CURRENTS: Revving Up California’s EV Adoption

by Julia Kim, Local Government Commission

As you know, California has set the most ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in North America and will require a new level of coordination and innovation to reach 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. With nearly 40% of the state’s emissions coming from transportation, the largest single source, the proliferation of electric vehicles (EVs) is a key strategy to work towards achieving state goals.

Advanced technology and government incentives, including the availability of new vehicle models, greater driving range from improved battery technology, federal tax credits, and state and municipal rebates, have encouraged greater EV adoption and helped make California the world’s leading market for EVs with about 160,000 on the road. However, the state isn’t quite on track to achieving Governor Brown’s goal of 1.5 million zero emission vehicles on the road by 2025. “Electric cars are growing,” Governor Brown said in an interview. “But they’re not ramping up at the level we need.”

Local governments play a critical role in promoting EV adoption and are already undertaking a number of strategies to encourage widespread adoption in their communities, such as creating incentives for drivers to buy EVs (i.e., rebates, parking benefits, etc.). Many cities and counties are also leading by example by electrifying their public fleets and installing workplace chargers. But it is clear that greater investment in charging infrastructure is the key to accommodating existing plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) drivers and to support the growth of the market.

Due to insufficient availability of charging stations, frustration is growing among PEV owners as they compete for the few coveted parking spaces available for charging, which has led to poor etiquette such as unplugging another vehicle to charge their own. It can also deter first-time buyers by making EVs seem inconvenient, troublesome, or unreliable. Installing more charging stations, particularly where drivers need them, will encourage adoption and help grow the market by making these clean vehicles more viable for a wider range of drivers with different needs.

Here’s how you can get started:

  1. Design a strategic network of recommended locations for public charging stations that will help reduce “range anxiety”, a phenomenon felt by drivers who fear their EV will run out of power before reaching their destination or a charging station. This can serve as your roadmap to creating a network of charging stations that can take a driver to and from any location in your jurisdiction without running out of power.
  2. Invest in high-priority locations based on demand and create an implementation plan for each charger to be installed. Conducting targeted outreach and stakeholder engagement can be valuable to understanding driver needs for additional charging stations and prioritizing investments. Some important considerations when developing your implementation plan include permit requirements, proximity to power sources, handicap accessibility, approval from property owners, and identification of the most suitable charging station to install from Level 1 (least expensive) to DC Fast Chargers (most expensive):
    1. Level 1 (120V): 2-5 miles of range per hour of charging, recommended for residential, workplace, and commuter lots.
    2. Level 2 (240V): 10-20 miles of range per hour of charging, recommended for commercial lots such as shopping centers.
    3. DC Fast Chargers: 50+ miles of range per half hour of charging, recommended for short-term parking lots, and rest areas and road-side businesses of high-use travel corridors.
  1. Encourage greater private investment in workplace chargers to accommodate employees who drive PEVs and to attract PEV-driving customers, who on average have a household income of over $100,000. Conducting targeted outreach to businesses and communicating the benefits of workplace charging, such as providing an amenity for employees, providing a valuable service for customers and visitors with EVs, and demonstrating leadership in energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reductions, can facilitate private sector investment.Workplace charging stations can also be part of a company’s larger recruitment strategy, sending a strong signal to prospective employees about the company’s commitment to clean energy, innovative technology, and sustainability. This can attract the right type of candidates that the company is looking for. Additionally, job benefits are a key component of a candidate’s decision-making process, and the rise of start-ups have led to companies offering increasingly competitive incentives to hire the best candidates. It is likely that companies will needto invest in charging stations in the near future to be able to stay competitive.
  2. Create strategic partnerships to leverage limited resources and work collaboratively towards shared goals. This could mean working with neighboring cities or counties to design a sub-regional network to counter range anxiety at a larger scale, and even co-investing in charging stations near jurisdictional lines to save costs. Working with your utility to coordinate activities can also be a great way to leverage resources, such as through SCE and SDG&E’s new proposed programs to grow the EV markets by focusing on charging stations at multi-unit dwellings and workplaces.

In addition to installing more charging stations, substantial efforts are needed to make EVs more cost-effective and accessible, particularly for communities that consistently suffer disproportionate impacts from pollution. We must also work towards utilizing EVs as a grid-balancing resource by ensuring EVs are charging at times when there is an abundance of solar on the grid and discouraging EV owners from charging at peak times of high energy demand. Targeted outreach and education, creative incentives, and strategic partnerships will be critical to ensuring widespread EV adoption in an equitable and sustainable manner.

Resources to help get you started: