An Electrified America — Electrification in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill

With the passing of the bipartisan Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act, we have the opportunity to set a new course for the electrification of our transportation system. It might seem simple: Just give incentives to drivers to buy electric cars and a home charger and watch the change happen. While those steps are a part of the solution, there is a much more complex system that needs to be built. In fact, on a macro level, we are actually talking about reinventing our economy around renewable energy versus fossil fuels. This shift has far-ranging impacts and, of course, opportunities.

We need to think comprehensively. Change is needed across the spectrum, from electrifying shared systems such as public rail and bus transit, to privately run shared scooters and car-sharing in public spaces, and to the U.S. Postal service and UPS electrifying huge fleets with electric trucks, chargers, and e-cargo bikes for shorter distances. The form factor of the vehicle needs to match the use case and service need, and it is going to be absolutely crucial to build right-sized vehicles to meet the same demand. Besides moving from single occupancy, privately owned vehicles to shared mobility, what else needs to happen to power this shift successfully? With escalating demand, we need to upgrade the American electric grid, and in a big way.

The bipartisan Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act works to address all of these issues, or to start us in the right direction over the next decade, beginning with the creation of a new Grid Deployment Authority to build a resilient, clean, 21st century electric grid through inter and intra-regional infrastructure grant programs, DOE guaranteed loans and more. We can also speed up the implementation of new transmission lines by utilizing the national highway system right-of-way and other state highways as well. It won’t stop there, as long-haul electric charging infrastructure for freight and even electrified high-speed rail are a natural next step.

The job creation from electrifying America is mind-blowing. The renewable energy jobs alone unlocked by upgrading the electric grid with new high voltage lines are forecasted to add 640,000 jobs. Add electric vehicle components, technology from batteries to software, and the recycling of all of the components, and it is easy to see why economists are talking about millions of high-paying opportunities for everyday working Americans.

The fact is, the bipartisan infrastructure bill at this point is a downpayment on what we need. It is the flywheel to show Americans that our future is renewable, electric, and shared. To meet President Biden’s goals of reducing economy-wide carbon emissions by 50% and for the U.S. power grid to get 80% of its power from emissions-free sources before 2030, we will need much more investment.

The $3.5 trillion reconciliation package is predicted to also add funds for electrification and transportation. Examples range from job retraining programs, the national security of our grid, transportation tax incentives and grants (consumer and business), to electrifying the federal vehicle fleet and buildings and encouraging U.S. manufacturing of infrastructure and transportation.

If it seems like we are throwing the kitchen sink at this problem, we may want to add the refrigerator and the oven. This may be our last chance to change the trajectory of the climate crisis and lead the free world from a 20th century of destructive fossil fuels to an electrified 21st century that we can be proud to leave our children.

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Cityfi

Cityfi advises cities, corporations, foundations and start-ups to help catalyze change in a global, complex urban landscape. Twitter: @teamcityfi