When comparing a plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) to the venerable gasoline car, most of the talk surrounds the “well to wheels” comparison, which gauges the environmental impact of the vehicle and its fuel usage. This assessment, as well as the question about the return on investment for the car buyer, is a valid and complex topic to explore.
But what of the differences in job creation, or the “wheels to workers” value of shifting the fuel from largely imported fossil fuel to nearly entirely domestically supplied electricity? Creating a job for their fellow citizen may not be on the mind of consumers when purchasing a vehicle, but when considering the national economic benefit, it deserves to be on the radar.
The Obama administration has bet heavily (with taxpayer dollars through the stimulus program) that the United States can compete in the manufacturing of PEVs and their most costly component, the battery pack. Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm recently spoke with Jon Stewart about the importance of this program in bringing jobs to her home state as nearly a dozen PEV battery companies have set up shop or expanded in Detroit and Indiana.
New companies such as Coda Automotive are also hiring workers to assemble the vehicles here. You can argue that gasoline cars also require workers to build them, but how many internal combustion engine startups have launched lately?
However, looking at the jobs directly created during the manufacture of the vehicles is only a drop in the bucket. PEVs are differentiated from their gas cousins because of the secondary job creation from the additional generation of power as well as the new infrastructure for delivering that power to the vehicles.
Most of the PEV charging equipment being installed here is manufactured (in part or in total) in the United States today, and those more than a million pieces of equipment that will be installed in the coming years will all have to be installed by electrical contractors as well as maintained.
Managing EV charging requires the building of new data centers, increased utilization of wired and wireless networks, and hiring of system operators who will monitor their status. In coming years, utilities will have to hire software and communications engineers to integrate all of the data about EV charging into their networks, track all of the payments for the charging sessions, and hire new number crunchers to create algorithms to make sure that plugging in your Chevrolet Volt won’t cause a brown-out.
Even the University of Delaware is hiring for the PEV industry thanks to a new company it is co-launching with NRG Energy to commercialize vehicle to grid (V2G) technology, which will be used to support the grid through ancillary services.
Finally, there’s all the extra juice that will have to be generated and sent across the wires to power the vehicles. Just as there is a carbon benefit in swapping gas for electricity, replacing imported oil with domestic electrons is a net jobs creator. While some folks may not be excited about the prospect of more coal miners at work, powering PEVs will enable an expansion of renewable power.
Solar going on rooftops (such as at car dealerships) will charge vehicles by day, and wind power will charge many them by night. According to a 2009 study by the Berkeley Institute for the Environment and Vestas Wind Energy, renewable power creates more jobs than fossil fuel generation.
While not all investments in “green jobs” have panned out (hello Solyndra), we shouldn’t remain silent on the job multiplier around PEVs and their power consumption.