Your energy utility plays an important role in encouraging customers to go electric. However, there are several key challenges for electric vehicle (EV) adoption that prevent customers from making the switch from gasoline-powered vehicles. In fact, up to 315,000 more EVs could have been on the road last year if adoption barriers were removed.Learn more about the top four customer roadblocks and the best ways to dispel these concerns in your program promotions.

Chart listing the key challenges to EV adoption and how to overcome them

High upfront cost

What energy customers think: Today’s consumers know that electric vehicles are a viable solution to reduce their carbon footprint and improve the environment. However, one of the key challenges for EV adoption is the high upfront cost. Your customers may not be aware of the various incentives available to help lower the purchase cost.

An average electric vehicle costs $61,488, with some electric vehicles costing over $100,000 for luxury models. While this is still more expensive than many gasoline-powered vehicles, that gap is decreasing every year, especially with incentives and maintenance savings for EVs. Additionally, the cost of a Level 2 home charger starts around $500 to $800, with $1000 to $1500 for the installation of a new service panel and 240-volt outlet if needed.

What your message should be: While electric vehicles have higher upfront costs, they are less expensive to own and operate. Therefore, customers are able to save money over the long run. Since there are fewer moving parts to break down, electric vehicles are also cheaper to maintain. Plus, customers never have to worry about getting an oil change.

To counteract this key challenge for EV adoption, be sure to provide your customers with helpful resources on federal and state incentives. Another significant benefit of purchasing an electric vehicle is not worrying about high gas prices. Remind customers that they can avoid the gas station altogether as EV owners. Make this cost-of-ownership comparison clear with infographics and calculators on your website that help customers educate themselves on vehicle options.

Range anxiety

What energy customers think: One of the top key challenges for EV adoption is range anxiety, or a fear that their electric vehicle will run out of charge before reaching its destination. In fact, range anxiety is often cited as the main reason why consumers are hesitant about purchasing an electric vehicle.

Range anxiety is a feeling of dread when drivers can’t find an open charging station and worry about being stranded on the side of the road. It’s important to note that drivers of gasoline-powered vehicles can also experience range anxiety. This can happen when a driver’s fuel level drops too low and they can’t find a gas station.

What your message should be: To reduce range anxiety, educate your customers about how electric vehicles can fit into their everyday lives. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), the average American in an urban area drives just 31 miles per day. Most EVs can travel more than 100 miles on a single charge, and some models can travel between 200 and 400 miles. For drivers who don’t regularly drive long distances, an electric vehicle can be a practical option.

Access to charging stations

What energy customers think: Another key challenge for EV adoption, your customers think there’s a limited number of EV charging stations compared to the number of gas stations. As a result, they have concerns about access to charging infrastructure. For example, when taking a road trip, customers want to be confident that plentiful charging stations are available along the route.

What your message should be: Inform your customers that charging stations are popping up everywhere as electric vehicles grow in popularity. EV charging stations can be found in various locations like shopping centers, local businesses, apartment complexes and more. There are also charging stations in every state, including Alaska. To help your customers find charging station locations, share this helpful resource from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Currently, there are 103,000 charging stations (free and private) in the United States. However, there are only 9,300 free charging stations that don’t require a parking fee to access. In comparison, there are more than 145,000 public gas stations, illustrating that EV charging stations still lag behind.

Your energy utility should educate customers on the importance of home EV chargers and offer rebates to help offset the costs. In fact, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy finds that over 80% of EV charging occurs at home during the overnight hours. If customers make a habit of plugging in their electric vehicle every night, they will be less likely to experience range anxiety or even need access to a charging station. It’s also important to highlight that customers can charge their vehicles for free at public charging stations, eliminating the cost to charge altogether. By providing educational resources with charging station locations as well as cost-saving rebates, energy utilities can mitigate this key challenge for EV adoption.

Impact on electric bill

What energy customers think: Many consumers like the idea of owning an electric vehicle but have concerns about higher electric bills or overall power reliability. In addition to the impact on their monthly bill, your customers also have questions about at-home charging options:

  • What charging options are available?
  • How much do they cost?
  • How long does it take to charge an EV?
  • What type of equipment is required for installation?

