The energy transition goes beyond CO2 reduction and cost savings for individual drivers - it also has the potential to address global social and environmental justice barriers. However, as the transition to electric vehicles continues to accelerate, there is a growing concern when planning future EV charging infrastructure; equity.
“Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.”
Charging equity ensures EV charging infrastructure that is fair, impartial, and accessible to everyone regardless of their socio-economic situation. Without it, we may inadvertently exacerbate already existing disparities in communities with low access to transportation and a higher risk of suffering from the consequences of climate change.
Charging Deserts: A global problem
‘Charging deserts’ are areas with low numbers of readily available EV charging stations. Even a cursory look at current infrastructure in some US cities shows a disproportionate distribution of charging stations. Most charging stations are found in affluent (and predominantly white) neighborhoods, with the fewest charging stations in poorer, rural, or densely populated communities. In New York in 2021, there were only 17 EV charging stations in the Bronx (for a population of 1.4 million), whilst there were 70 EV charging stations in the Upper East Side.
This is not just a US problem, there is growing concern about the disparity in charging infrastructure around the globe. In England, there are only 17 chargers per 100,000 people in Greater Manchester, compared with 102 per 100,000 in London. It’s becoming clear that without rigorous planning, charging infrastructure has the potential to perpetuate harmful inequalities.
Disproportionate effects of climate change
It’s a classic chicken and egg problem. If people have enough money to buy an electric car, their interest will often push private EV charging organizations to build infrastructure to match their demand. However, without available charging infrastructure, there is no incentive for lower income families to pay the higher initial purchase price for the privilege of struggling to charge their car.
Numerous studies have shown that disadvantaged communities are disproportionately affected by climate change effects such as: air pollution and other health risks, heat waves and overcrowding from climate refugees. However, with consideration and planning, the advent of sustainable transportation could actually help solve some of these pressing issues. Efforts to combat air pollution and lower emissions (such as EV adoption) will have the largest impact on those already affected by climate change. It is the communities that are unable to afford an EV that will benefit the most from them.
Of course, as cost parity becomes closer, this barrier may lessen. In fact, it’s expected that EVs will reach parity with ICE vehicles sometime between 2025 and 2027 (some models will reach parity much sooner). EV will become cheaper than their ICE equivalents soon after that.
Charging Infrastructure Planning
Planning infrastructure should go beyond patching up charging deserts and promoting community car sharing initiatives. In order to build infrastructure that allows accessibility to EV charging for everyone, regardless of their socio-economic circumstances, planners need to consider equity from the start.
Accurate data is the key to addressing this issue. By analyzing the location of current charging deserts, typical car use, perceptions of electric vehicles, and infrastructure in high-density neighborhoods (to name a just few) we can project where charging needs to be in future.
Luckily, there are plans to combat this problem, as policy makers around the world are increasingly cognizant of these issues. Charging highways are spreading out from urban centers, new buildings are more likely to be fitted with electric vehicle charging points, and the electrification of public transport is accelerating. Unlike petrol, you can put an EV charger anywhere with an electricity grid.
The transition to electric mobility goes beyond cost savings. It is an opportunity to address some serious global social and environmental justice barriers. The communities hit hardest by the effects of climate are the communities which have the most to gain from electric mobility. Making sure that those communities have access to EV charging infrastructure is not just important, it’s vital.