Nearly every U.S. president for the past 50 years has explicitly called for either energy independence or increased energy security as a matter of practicality, government policy, and geopolitics. The dominance of petro-state autocrats, particularly in the fossil fuel industry, has caused maximum frustration, diplomatic complication, and vulnerability in many Western countries. As Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, USN (Ret.) a member of ASP’s Consensus for American Security recently remarked: “From Iran to Saudi Arabia to Iraq and Venezuela – dictators have derived their strength from the fossil resources within their borders, flexing their powers because of their control of a finite resource made valuable only because of our addition to it.” And with Russia’s longstanding dominance as one of the world’s top three suppliers of oil and gas, the recent invasion of Ukraine has sparked renewed enthusiasm for rapidly moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy and vehicle electrification, particularly in the transportation sector. While the Obama and Trump administrations both boasted about energy independence, complete energy independence from foreign energy supplies is unlikely given the complexity and interconnectedness of energy markets, resources, and systems. However, enhanced energy security is achievable and already underway both at home and abroad.
In Europe, where Russia provides approximately 40% of the European Union’s (EU) natural gas imports, the recent invasion has accelerated the EU’s transition away from fossil fuels in an overhaul of both national-level and EU-wide energy policies via the European Green Deal (EUGD), REPowerEU, and a special U.S. – European Commission Task Force initiated to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels. The GND, an overarching roadmap with the goal of making the continent carbon-neutral by 2050, places an emphasis on clean transportation as a key component of emissions reduction. According to The International Council on Clean Transportation, the electric vehicle share of the European fleet of vehicles reached 11% in 2020, up from 3.6% in 2019. Likewise, although it will take time to pivot away completely from Russian oil and gas supplies, the European Commission’s REPowerEU effort will expedite energy independence from Russian fossil fuels well before 2030, and also increase renewable energy and electrification. As such, transition in the energy and transportation industry is already well underway. Specifically, in summer 2021, the European Union joined several other individual European countries in their plans to gradually ban internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035. In Germany, the government has formally backed a mandate that only zero-emissions vehicles can be sold from 2035.
In the U.S., transportation accounts for a whopping 29 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, making it an important sector to address in order to achieve net-zero goals and enhance energy security. Since 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation has been working to connect states, agencies, and stakeholders to increase electric vehicle (EV) technical expertise and infrastructure. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Alternative Fuel Corridors (AFC) has expanded a national network of EV charging stations along the National Highway System (NHS), and the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) further invests in a “nationwide network of 500,000 EV charges that ensures a convenient, reliable, affordable, and equitable charging experience for all users.” The Department of Energy also has numerous programs and resources to assist with the federal government’s fleet transition to EVs, including Tiger Teams made up of technical experts which conduct site visits so “fleet experts and engineers can review electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) needs.” And in late 2021, the Biden Administration announced a goal of transitioning half of America’s vehicles to electric by 2030. Similarly, innovative developments and partnerships for EV development in private industry are showing great promise for the future of electrification. Earlier this year, General Motors announced it would only sell vehicles that have zero tailpipe emissions by 2035. A recently announced summer 2022 pilot program between Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and General Motors (GM) is testing GM EV’s capability to provide on-demand power sources for homes in PG&Es service areas. The cutting-edge bidirectional charging technology has the potential to power essential needs of a properly equipped home.
Transitioning to EVs is not just an environmental or emissions issue, it is an overall safety and national security concern, particularly for the U.S. military. ASP’s President Emeritus Brigadier General Stephen Cheney, USMC (Ret.) and current President Lieutenant General Norm Seip, USAF (Ret.) have spoken at numerous National Climate Security Tour events on the importance of alternative fuels for the military. Most importantly, reducing dependence on oil and gas by transitioning to renewables would mean fewer fuel convoys and casualties on the battlefield. One study calculated that 52% of casualties over a nine-year period during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom were associated with attacks on fuel and water resupply. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks put it, “Electric vehicles are quiet. They have a low heat signature, and incredible torch, and because they tend to be low maintenance with fewer moving parts, they have the potential to reduce logistics requirements… all of which can help give our troops an edge on the battlefield.” Similarly, since the military’s non-tactical vehicle fleet is the second largest in the federal government and is a notoriously massive greenhouse gas emitter, transitioning its fleet is a critical component of achieving national net-zero goals. The Pentagon is already moving to transition the military’s tactical vehicles to hybrids, and non-tactical cars and trucks on bases are moving straight to electric.
Fortunately, there is now ample evidence that advances in technology are making the transition to EVs easier and more financially sound than ever before. As of March 2022, EVs are saving owners $6,000 – $10,000 over the lifespan of the car and are three to six times cheaper to drive in the U.S. Across the globe, several cities have announced their intention to become “electric vehicle capitals or leaders” and some cities, like Cincinnati, have already declared intent to exclusively buy electric, resulting in cost savings, enhanced operational security, and job creation. As infrastructure, technology, and demand continues to grow, the global EV outlook remains more promising than ever.
Climate Security in Focus is a blog series dedicated to exploring key elements of climate security that impact American interests both at home and abroad. The series aims to examine specific aspects of climate security issues in order to better understand climate policy challenges, facilitate conversation, and generate ideas.