What your message should be: Reach out to EV customers to share time-of-use (TOU) rate options to help them reduce their monthly bills. By charging during off-peak hours, they can save energy costs and help lower demand on the grid. Also be sure to share opportunities for customers to save money when they purchase an electric vehicle, whether through your utility or a government program.

If your energy utility has a smart charger rebate program, educate customers about the pros and cons of each charger. For example, Level 2 smart chargers offer faster charging times but do not plug into a standard 120-volt household outlet. Customers are looking to their energy provider to help them decide what charger is the right fit for their lifestyle and budget. Infographics, videos and articles on your website can help educate customers on the best option for them. By countering these key challenges for EV adoption, your energy utility can help drive interest in electric vehicles and increase customer engagement in your EV program promotions.

A content strategy from Questline Digital can help you overcome the key challenges to EV adoption.

The pace of change for the electric vehicle (EV) industry has hit warp speed as funding and government mandates continue to be approved. “Faster than a sprint” is how Whitney Skeans, Senior Program Manager of Electric Vehicles at National Grid, describes it.

Utilities nationwide are under pressure to reach aggressive EV goals. For example, National Grid is one of six utilities supporting the implementation of New York State’s EV Make-Ready Program. Specifically, Skeans and her team are focused on installing 16,000 charging ports by 2025 in their upstate New York electric service territory. On the other side of the country, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) is committed to having 100% zero-emission vehicles by 2025.

With so much to accomplish, how are utilities progressing toward these large EV initiatives? Through discussions with National Grid and SDG&E, the following tactics stood out:

  1. Focus EV education on specific audiences among key customer segments, no longer using a mass awareness approach
  2. Tell the stories of EV owners throughout the community with events, videos, media relations and more
  3. Help underserved audiences access EV infrastructure
  4. Facilitate test drives for commercial and residential customers
  5. Focus on medium- and heavy-duty fleet electrification, the higher carbon-emitting vehicles
  6. Build digital self-serve hubs about available incentives, installers and more
  7. Encourage cross-departmental collaboration within the utility to accelerate innovation

Getting Specific with EV Education

Consumers know what EVs are, but some people are just now starting to pay attention. Utilities may feel like they have been talking about EVs for a long time, but this new audience needs education on both EV basics and options.

“We need to be the trusted resource for all of our customers,” said Natasha Contreras, Clean Transportation Customer Engagement Manager at SDG&E, referring to the importance of supporting residential and commercial audiences.

“We shifted our role from generic mass awareness to more specific education,” she continued. “We’re trying to fill in the voids and segments we feel are the hardest to electrify. Over 50% of housing in San Diego county consists of multi-unit dwellings, which means that many local residents may not have the benefit of having a garage of their own to install charging.”

This shift in focus has led many utilities to prioritize commercial audiences, where there are opportunities to build charging infrastructure that provides equitable access. Hotels and multi-unit dwellings (MUDs) sit at the top of the priority list.

We’re dealing with the classic chicken or egg scenario. Some businesses hesitate to invest in charging structures until they see more EVs on the road. But consumers are hesitant to buy because the infrastructure isn’t yet widespread. Utilities are working relentlessly to help solve both sides of the equation.

Focusing on Fleet Electrification

The six-person EV implementation team at National Grid is working hard to share incentives and help its commercial customers safely build infrastructure. “The dirtiest vehicles on the road are medium- and heavy-duty, so the sooner they can be electrified, the closer we can achieve climate goals,” added Skeans.

School districts are ideal candidates for fleet electrification. In New York alone, 44,000 diesel buses need to switch to electric. By 2027, diesel buses will no longer be for sale, leaving utilities in a time crunch to build the necessary electrical charging.

Yet, school districts find themselves daunted by the expenses associated with buying the buses; electric vehicles can cost 3x the diesel price. How do they schedule routes and prepare for weather-related issues negatively impacting battery performance?

National Grid provides schools with complementary fleet assessments, putting together recommended plans for buying vehicles, looking at site feasibility and grid capacity, then guiding customers through the steps to get there. Over 100 school districts were invited to pursue these programs in 2022.

Across the country in San Diego, where battery reserves don’t endure as much stress from cold temperatures, SDG&E is working with school districts to run Vehicle to Grid (V2G) pilot programs with their existing electric fleets. Sitting idle most of the day, a parking lot of electric buses offers a new energy source.

But timelines are causing anxiety for some. Electrification plans take a customer two to 12 months to implement. But if distribution upgrades are needed, that could jump to one to four years. And if transmission or substation upgrades are required, that timeline can extend beyond four years.

Customers need to be engaged early if goals are to be met. Utilities are stepping up to ensure their customers have access to all the education, guidance and financial aid available.

Telling More EV Success Stories

To properly help customers navigate the EV landscape and build organic connections, the National Grid team is talking to people in their community. “My superpower is outreach,” explains Skeans. And that’s highly evident when looking at how broadly she’s telling the story of EVs.

Skeans has connected with local Chambers of Commerce, business affinity groups, architectural, engineering and construction management firms, tourism boards, electrical contractors, risk management associations for banks, insurance providers and more. She is also leveraging digital tools like webinars to host virtual sessions that help audiences understand what the new EV requirements and opportunities mean.

“Business customers aren’t going to invest in chargers unless there is public demand, so let’s educate, let’s boost everyone’s awareness, get people excited about EVs and ultimately behind the wheel of one,” said Skeans. Event presentations and first-person case studies top the list of successful strategies. “Telling stories is really, really key.”

For San Diego Gas & Electric, in-person events have dropped from 75 pre-pandemic to just a handful post. But their annual EV Day event remains strategically significant.

SDG&E provides attendees the opportunity to experience and test drive the latest consumer electric vehicles. Without on-hand inventory at the dealerships due to supply chain issues, many buyers cannot drive before they buy. SDG&E aims to overcome the barrier of accessibility, even hosting adaptive ride-and-drive events, providing customers with functional needs a chance to get behind the wheel of EVs that have been retrofitted with hand controls.

Facilitating first-hand experiences and sharing the journeys of like-minded consumers is helping utilities nationwide to connect with target audiences.

Offering Self-Service Tools

Digitally, many utilities are building self-serve hubs where information is easily navigable and incentives may be applied for. Helpful articles and videos allow customers to self-educate about program benefits and next steps.

“We consider ourselves a central location,” explains Contreras. “There is a constant need to keep up with the latest funding incentives. We’re shifting more toward self-service tools on our website, including rate cost estimators, electrician finders, charger finders and incentive qualifications.”

Today’s consumers prefer to research independently before involving third parties. These hubs allow utilities to act as a resource without taxing call centers.

Working Together to Drive the Future of Electric Vehicles

SDG&E takes a holistic approach to ensuring customers can access available EV aid. The entire utility gets involved. “It takes a village. It’s not just getting the car, it’s everything that comes with it,” said Contreras. “The whole package. It’s the chargers. It’s the rates that are applicable to make sure the transition is smooth. It’s the construction that has to take place.”

Mass EV adoption is going to require widespread influence. As more people plug in, EVs’ significant role in reaching larger sustainability goals becomes more apparent.

National Grid is also experiencing the benefits of departmental collaboration. “Our teams are more integrated as we grow and develop,” explains Skeans, referring specifically to the ties between the utility’s EV and demand response programs.

No one department can operate independently. Everyone today, from key account and program managers to engineers and legislators, has their hand in the EV mix.

Interest in EVs has never been higher. But much work still needs to be done to reach the aggressive adoption goals set for 2027 and beyond.

Utilities nationwide are working tirelessly to educate key audiences, increase charging access and support grid resiliency. Through industry collaborations and proactive customer engagement, we’re on the road — a collaborative journey — to reaching zero emissions.

Educate your customers about the future of electric vehicles with a content strategy from Questline Digital.

Natasha Contreras is the epitome of a jack of all trades, having held roles on multiple teams at San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) including IT, project management and marketing. Currently EV Customer Engagement Manager for the utility, Contreras now focuses her efforts on educating the community on going electric.

Contreras joined SDG&E straight out of college. What began as an interim position as a contractor became a full-time opportunity as Contreras volunteered for new initiatives and moved her way up the company. She worked in project management for her first five years before moving into her marketing role to promote clean transportation.

Headshot photo of Natasha Contreras for Energy Spotlight interview

“Utilities are a little bit slower on the uptake picking up some of the systems because everything that we do is so compliance-focused, we’re highly regulated and there are so many privacy concerns,” Contreras explains. “So, it takes a little longer for us to catch up to some of those types of technology, but I think that’s helped me to learn holistically how the utility industry functions.”

