Is California’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Ready for Growing Demand?

April 14, 2016

On one unspecified day in February, the 200,000th electric car was sold in the state of California, which is home to about half of all electric cars in the United States. Governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order in March, 2012 establishing a path to 1.5 million zero emissions vehicles (ZEV) in California by the year 2020, and with new and improved electric cars available for purchase and ZEV-friendly codes and legislation, California is getting closer to it’s goal. Forecasts for EV growth vary significantly, from 5% of new car sales in 2020 according to the Ready, Set, Charge initiative and 15% of new car sales in the same period by the California Air Resources Board.

ID360 Blog Is California’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Ready for Growing Demand

The California Building Code mandates new commercial buildings with parking lots must supply electric vehicle charging spots for all parking lots with more than ten spaces. All new residential construction must also be EV-ready. One- and two-family dwellings are required to have a service panel with the capacity for a 40-amp circuit (sufficient for a 32-amp charging station), and conduit that can support wiring for an 80-amp circuit. Residential developments with seventeen or more units must provide charging for three percent of all parking spaces. The upfront cost of compliance is estimated to be as low as $50.

There is currently one public charger for every ten electric vehicles, and while CalGreen’s updated building code addresses the need for EV-ready infrastructure in new construction, public charging stations are thin on the ground, and where they can be found, wildly inconsistent. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) banned California’s electric utilities from owning and operating EV charging equipment, partly in the hopes that the private sector would produce more innovation. Another black cloud hanging over public charging stations for ZEV’s in California is that the PUC let NRG, an energy company sued by the state for misconduct, spend $100 million dollars on public charging for electric vehicles, essentially sticking a big chunk of public electric vehicle infrastructure in the middle of a lawsuit.

While policies favorable to ZEV’s are somewhat responsible for helping drive the growing number of electric vehicles on the road, the dropping price of electric car batteries is arguably the major driver of growth. The cost of Li-on battery packs fell an estimated $1000 per kilowatt hour between 2007 and 2014, and the cost currently hovers at a little less than $300 per kilowatt hour. Researchers generally agree that electric car batteries need to be less than $150/kWh to be able to compete with internal combustion vehicles.

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