Ohio State team studying EV impact on underserved communities

Posted: September 25, 2023
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Sales of electric vehicles – or EVs – surpassed the 10-million-mark last year as efforts to convert auto owners from internal combustion engine vehicles continued in support of the U.S. goal to achieve a net-zero emissions economy by the year 2050. 

But what about those who might be left behind in the wake of these efforts – people who live in underserved communities, including immigrants and refugees? 

ISE Assistant Professor Daniel Gingerich is part of the team “FLEETS for All: Facilitating Local Electrified Energy and Transportation Services for All.” The project, which received a $1.12 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, is studying underserved communities in the Columbus Metropolitan Area (CMA) “to understand their needs for electrification and mobility and evaluate the effectiveness of current efforts,” according to the proposal. 

Gingerich says the Ohio State team, led by Associate Professor Jeffery Bielicki (Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering) and including Professor Darryl Hood (Environmental Health Sciences), Associate Professor Jeffrey Jacquet (Environment and Natural Resources), Assistant Professor Huyen Le (Geography) and Associate Professor Andy May (CEGE), has worked with the City of Columbus, Franklin County Public Health and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission to identify communities. 

Gingerich says the team consists of colleagues who have worked together before in public health, transportation and air quality. “Andy May, Huyen Le, and Darryl Hood are already involved in air quality modeling," he says. "And Jeff Bielicki, Jeffrey Jacquet and I are working in energy transition.” 

The team will use interviews, focus groups and surveys to understand needs in 15 CMA communities. From there, they’ll develop strategies “to guide transition investment and deployment to improve health, environmental and social conditions over time,” as outlined in their proposal. 

From an ISE perspective, Gingerich says he is focusing on where the power for electric vehicles will come from and “how to supply electricity to truly low-income neighborhoods and where we need to build out wind and solar. Connecting to the power grid is one area where ISE really shines.” 

Gingerich says the project will result in smarter decision-making by using quantitative information. He says behavioral economics also will be part of the decision-making process. 

“There’s a really strong environmental justice component and thinking about how to model and assess environmental components,” according to Gingerich, who says the team will be studying how EVs impact ground-level emissions and overall quality of life. 

He says while maintenance costs for EVs are lower, upfront capital costs are high. The team is looking at a follow-up proposal to expand charging infrastructure in these communities. “Coming out of the pandemic there were essential travel inequities,” Gingerich notes, adding that it is projects like these that show “how a land grant university like Ohio State operates in an urban environment.” 

“It shows commitment to the communities we live and work in,” he says. “ISEs can really contribute to really important problems impacting society and creating a more equitable society and infrastructure.” 

Gingerich will be incorporating undergraduate students into the research with one of his classes “studying electrification of household appliances in underserved communities and doing economic analyses of emerging technologies.” 

He says the EPA will be looking at the transferability to other communities as they “understand how we are using Columbus and Franklin County as a lab.” 

“We’re also working to build a legacy as part of the project to keep monitoring what we do here in Franklin County,” Gingerich says. “There’s a real-world application: Let’s solve problems and do good.” 


Story by Nancy Richison

Category: Faculty