 342 EV charging stations scattered across the Commonwealth. Compare that figure to Oregon, which boasts upwards of 500 charging stations serving a population less than a third the size of Pennsylvania’s.
Understandably, this lack of infrastructure is a dealbreaker for many would-be EV buyers who, fearful of being stranded on the road with no charging station in sight, continue to rely on gasoline-powered cars and the vast network of extant fueling stations – nearly 4,000 at last count – that keep them running.
The data show that Pennsylvanians, regardless of location, want to drive more environmentally friendly vehicles.
But there’s cause for optimism about the coming electrification of Pennsylvania’s transportation sector: the forthcoming Electric Vehicle Roadmap. The report, due out this year from the Drive Electric Pennsylvania Coalition, compiles federal, state, and local EV and Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) data in order to develop modeling scenario. These models, in turn, can help citizens, lawmakers, and stakeholders make more informed decisions regarding Pennsylvania’s EV future.
At the Coalition’s quarterly meeting last month, their fourth and final gathering before publication of the Roadmap, presenters offered the most substantial preview to date of the emerging strategy. Its three main components are:
- An evaluation of the current State of the EV Market in Pennsylvania
- A slate of prospective Next Generation EV Strategies
- EV Market Penetration Scenario Modeling
Among the more surprising details included in the report, data show that EVs have only a slightly higher market share of registered vehicles in metro areas than in suburban and rural areas. Philadelphia, where 26% of PA’s vehicles are registered, has the highest EV share with 0.21%, with Harrisburg coming in second with 0.16% EV market share.
This distribution suggests that Pennsylvanians, regardless of location, want to drive more environmentally friendly vehicles. However, it also points to a need for marketing, education, and outreach of EVs to target more consumers in the market for a new vehicle.
Whether we’re ready for it or not, the way Pennsylvanians receive and use energy is changing, and our energy infrastructure must change along with it.
One of the primary goals the Coalition set was to draft targets and mandates for utility transportation electrification and statewide EV sales. Partners agreed that setting a statewide EV sales or deployment goal via legislative or administrative action, and encouraging utilities to invest in transportation electrification in the next two years, would set the pathway for an efficient and effective transition. This strategy could be implemented through a Public Utility Commission (PUC) directive that makes EV proposals optional or begins with pilot projects, as Maryland has done.
Another possible route to the same destination is through the passage of legislation like House Bill 1446 (P.N. 1916), which seeks to advance strategic deployment of EV infrastructure. In a push to increase the number of electric trains, cars, buses, etc., HB 1446 would establish a “statewide goal for the expansion of transportation electrification” to at least 50% above 2030 market projections. The exact number, to be determined by the Governor within the first 180 days after enactment of the bill, would set a precedent in electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure in Pennsylvania. While there is room for improvement in HB 1446 as currently drafted, PEC supports the measure.
Whether we’re ready for it or not, the way Pennsylvanians receive and use energy is changing, and our energy infrastructure must change along with it. We can chart our path through trial and error, as California and Massachusetts have done, or we can take a more calculated, methodical approach. Groups like the Drive Electric Pennsylvania Coalition, and legislation like HB 1446, represent stakeholders’ willingness to work towards a greener, more sustainable future. Whether or not the General Assembly and Governor Wolf choose to follow their lead, one thing is certain: Pennsylvanians want a cleaner, more advanced energy grid that focuses on customer service reliability and satisfaction.
PEC Energy Fellow Carlos Garcia is a graduate student in the University of Pennsylvania’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy.