More than 90 percent of car-owning households in the U.S. could reduce both the amount they pay to power their vehicles and their greenhouse gas emissions if they decided to go electric, a new study has found.
At the same time, however, more than half of the lowest-income U.S. households — about 8.3 million — would continue to shoulder significant expenses when fueling their vehicles, according to the study, published on Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters.
For 60 percent of car-owning households in the U.S., the money and emissions saved by switching to an electric vehicle (EV) would be considered “moderate to high,” the authors determined.
The regions where families stand to benefit the most are the American West — particularly California and Washington — and parts of the Northeast, including New York, according to the study.
Residents of these areas would see the most gains due to a varying combination of factors: cleaner electricity grids, temperature-related impacts on fuel efficiency and lower electricity costs, relative to gas prices, the researchers found.
“Our results confirm the potential for widespread benefits from EV adoption,” corresponding author Joshua Newell, an urban geographer at the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems, said in a statement.
To draw their conclusions, the authors calculated census tract-level transportation energy burdens — the amount of money spent on fuel or electric charge — of both new EVs and international combustion engine vehicles.
They also estimated lifetime greenhouse gas emissions for each set of vehicles based on the same census information.
Switching to an EV would more than double the percentage of U.S. households — to 80 percent of all U.S. households — that enjoy a low transportation energy burden, the authors found.
They defined a low transportation energy burden as spending less than 2 percent of household income on fuel annually.
But more than half of the lowest-income households in the country would still have a high EV energy burden — or more than 4 percent of their income spent on fuel annually, the researchers observed.
And if at-home charging is unavailable, that figure rises to more than 75 percent of such households, the authors noted.
Very high EV energy burdens, ranging from 10 percent to 64 percent, would persist for the lowest-income households and would be concentrated in the Midwest, Hawaii and Alaska, according to the study.
About 8 percent of U.S. households — or 9.6 million — would see low savings in both transportation energy burdens and greenhouse gas emissions by switching to an EV, the authors found.
The researchers attributed these disadvantages to cold winter temperatures that impact battery performance, electrical grids that rely mostly on fossil fuels and electricity prices that are higher than gasoline prices.
Addressing these inquiries, the authors contended, will require implementing targeted policies to promote energy justice and the subsidization of charging infrastructure.
The researchers also called for strategies aimed and reducing electricity costs, as well as expanded access to low-carbon transport infrastructure, such as public transportation, biking and car sharing.
“EV ownership in the U.S. has thus far been dominated by households with higher incomes and education levels, leaving the most vulnerable populations behind,” Newell said.
“Policy interventions are needed to increase EV accessibility so that all Americans can benefit from the EV transition,” he added.