Posted on January 7th, 2023
California’s electric car push is revving up in 2023, as state agencies plan to deploy some 90,000 public charging stations along highways and in vulnerable communities to encourage households, businesses and public agencies to ditch gas-powered vehicles.
The plan for clean vehicle infrastructure is undergirded by more than $3 billion in state and federal funding meant to lay the groundwork for widespread adoption of zero-emissions vehicles in the state. Chargers are planned to start operating in 2025.
While the infrastructure build-out falls short of the state’s ambitious goal to install 250,000 EV chargers by 2025, it promises to help more households, businesses and public agencies go electric in the coming years. State agencies estimate the need for 1.2 million chargers in 2030.
“This transformative investment will deploy charging and refueling infrastructure swiftly and equitably to make sure drivers of zero-emission cars and trucks feel confident they can refuel wherever they go,” said lead transportation commissioner Patty Monahan at the California Energy Commission (CEC).
This month, the CEC approved $2.9 billion to more than doubling today’s state total 80,000 public and shared private chargers. Most of these are Level 2 chargers, which fuels an EV in 4-8 hours of charging time. Only 8,528 are the quicker Direct Current Fast chargers, which take 15-30 minutes.
The plan compliments $2.6 billion approved in November by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to, in part, fund electric and hydrogen powered vehicle infrastructure. It’s all on top of over $350 million over four years for charging stations from the federal government as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
The stations, most of which will not be fast chargers, are meant to “create a backbone for mass EV adoption within California” and give drivers quick-opportunity charging to support long-distance travel and help drivers without access to home charging.
Per the energy commission’s plan, charging stations will be installed along the state’s major highways and connecting routes designated “alternative fuel corridors.” The agency will solicit both charging station developers and public input from local communities in the coming months.
Across the country, electrical vehicle charging stations that span 75,000 miles of highway are being deployed by the U.S. Transportation Department. But California has long been considered a leader in the nation’s electric vehicle market.
Annual sales of plug-in electric vehicles in the state grew from 7,000 in 2011 to more than a quarter million sold 2021, making up 12% of all light-duty vehicle sales. In August, California said it will require all new vehicles sold in the state by 2035 to be either electric or plug-in electric hybrids.
Yet the average cost of an electric vehicle remains nearly $18,000 higher than the average cost of a gas-powered vehicle, putting them out of reach for most Californians. And the vast majority of charging is done in homes of vehicle owners, which excludes apartment dwellers.
Based on data from the Department of Tax and Fee Administration and Energy Commission, dot.LA estimated that the average California driver spends around $2,760 on gas per year while charging a Tesla Model 3 costs about $550 per year.
Infrastructure buildout has to be coupled with vehicle affordability going forward, said executive car market analyst at iSeeCars Karl Brauer. The biggest tragedy would be if expensive infrastructure goes unused by communities who are still priced out, he said.
“If they can get infrastructure in place, that removes the fear of recharging challenges for customers,” said Brauer. “But vehicle and production costs are another big challenge and if that one isn’t solved, it will keep people from switching away from internal combustion.”
Ethan Elkind, climate program director at UC Berkeley School of Law, said the state’s upcoming EV charging station deployment is bound to confront local barriers like permitting and high operating costs for station owners.
“If government investment is not sufficient, automakers may need to subsidize stations more than they currently do ... that’s what Tesla did and GM is following suit,” he said. “This is an important start but still not enough for the number of vehicles that need to charge by 2035, if we get to 100% of all new vehicle sales.”