The Big Plan That Could Bring an Electric Car to Your Garage

A California utility wants to install more than 25,000 charging stations in a bid to jump-start the market for low-carbon vehicles.
(Photo: George Frey/Reuters)
Feb 10, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Kristine Wong is a regular contributor to TakePart and a multimedia journalist who reports on energy, the environment, sustainable business, and food.

A California utility’s plan to install more than 25,000 electric vehicle charging stations could get more low-carbon cars out of the showroom and onto the road—across the United States.

If approved by state regulators, the number of charging stations in California would quadruple from 5,700 to more than 35,000 in just five years—making the project the nation’s largest deployment of charging stations. The hope is that once drivers’ anxiety about running out of juice is alleviated, demand for electric vehicles will rise and automakers will begin selling more battery-powered cars, not just in California but everywhere.

“It will take charging infrastructure to an entirely new market and helps to accelerate E.V. adoption for climate and clean air goals,” Laurie Giammona, a senior vice president for utility Pacific Gas and Electric, said at a press conference on Monday.

The network of charging stations would be owned by PG&E, the state’s largest utility, and installed by 2018 at multifamily dwellings, offices, and stores throughout PG&E’s 70,000-square-mile service territory in Northern and Central California. The utility said 10 percent of charging stations would be placed in low-income communities.

PG&E said that the chargers are critical to helping drivers overcome “range anxiety,” or the fear of not having access to a charging station before depleting their car’s battery.

“We anticipate higher adoption of E.V.s,” said James Ellis, PG&E’s director of electric vehicle programs.

But will drivers just be trading one monopoly, big oil, for another—big electricity?

The nation’s largest charging network, ChargePoint, thinks so.

“ChargePoint believes strongly that utilities should play an expanded role in the EV industry and the infrastructure that supports it,” Pasquale Romano, the company’s chief executive, said in a statement. “However, the proposal PG&E filed today creates a monopoly in EV charging equipment and services that will stifle growth and innovation in the market.”

In a plan filed with regulators, the utility said it would install 25,000 Level 2 chargers—which can add up to 25 miles of driving range for every hour of charging. PG&E would also place 100 fast chargers, which can fully charge a battery in 30 minutes, throughout the region. That would result in an eight-fold increase in the number of public charging stations.

It’s not clear yet where these charging stations will be located.

“We’re working across our customer base, and we anticipate placing charging infrastructure where people will help raise awareness of E.V.s,” Ellis said.

The utility’s request is designed to help the state meet a goal of putting 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025. Given that transportation accounts for 40 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, that’s a crucial part of California’s goal of cutting carbon spew 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2025.

Drivers will have to pay to charge, but station “hosts” will get the equipment for free because PG&E will own the charging infrastructure.

But there’s a catch.

Although charging stations will initially be used by fewer than 1 percent of PG&E ratepayers, the utility said that if the plan is approved, starting in 2018 all customers will be charged about 70 cents per month for three years to cover the bill.

“There are currently barriers to market adoption to really get the scale of vehicles up and analogous to the gas station model,” Ellis said. “We need to get many, many more vehicles on the market…. Market development is going to take some investment and it’s going to take everyone working together to make it happen.”