The road to electric vehicles is paved with disruption

The hope that electric vehicles will displace the internal combustion engine continues to gain momentum. Bold policy and funding proposals from the governments of China, the European Union and now the United States; the ambitious capital investment plans of the world’s leading automakers; and continued technological advancements – all contribute to an optimistic outlook for electric vehicle market penetration over the next decade and beyond.

It is widely recognized that achieving an electric transport vision will require a number of transformations – in supply chain management, sourcing of raw materials, deployment of charging networks, upgrading and upgrading. expanding the power grid and ultimately persuading consumers to buy these new vehicles. .

Proponents of electric vehicles recognize frankly the many technological, managerial, political and consumer challenges that lie ahead. In any transition of this complexity and scale, not everything will go as planned or planned. In particular, several significant disruptions stem from announcements of widespread adoption of EVs. They include:

In any transition of this complexity and scale, not everything will go according to expectation or plan.

Will electricity be reliably available for electric vehicles? In mid-February, a severe winter storm caused power cuts in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and other states, shut down a third of the country’s oil production, disrupted water systems drinking in Ohio, hampered freeway travel across the country, and halted COVID-19 vaccinations in 20. states.

Much of America’s current electric power – there is no single national electricity system – consists of facilities and other infrastructure that are decades old. Considering the cost and time of modernization, it is likely that a lot of things will stay the same for decades to come. There is no doubt that this “system” is vulnerable and subject to a variety of threats – from climate change, malware or the inability to reliably predict future electricity consumption. A system originally designed to ensure reliability at a reasonable cost must adapt to new challenges of resilience – decarbonization, more distributed generation and storage, higher penetration of wind and solar power generation , and a greater focus on access to electricity and social equity.

Is the current range of electricity generators and distributors ready to meet this challenge?

The answer is no. In his recent report on “The Future of Electric Power in the United States”, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine concluded: “Understanding the Behavior of Electricity Consumers, How Appliances and Energy Services can be aggregated for provisioning, and how these trends affect system loads is emerging as one of the most profound technological, regulatory, and planning challenges and opportunities for the future of the network. “

Tools for estimating electricity demand from EVs and other sources, according to the National Academies report, will require significant improvement if we are to “understand how the grid of the future will perform and how operators and policymakers can. guarantee its continued reliability. “In other words, our abilities to estimate future demand for EVs and to provide reliable electrical supplies for their use are highly uncertain.

What is certain is that future blackouts from coast to coast are waiting to happen without the added burden of supplying power to electric vehicles.

Where does the innovation wheel of fortune land? There is a lot of techno-optimism about the transition to an electric transportation system. Continuous progress is being made in extending the range of batteries before recharging and in reducing the size and weight of the battery. The Biden administration has recommended the installation of 500,000 EV chargers by 2030, complemented by additional commitments from automakers, oil companies such as BP, and the creation of a coalition for electric highways by six major departments. public. Available capital has grown considerably thanks to government funding and private investment.

To date, the United States has underinvested in many of the innovations needed to transition to an electric transportation system. As a result, many key supply chains and manufacturing capabilities have moved overseas. For example, Chinese chemical companies in 2019 produced about 80% of the world’s total production of advanced battery raw materials. The recent success of LG Chem and SK Innovation’s Biden administration in resolving trade secret disputes provides insight into a potential new resolution by the United States to reclaim battery manufacturing capacity in Asia through a new amount of $ 2.6 billion. SK Battery Factory in Georgia. It will take a lot more focus and resolve over an extended period.

As the former Office of Management and Budget of the George W. Bush administration, John Graham and Keith Belton argue in a recent article, “The United States has no choice but to pursue industrial policies that are not typical of a country that cherishes free trade capitalism.”

Despite the highly visible public commitments of GM, Ford, Volkswagen and other automakers, they have not tied their future solely to electric vehicles. In a March 29 letter to President Joe Biden, heads of the Automotive Innovation Alliance (representing automakers), engine and equipment manufacturers (the voice of the vehicle supplier industry) and United Auto Workers (who represent unionized workers) have forwarded a litany of demands to fund the transition to a “zero carbon transportation future.”

While most of the funding proposals are related to the development of electric vehicles, there were several recommendations quietly sandwiched to advance hydrogen vehicles. They included: making additional priority investments in R&D to improve fuel cell performance and hydrogen fuel production; establish a grant program for research and development of technologies to convert existing gas pipelines and power plants to support hydrogen; and the creation of a new investment tax credit to support hydrogen production and storage.

To date, the United States has underinvested in many of the innovations needed to transition to an electric transportation system.

Although a hydrogen-powered transportation system will be far from ready for trade for several decades, it is gaining momentum for investors and could be a milestone for oil companies as the consumption of oil increases. oil is decreasing. A number of major automakers, including GM, plan to be ready for the hydrogen scenario. Should EVs be seen as a system change or a more transient technology that will ultimately be disrupted by hydrogen powered vehicles?

Are electric vehicles the next chapter in America’s culture war? As America shifts to a white plurality rather than a majority white nation, powerful anxieties and fears have surfaced through culture and politics. Analysts such as Robert Pape have documented a growing wave of resentment as white men (in particular) fear losing their edge and being replaced by black, Latin American, Jewish and LGBTQ + communities. Manifestations of these deep concerns range from violent social protests (Charlottesville in 2017, the January 6 insurgency on the U.S. Capitol) to refusal to follow medical advice to wear masks or practice social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fear of being ousted and losing a significant advantage also lies in the belief that America’s past greatness – and its future – rests on the consumption of fossil fuels. Proposals to mitigate climate change, in this reasoning, represent the desire of liberal political and cultural elites to impose higher taxes, regulate consumer choice, and limit personal freedoms.

The goal of mass-producing electric vehicles contrasts directly with the narrative of the cultural and economic necessity of fossil fuels. By this logic, the demand for EV is part of a plan to phase out coal and gas in favor of renewable energies to produce electricity. Policies to replace electric vehicles with internal combustion engines are being driven by liberals looking to raise corporate taxes to pay them off. Workers in the coal, gas and oil industries (and their suppliers) will lose their jobs. Global businesses seek short-term profits (and government grants and tax breaks) at the expense of long-term investments in communities. Electric vehicles will impose choices and oversee consumers and limit their freedoms.

Proponents of electrified transportation, and advocates of sustainability in general, have not looked at electric vehicles as a potential cultural and political lightning rod. It’s time to prepare for this engagement before Tucker Carlson, the House Freedom Caucus, and their soulmates light up the fuse to urge the American people to hang on to their gasoline and diesel vehicles, boycott EVs, organize demonstrations against the manufacture of electric vehicles and to mobilize. social media campaigns against changes in the American way of life.

Each of these topics – providing reliable power for electric vehicles, the battle for innovation opportunities, and electric vehicles as a battleground in a larger culture war – identifies the disruptions that lie in loopholes in commerce, culture and politics. No institution has the knowledge or the capacity to successfully manage these disruptions.

What is needed is a commitment of leadership in the public, private and nonprofit sectors to build system-level collaborations that define and deliver on the promise of an electric transportation system to reinvigorate American prosperity. , protect our planetary future and secure the livelihoods of an anxious, freedom-loving nation.


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