When she joined the clean transportation team, the group consisted of 12 people. Now, she says, the evolution has been incredible, growing to over 30 people with Contreras managing a team of 12.

It’s been four years since Contreras started with the team. She says their priorities are two-fold:

  1. Educate customers of the benefits of electric vehicles, and
  2. Educate customers on the utility’s role as a facilitator and advisor.

Contreras has been accomplishing this through their LOVELECTRIC campaign, which is designed to break myths about EVs through educational materials for customers, dealerships and charging providers.

Contreras’ team is also focused on ensuring equitable opportunities for their customers. They are dedicated to sharing resources about funding and grants and ensuring their materials are easy to understand for all customers, including adding multilingual resources to accommodate the large Spanish-speaking population in San Diego. Contreras herself was born in Russia and moved to the United States at 10 years old. Russian is her first language, so she uses that as a guide to make sure the materials they create are universally understood.

In addition, Contreras’ work includes outreach both in-person and virtually to connect with customers about EVs. Before the pandemic, they hosted 75 events a year to allow people to test drive EVs and ask questions. As the pandemic took its toll, those events dropped to zero. Instead of pushing people to buy EVs, Contreras and her team shifted their messaging to concentrate on customers who were currently driving an EV or planned to buy one.

Although it wasn’t her first choice for work, Contreras has grown to love working in the utility industry. “I by chance ended up in the clean transportation group. I didn’t come into this group with a passion for environmental justice and getting more EVs in the world,” she says. “But now, to me, I have the best job in the world. I get to be creative every day and work with so many interesting dealers and groups of people, getting to do all these fun things to educate the community about EVs. My passion is being creative and that’s exactly what I get to do here.”

Outside of work, Contreras enjoys traveling and staying active, hiking trails or visiting the beach with her two Yorkies, Chloe and Celine.

Questline Digital spoke with Contreras to get her thoughts on innovative ways to connect with customers, changes in the utility industry and thought-provoking marketing campaigns.

How did you get started in the energy utility industry?

I graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in Marketing and Communications during the recession, in 2009. My dreams of going into advertising and living out my full Mad Men life were quickly brought to reality with the lack of work availability.

I started my role at San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) thinking it was an interim position — something to hold me over while the market picked back up and the marketing agencies started hiring again. I distinctly remember onboarding in my first role at the company, as a Business Systems Analyst, and talking to my coworkers that referred to themselves as “lifers.” I thought to myself, there’s no way that’s going to be me — I couldn’t fathom staying at the same company for any longer than just a few years.

Well, since then, the economy picked up, and then crashed again (a few times, at that). I had plenty of opportunities to move on to other companies, but I chose to pave my own pathway at SDG&E, volunteering for different projects and initiatives. Twelve years later, I am still here, and I can truly say, I love what I do.

What has changed the most about your job working in the utility industry over the course of your career?

I feel like a lot has changed since I started working at the utility over a decade ago. Perhaps it was because I was inexperienced and green, but the thought of working for a gas and electric company back then didn’t seem very exciting. It is fascinating to think back over the last 10 years or so and observe the progress that has been made. While the priority for the company remains to be clean, safe and reliable, the concept of innovation and technology has certainly dominated my sphere as time went on.

One of the things I love most about working for a company of this size is that there are so many opportunities to broaden your skill sets in various areas. While my passion has always revolved around the creative space, I found ways to incorporate those talents into my day-to-day work.

Through the years, I transitioned between the IT space, to project management, to business process to change management, and finally landed where I am today — the clean transportation space, where I thrive from coming up with creative ideas on how to engage with our customers and generate awareness about the benefits of driving electric.

What excites you the most about the energy utility space?

The endless opportunities! I work for a group that is truly on the brink of the next frontier. We are changing the way people travel! I couldn’t think of anything more exciting.

Change is frightening and it’s happening quickly. I lead a team of passionate individuals, tasked with the vision to reimagine transportation. There are not enough hours in the day to keep up with the new technologies that are coming to the market. We have made it our goal to be our customers’ trusted advisor. To take the overwhelming amount of information about the available clean transportation options and condense them down to something that is easily digestible.

