Biden has proposed a large public procurement of clean vehicles. What would that look like, for climate solutions and for your life?
In Joe Biden’s clean energy plan, he suggests a project in which the federal government would not only purchase clean vehicles for its own fleets, including the postal service, but would also help state, tribal, and local governments buy clean vehicles for their own fleets. All together, these fleets include 3 million vehicles that need to be replaced with clean vehicles.
By using large-scale public procurement, Biden’s plan would create a significant early market for clean vehicles. This is important, because clean vehicle manufacturing still needs to scale up a lot: think of how many gasoline cars we’ve ever manufactured vs how many electric cars we’ve ever manufactured. Is it surprising that electric cars still have higher upfront costs?
But a rapid scale-up in clean vehicle manufacturing, driven by public procurement, could truly change the cost situation. Think about what’s happened with solar in the last few decades. When solar panels were a niche item that hadn’t been mass-manufactured, their upfront costs were prohibitively expensive for most people. As public policies started driving them toward mass-manufacturing and the volume of solar deployed grew, their costs came down exponentially to the point that they can now be affordable for nearly everyone with the right financing.
We need to do the same thing with all clean energy technologies. Biden’s clean vehicle procurement plan would help the US take a lead in the same kind of cost reduction through manufacturing scale-up for electric cars. Once the upfront cost comes down a bit, electric vehicles will be the more economical option for everyone, because they already have lower operating costs, no oil changes, cheaper maintenance, and better safety. That means they’ll become accessible for people of all income levels in the US, and also for people around the world.
Ten years from now, you might not even have to consider whether to invest in an electric car or not – they might have taken over the market, with as many different sizes and styles as there are gasoline cars today, all cheaper and healthier for your family and community.
And those federal, state, tribal, and local government fleets that bought clean vehicles with the early federal investment? They’ll be enjoying the lower operation and maintenance costs and healthier air from the beginning, as well as the car manufacturing jobs the program will create. That looks pretty good!