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Electric Vehicle Infrastructure

Production and use of electric vehicles (EVs) has increased dramatically over the last decade. In addition to an increase in overall popularity, this trend is also due to government incentives to drive costs down for both manufacturers and consumers. A widespread move to EVs could help address climate change because actual driving of EVs does not produce greenhouse gasses like traditional gas and diesel vehicles. However, while internal combustion engines have around 200 parts that need to be maintained and possibly repaired as compared to EVs which utilize only around 20 parts, current EVs have unique environmental problems related to sourcing, disposal and other aspects of these parts, and require nationwide installation of appropriate charging infrastructure and a significant increase in demand of the power grid. So, do these problems outweigh the benefits of a transition to EVs?

How Many Electric Vehicles (EVs) Are On The Road Today? 

As shown in the figure below, based on data from the International Energy Agency, the number of EVs on U.S. roads has increased substantially in recent years. The number of BEVs, or pure battery electric vehicles, increased sevenfold from 2018 to 2023, while the number of PHEVs (plug-in hybrids that combine electric and gas-powered engines) tripled. These numbers are small compared to the nearly 280 million cars and trucks Americans owned in 2023. 

Source: IEA (2024)

How Is EV usage projected to increase?

The growth in EV sales is highly uncertain. Part of the uncertainty is whether the U.S. or state governments will mandate purchases of EVs (either pure battery or plug-in hybrids). Some states, such as New Jersey and California, have laws on the books that will ban the purchase of conventionally powered cars after 2030—either simple bans or pollution limits that will make it virtually impossible to sell conventionally powered cars. As this date approaches, the bans may be relaxed, particularly if public opinion rises.

There are several additional uncertainties. The first is whether EV technology will improve, particularly in areas of range (current EVs can be driven about 250-400 miles before requiring a charge), battery lifetime, and resistance to cold weather, which lowers battery capacity. A second uncertainty is whether current tax credits for the purchase of EVs will remain in place. A third uncertainty is whether EVs will become price-competitive with conventionally-powered vehicles, with or without tax credits – right now, they are significantly more expensive, even with tax credits. Finally, the widespread introduction of EVs would require constructing a nationwide charging station network, and create a much higher demand on production of electricity.

With all of these uncertainties, predicting what will happen to EV sales over the next decade and beyond is difficult. The International Energy Agency gives a wide range of projections, from EVs moving to be about half of U.S. car sales in 2032 to a scenario where they are almost 100% of the market. 

Are federal, state, and local governments encouraging sales of EVs?

In total, 45 states and the District of Columbia provide financial incentives to encourage the sale and purchase of EVs, including tax credits, tax rebates, and exemptions from emissions testing. The federal government has also passed legislation to encourage the development and purchase of EVs. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 allocated $7.5 billion in federal funding to build a national charging network. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) extended a tax credit of up to $7,500 to purchase new EVs until at least 2032. Beginning in 2023, the IRA permits qualifying used EV purchases to receive a credit of up to $4,000. 

What infrastructure changes are needed to support the widespread use of EVs?

One of the largest roadblocks to EV adoption is the need for a nationwide charging network. For most EV users, a fully charged battery is sufficient for daily use – enough to go to work, run errands, and then return home, where the car can be plugged in for recharge. The problem for current EVs (especially BEV or battery-only vehicles) is long trips away from home. In many communities, few (often none) locations can charge an EV battery in 20 minutes or less. Thus, widespread adoption of EVs would require a massive increase in charging stations, particularly in small towns throughout the U.S. Having an insufficient number of fast-charging stations could create a variety of logistical issues, spanning beyond just long lines and traffic congestion to safety concerns where ample space and parking hasn’t been taken into account.

Is the United States making the investments needed to support the EV mandates mentioned earlier? The current answer is no. A 2021 executive order established a goal that half of all new vehicles will be zero-emissions by 2030, including battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and fuel cell electric vehicles. That same year, the federal government’s Electric Vehicle Charging Action Plan created a target of 500,000 new public EV stations by 2030. 

Is 500,000 enough? A Standard and Poors Global study concluded that the U.S. would need over 2 million new charging stations by 2030 to support an all-electric mandate – and many more stations afterward as EVs become the dominant vehicle on the road. Given the limited government investment, most of these new stations will be built by private-sector companies. As of now, there are no signs of an effort large enough to close the gap.

A second limit on EV adoption is shortages in the materials needed to produce EV batteries. Currently, 70% of global EV battery production occurs in China. Moreover, production in the United States is highly dependent on importing five minerals critical to producing lithium-ion batteries (lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, and graphite). 

Efforts are underway to shore up the domestic supply of minerals used in EV battery production. Some solutions are easy: graphite can be mined from Alaska and Alabama facilities or easily recycled. However, some minerals are simply not available. For example, the United States has no viable domestic manganese ore sources. While researchers are investigating methods to recycle (extract and reuse) minerals in used EV batteries, a large increase in EV production would require new sources of all these materials. 