I also love the opportunities to network with so many other companies and individuals in this industry. Whether it’s checking out the newest EV models that are coming to the market or learning about new innovative charging methods that can dispatch excess energy back to the grid, I feel like I learn something new every single day, and I love knowing that I’m not going to get bored at work any time soon.

What campaign or initiative are you most proud of?

I can honestly say that our current LOVELECTRIC campaign is what I’m most proud of so far in my career. It’s relatable, empathetic and funny. We are in the business of myth-busting. Driving electric — what’s not to love? No more oil changes. No more worrying about rising gas prices. Smooth rides and sounds of silence. How many more reasons do you need?

We’re teaching our customers that they can help save the environment and experience the thrill of clean living when they drive an electric vehicle. Falling in love has never been easier. It’s time to LOVELECTRIC.

What’s a marketing campaign you wish you’d thought of (inside or outside the energy industry)?

There are so many good ones! I love watching the Super Bowl every year solely for the commercials. I tend to lean toward humor, and to me, GEICO always knocks it out of the park and I find myself laughing out loud. On the same token, this Orbit Gum commercial was hilarious and definitely got my attention.

Probably the most relevant example I can think of was the Audi e-tron campaign from 2018. They were one of the first OEMs to make a strong push for EVs in the mass media and I definitely found myself pulling ideas for our own campaign from their “myth-busting” strategy.

What is the hardest part of working in the energy industry today?

The energy industry has definitely evolved over the last decade and turned into an innovative technology space. It’s exciting to see what the Elon Musks of the world are coming up with to push the needle.

That said, one of the hardest parts of working in this industry today is keeping the balance between the possibilities of the future and the reliability of the day-to-day operations. The impacts of the pandemic have taken a toll on almost every industry over the last two years, and the energy industry is no exception. We have to stay mindful in our messaging — continue to innovate while ensuring that all our customers have equitable access to our offerings.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t working in the utility industry, I would be…

Doing my same job anywhere. While I mentioned above that I have truly come to love working for the utility, at my core, my passion is being creative. And I feel like I can transfer this skill set to any industry. Marketing, communications and project management are universal skills — you just have to find something that excites you!

How do you anticipate the world of energy evolving in the coming years?

There are so many exciting things on the horizon! New technologies are paving the way to a more efficient, sustainable future. I’m looking forward to the next few decades — to a time when pumping gas will be the anomaly rather than driving electric, and to cool concepts like autonomous electric vehicles that will be charged wirelessly.

I love the feasibility of connecting and building partnerships with contacts across the country, and at this point, the whole world. The virtual environment has given everyone access to network with whoever we want, and I anticipate that we are going to continue finding efficiencies and developing the industry quicker.

What advice would you give to those entering the utility space?

My advice is to have an open mind. The possibilities are endless. I don’t think I would have considered the utility to be an innovative technology company back when I was first starting. But that has changed, and my eyes have been opened to think big and constantly pitch new ideas, and I encourage everyone to do the same. Just because something has been done one way forever, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

Participation in Questline Digital’s Energy Spotlight series does not indicate an endorsement from utility partners.

Electric cars and trucks are nothing new. In fact, William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa, built a six-passenger electric-powered wagon in 1891. Jumping ahead to just a few years later, of the 4,192 cars produced in the U.S. in 1900, 28% were electric. But electric vehicles (EVs) had disappeared by 1935 due to the discovery of Texas crude oil, the invention of the electric starter and mass production introduced by Henry Ford.

One of the main goals of EVs today is to replace petroleum, but reducing the cost of operation is an extra benefit. Burning petroleum consumes a finite resource and pollutes the atmosphere. While site emissions for electric vehicles is technically zero, the source emissions are still 30% less than gasoline combustion even considering 100% coal use for producing electricity from a power plant. Use of renewable solar or wind power reduces source emission by 100%.

Navigating barriers to EV adoption

What are the present barriers to EV adoption?

For starters, a price premium still exists averaging around $12,000 per electric vehicle. While fuel savings (electricity versus gasoline) will offset over $1,000 of that premium and a federal tax credit up to $7,500 could apply, it still takes about five years (70,000 miles) to obtain a simple financial payback.

