Decarbonizing transportation requires thoughtful T&D planning

Posted on: May 26, 2021

With the urgency of climate change escalating, state and local governments across the country are developing policies and regulations to decarbonize the transportation sector, a major contributor to economy-wide carbon dioxide emissions. While advocates for electrifying the transportation sector make progress on the policy side, it is becoming clear that a major challenge will be the deployment of the infrastructure needed to support an electrified transportation system - not just the charging stations, but the transmission and distribution facilities to serve this major new electric load.

Regions face important questions regarding how to plan for and deploy this needed infrastructure. Proactive infrastructure investment is critical to ensure a smooth and cost-effective transition.  Even still, the following two issues must be given serious attention right up front to ensure that the resulting system is fair, affordable, and efficient.

  • Prioritization and equity: Planners need to consider many factors, key among them is equitably meeting the development needs of the community. While early adopters of electric vehicles have largely been affluent, going forward, planners must ensure infrastructure is deployed into all neighborhoods, both rural and urban, avoiding choices that would perpetuate systemic barriers to the adoption of clean energy options in historically underserved populations. In addition, distribution infrastructure in lower-income and rural communities often requires more upgrades due to high costs and historic underinvestment. With a long list of infrastructure needs and limited capital, it is not simple to decide where to upgrade first. Do we ensure that the infrastructure can support public charging stations and DC fast chargers along major corridors to address range anxiety? Should we pursue electrification of public transportation and the deployment of charging stations in municipal parking lots? Or should we ensure that residential (rural, suburban, urban, single- and multi-family) distribution circuits are capable of supporting Level 2 home chargers to give confidence to electric vehicle buyers making individual purchasing decisions? Which neighborhoods or regions should be upgraded first?

 

  • Cost allocation: The scope and scale of distribution and transmission upgrades required to reconfigure the system to serve an electrified transportation sector comes with a potentially large bill and raises cost allocation arguments. If a specific circuit needs to be upgraded to accommodate Level 2 electric vehicle chargers, who pays? Does it matter if the electric vehicles are located along a circuit serving single-family homes as opposed to an apartment building installing a charging cluster? What about a third-party electric vehicle charging station being operated for profit? These questions are not easy to answer, but they are not unfamiliar territory; every state has a method for determining costs and beneficiaries of expenditures and determining a method of allocating costs. The policy makers and regulators working to match the benefits to the beneficiaries should measure and consider both broadly to avoid overburdening any individual consumer or community.

 

To be timely, every region planning to decarbonize should be thinking seriously about the scope of necessary infrastructure upgrades. To be successful, an electrified future will need to work for everyone. These issues are starting to gain some traction, particularly since the electrification of transportation has largely become a question of “when” and not “if.” There is a growing understanding across the energy sector that fairness and equity are critical components of the clean energy transition that is underway.

A well-designed and cost-effective distribution and transmission system is a prerequisite for a successful transition to an electrified transportation sector. The benefits of a decarbonized future will accrue broadly, so it is critical that all communities share in that benefit and that no community is overburdened by the cost of that transformation.

States and municipalities face many challenges to economy-wide decarbonization in each of the primary sectors: electricity supply, transportation, buildings, industrial, agriculture. To address each of these, challenges of prioritization, equity, and cost allocation will inevitably require tradeoffs and compromises. Developing and adhering to some guiding principles of fairness and efficiency will help regions tackle these difficult questions as each push economy-wide decarbonization forward.

 

We are looking forward to continuing the conversation,

Jeff Bower | Senior Consultant | jbower@daymarkea.com

Marc D. Montalvo  | President, Principal Consultant | mmontalvo@daymarkea.com