The Take-Away

The number of electric vehicles on the road in America is increasing rapidly due to declining prices, increased capabilities, and government tax credits. However, the current number is small as a percentage of total automobile ownership. Constructing a nationwide charging network over the next six years to support vastly higher numbers of battery-only EVs will not be easy or cheap.

An alternative strategy is to encourage the purchase of plug-in hybrid vehicles that can use batteries for daily trips around town, but have a gas engine for long trips. At present, there are plug-in hybrid versions of most types of cars and light trucks. Purchases are eligible for tax credits under current law, which makes them cost-competitive with comparable gas-powered vehicles. Hybrids are not carbon neutral – they still produce CO2 when they use their gas engine. However, because they can operate in battery-only mode for short trips, hybrids can make a significant contribution to the decarbonization of transportation.  


Further Reading

International Energy Agency. (2024) Global EV Outlook, accessed 5/7/24.

Igleheart, A. (2023). State Politics Promoting Hybrid and Electric Vehicles. National Conference of State Legislatures., accessed 3/12/24.

S&P Global Mobility. (2023). EV Chargers: How many do we need?, accessed 3/13/24.




How Many Electric Vehicles (EVs) Are On The Road Today?  

International Energy Agency. (2024) Global EV Outlook, accessed 5/7/24.

How Is EV Usage Projected to Increase?

Carroll, D. (2023). Tech advances will drive the transition to electric vehicles. Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering., accessed 3/12/24.

International Energy Agency. (2024) Global EV Outlook, accessed 5/7/24.

Are Federal, State, and Local Governments Encouraging Sales Of EVs?

Colato, J., &  Ice, L. (2023). Charging into the future: the transition to electric vehicles. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Beyond the Numbers, 12(4)., accessed 3/12/24.

Igleheart, A. (2023). State Politics Promoting Hybrid and Electric Vehicles. National Conference of State Legislatures., accessed 3/12/24.

What infrastructure changes are needed to support the widespread use of EVs?

California Air Resources Board. (n.d). Cars and Light-Trucks are Going Zero – Frequently Asked Questions., accessed 3/12/24.

Diaz, M. N. (2020). Electric Vehicles: A Primer on Technology and Selected Policy Issues. Congressional Research Service., accessed 3/12/24.

Melaina, M., & Bremson, J. (2008). Refueling availability for alternative fuel vehicle markets: Sufficient urban station coverage. Energy Policy, 36(8), 3233-3241., accessed 3/12/24.

Metais, M.O., Jouini, O., Perez, Y., Berrada, J., & Suomalainen, E. (2022). Too much or not enough? Planning electric vehicle charging infrastructure: A review of modeling options. Renewable and Sustainable Energies Review, 153., accessed 3/12/24.

S&P Global Mobility. (2023). EV Chargers: How many do we need?, accessed 3/13/24.

U.S. Department of Energy. Electric vehicle charging stations. Alternative Fuels Data Center: Electric Vehicle Charging Stations., accessed 3/12/24.

Kampshoff, P., Kumar, A., Peloquin, S., & Sahdev, S. (2022). Building the electric-vehicle charging infrastructure America needs. McKinsey & Company., accessed 3/13/24.

S&P Global Mobility. (2023). EV Chargers: How many do we need?, accessed 3/13/24.

Tracy, S. B. (2022). Critical Minerals in Electric Vehicle Batteries. Congressional Research Service., accessed 3/13/24.

The White House. (2021). FACT SHEET: President Biden Announces Steps to Drive American Leadership Forward on Clean Cars and Trucks., accessed 3/13/24.



Schuyler Bordeau (Intern) is a Political Science and Philosophy double major at Wake Forest University expected to graduate in May 2024. Upon graduation, she will join Capstone in Washington, D.C. as a Policy Associate. 

Noah Martinez (Intern) is a Political Science major at the University of Illinois Chicago expected to graduate in 2024. In addition to his current role at Policy vs Politics, he is an intern at Joe Moore Strategies LLC, a government relations consulting firm.

Dr. Robert Holahan (Subject Matter Expert) is Associate Professor of Political Science and Faculty-in-Residence of the Dickinson Research Team (DiRT) at Binghamton University (SUNY). He holds a Ph.D in Political Science in 2013 from Indiana University-Bloomington, where his advisor was Nobel Laurate Elinor Ostrom.

Dr. Nick Clark (Content Lead) is Professor of Political Science at Susquehanna University, where he is also Department Head in Political Science and Director of the Public Policy Program and the Innovation Center. He received his Ph.D. from Indiana University and researches political institutions, European politics, and the politics of economic policy.

Dr. William Bianco (Research Director) received his Ph.D in Political Science from the University of Rochester. He is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Indiana Political Analytics Workshop at Indiana University. His current research is on representation, political identities, and the politics of scientific research.


Publication Log

Published 5/28/24


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