The cost of batteries represents 30% to 40% of the total cost of EV production. Fortunately, that cost is steadily decreasing, now around $137/kWh of capacity. Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts EV battery prices to drop to $100/kWh in 2024 and $75/kWh by 2030, which would equal full parity with internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.
To combat this pricing barrier, roughly 35 states offer EV incentives of different types:

  • $1,000 to $5,000 straight rebate (regardless of vehicle price)
  • 50% to 80% of incremental cost (price premium) over non-EV
  • 20% to 35% of the vehicle purchase price (cap limited)
  • Exempt from state sales and use tax

The low cost of gasoline did not restrict EV sales much early on, especially for early adopters, but low fuel costs will affect the next group of buyers (early majority stage of technology adoption). In addition, states are reacting to the loss of fuel pump tax revenues by sending tax bills to EV owners based on the average miles travelled by ICE vehicles. While this is not unexpected, it could prove to be another deterrent to those seeking out EVs.

Perceived range anxiety is more fiction than fact. Many EVs today can go over 100 miles on a single charge while 50% of Americans travel less than 26 miles per day. In two years, the number of EV charging stations in the U.S. has doubled to 40,844 (offering 98,674 charging outlets). On-site charging stations are also very common for passenger cars and commercial fleet vehicles.

Faster charging speed and extended mileage is being enabled by technology such as silicon-carbide MOSFETs. Nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) lithium-ion batteries (used in about half of all EVs) provide the greatest capacity and power response but are prone to overheating. However, all electric vehicles incorporate a battery safety vent, current interrupter, and battery management system to minimize this risk.

The biggest barrier to EV adoption, however, is lack of public education. In an article from CleanTechnica, Steve Hanley observes, “Most dealers are doing a rotten job of promoting electric cars.” Although car manufacturers are equally to blame, he is steadfast that “there is no power on Earth that can force customers to buy an electric car until all of their questions have been answered.”

Answering questions about EVs is a role that utilities can play, especially in partnership with car dealerships, local governments, non-profit groups and car manufacturers. Energy utilities can work toward instant notification for permitting from the dealer, help governments streamline permitting and inspection processes for charging stations, offer financial or non-financial incentives and help emergency responders understand and address new safety concerns. Further guidance is available from the Clean Cities Community Electric Vehicle Readiness Projects.

EV market penetration is picking up speed

Despite these barriers, real or perceived, EVs are gaining a foothold. Close to 700,000 hybrid, plug-in and battery EVs were sold in each of the last three years in the U.S., with California among states and the Tesla brand among automobile manufacturers clearly dominating the market. Tesla alone sold nearly 200,000 Tesla 3, Y and X version battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in 2020, according to CleanTechnica. That is over 70% of all BEVs sold last year!

While there are only a dozen and a half passenger BEVs commercially available in the U.S. today, another dozen will be introduced this year or early next year, including large pickup trucks. The number of manufacturers offering medium- and heavy-duty commercial electric vehicles in the U.S. are increasing as well, including:

  • Electric transit buses (5)
  • Step-vans (3)
  • Utility trucks (5)
  • School buses (2)
  • Waste management trucks (5)
  • Long-haul and day-haul tractor trailers (5)

The future of EV adoption

What does the future hold for EV adoption? The major oil companies are rapidly displacing oil by adding renewable energy to their portfolios. Boston Consulting Group predicts the U.S. market will be driven by mild hybrid electric vehicles through 2025 and BEV volume through 2030, snagging 50% of all vehicle sales by 2030. Wood Mackenzie, however, predicts much lower EV sales per year for the U.S. (2.8 million), compared to China (5.3 million) and Europe (3.7 million), by 2030.

We do not know which prediction is more accurate, but we do believe that electric vehicles are here to stay. Ready to join the ride?

You can drive EV adoption for your utility customers with a content marketing strategy from Questline Digital.

Dan Reicher, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy, has long espoused a theory (often called the Reicher Triangle) that in order to rapidly deploy clean energy, you need three elements: technology, policy and finance. The U.S. has steadily developed clean energy technologies for many years and clean technology financing has reached an all-time high. The Biden administration is now delivering the missing policy support along with additional financing.

The new administration has a very different perspective on renewable energy. Upon winning the election, President Joe Biden promised to take numerous actions involving renewable energy in support of his climate change agenda. Some actions are defensive in nature, reversing the previous administration’s policies; most actions are offensive in nature, establishing new legislation. Many of the actions have already been put into play via Executive Order (EO), but a few have not.

