When Winter Storm Uri swept through Texas, the whole state shut down. Electricity was hit-or-miss for several days, with certain areas of the state (read: lower-income areas) hit the hardest. And that doesn’t bode well for introducing electric vehicles on a wider scale.
Austin, the state capitol of Texas, has spent the last two decades budgeting $650 million for electric buses and a charging facility for 187 of those vehicles, Reuters reports. In 2022, if Austin needs to buy a vehicle, it’s going to buy an electric one. But city officials certainly didn’t plan or a winter storm to render those buses essentially inoperable because they couldn’t be charged. If there’s ever a surge in demand for power again in the future, the whole city could suffer.
There are, of course, variables here. Most drivers of battery-powered electric vehicles reported that they didn’t have any charging issues during the rolling blackouts, according to PlugShare. But those drivers also generally also had a non-BEV, road conditions were so bad that fewer people needed to drive anywhere, and EVs still aren’t accessible to everyone. The process of building an electric car is currently more expensive than building an ICE-equipped vehicle, and many EVs are still new, which means they necessarily cost most than, say, the beater you bought because it runs exactly long enough to get you to work. EVs are still currently a rich people thing.
But Austin’s introduction of fully-electric vehicles as being the sole means of city-sponsored transport raises problems. Buses are on the road longer than most cars are, and folks in underprivileged areas rely on public transport as their main means of getting around. If there’s another week where power is consistently failing—but where grocery store and food service workers are still expected to clock in—then Texas could see even bigger problems than the ones it’s already facing. And that's not even taking into consideration the fact that a grid failure this large cost lives; its impact on transportation was one of the smaller concerns.
And this isn’t a problem specific to Texas, although Texas’ decision to remain on a power grid separate from other states certainly exacerbated the problem. Power grids across the country have been overtaxed for years. The switch to EVs will ultimately require grids to be taxed even further as a result of a more robust charging infrastructure. A multi-million dollar investment in EVs will require a multi-billion dollar investment in infrastructure to ensure the country keeps functioning.
It is, unfortunately, a problem that local, state, and federal officials are going to need to tackle before we can even consider going carbon-free.