Meanwhile, the infrastructure the US government is investing in revolves around continued reliance on automobiles, but that, too, is still proceeding at a cautious pace. DOE’s investments in electric vehicles and its charging infrastructure are largely focused on figuring out how charging will work. Will people want to charge vehicles at home, or at public charging stations or some combination of both?
That's why last week, the DOE announced a program that would give thousands of buyers of electric vehicles to qualify for free in-home charging stations, funded by grants $2,000 per household. Consumers get the charging station for free in exchange for sharing their usage data with DOE and its associated labs.
For the time being, the DOE is focusing its research efforts on urban centers. Early adopters of electric vehicles will likely be city dwellers, but at the same time, urban centers are also best suited to public transportation.
Truly zero-emissions vehicles would be an improvement within today’s transportation mix, but some transportation experts say it’s still not enough.
“Changing the source of a car’s fuel does not change the fact that the car still contributes to a number of other major environmental and socio-economic problems,” says Diana Lind, of Next American City.
“To name just a few car-related consequences beyond carbon emissions, cars enable sprawl, hour-long commutes, obesity, and social isolation. Car-oriented communities are much less sustainable than walkable communities. These areas take advantage of their sprawling zoning with larger houses and bigger commercial spaces, all of which consume much more energy than compact, dense cities.”
Lind also points out that while EV advocates talk about a future filled with solar-, wind- and geothermal-powered cars, the reality is that right now, and for many years to come, only a very small percentage of the country’s energy comes from renewable sources.
“It is naive to assume that the country’s 400 million cars will be fueled by much other than coal in the short-term, when high carbon emissions are guaranteed to push us past the ecological tipping point,” she says.
Rather than creating new electric car plug-in infrastructure, Lind says federal, state and local governments should concentrate on re-thinking personal mobility altogether.
“What if cities outlawed private cars for leisure purposes? What if money otherwise spent on plug-in infrastructure went toward feasibility studies for car-free downtown centers? Anyone who thinks that level of change is beyond us should remember that we once ripped up public transportation infrastructure and built highways through our downtowns. It is no more outlandish to think that we could reverse those changes today.”