Reversing existing policy:

  • Establish aggressive methane pollution limits for new and existing oil and gas operations (EO 14008 Sec. 217; EO 13990 Sec. 2)
  • Implement rigorous new fuel economy standards toward 100% zero-emission vehicles (EO 13990 Sec. 2)
  • Require zero-emission vehicles for federal, state, local and tribal government fleets, including vehicles of the United States Postal Service (EO 14008 Sec. 205)
  • Temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (EO 13990 Sec. 4)
  • Banning new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters (EO 14008 Sec. 208)
  • Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies (EO 14008 Sec. 209)
  • Revoking the March 2019 Permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline (EO 13990 Sec. 6)

Establishing new policy:

  • Double U.S. offshore wind capacity by 2030 (EO 14008 Sec. 207)
  • Achieve zero-carbon electricity generation by 2035 (EO 14008 Sec. 205)
  • Introduce legislation to achieve economy-wide net-zero emissions no later than 2050 (EO 14008 Sec. 201)
  • Rejoin the Paris climate agreement (EO 14008 Sec. 102)
  • Increase renewable energy deployment on public lands (EO 14008 Sec. 207)
  • Directing infrastructure planning to accelerate transmission projects and clean energy buildout (EO 14008 Sec. 213)
  • Make environmental justice a priority across all federal agencies (EO 14008 Sec. 219-223)

Policy not yet enforced:

  • Establishing ARPA-C, a research agency focused on advancing the energy transition. ARPA-E, an existing program focused on clean energy technology, is offering $100 million in 2021 funding.
  • Reducing the carbon footprint of the U.S. building stock 50% by 2035 through incentivizing beneficial electrification, efficiency upgrades and on-site clean power generation (4 million commercial and 2 million residential buildings).
  • Invest $400 billion over 10 years to achieve clean energy innovation breakthroughs.
  • Encourage the deployment of more than 500,000 new EV public charging outlets by the end of 2030.
  • Enact legislation requiring public company polluters to bear the full cost of their climate pollution. EO 13990 does mention the intention “to hold polluters accountable” and requires agencies to estimate the full social costs for carbon, nitrous oxide and methane emissions but falls short of implementing any penalty system.

Shifting winds of zero-carbon generation for energy utilities

Reducing the availability of fossil fuels and requiring zero-carbon electricity generation will greatly accelerate the domestic wind, solar and electric vehicles industries. It will also leverage existing carbon-free sources like nuclear power and hydropower. State renewable portfolio standards (RPS) goals will also drive wind and solar deployment. Energy-storage technology development will need to accelerate to enable use of increased intermittent renewables like wind and solar.

Here are six predictions for the U.S. renewable energy sector in 2021:

  1. Expect carbon taxing (and possible fines) on emitters of greenhouse gasses (GHG). Clean renewable energy is more economically feasible when GHG emitters become more expensive.
  2. There will be a record issuance of debt for sustainability projects, including activity-based green bonds, social bonds, green loans, sustainability-linked loans and sustainability bonds.
  3. Annual solar installations will exceed 23 GW in 2021 compared to 19 GW in 2020. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) is lobbying for a delay in the phasedown of the solar investment tax credit (ITC). The SEIA goal is to reach 20% electricity generation from solar by 2030. Wood Mackenzie predicts a record-setting 2021 for commercial photovoltaic generation at nearly 2.4 GW, for residential PV at 3.5 GW, and for utility PV at around 17 GW.
  4. Wind additions will jump from 17 GW in 2020 to 21 GW in 2021.
  5. 2021 will be a breakout year for electric vehicles with over one-half million EVs sold in the U.S., 70% more than in 2020. Expect vehicle emission standards to be lowered and fuel efficiency minimums to be raised.
  6. Energy storage deployments will spike dramatically in 2021, from 1.3 GW in 2020 to over 3.8 GW, driven by large-scale utility procurements. Front-of-the meter deployments will represent 85% of the market. The SEIA supports standalone energy storage systems qualifying for the ITC.

Some of these predictions would have come true under the previous administration, but President Biden and his team are focused much more on renewable energy during his term. As this new administration pushes forward to achieve and exceed goals, time will tell just how powerful the triple-threat combination of technology, policy and finance really is. After all, the Reicher Triangle is a powerful force that should not be underestimated.

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