California utilities and the road to EV adoption


In the US state of California, State Governor Edmund Brown’s zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate aims to build adequate grid infrastructure to support one million clean vehicles by 2020.

California utilities are under pressure to develop sufficient electrical grid capacity to meet growing consumer demand as reports emerge of consumers fighting for space at electric vehicle charging stations.

Of the 330,000 EVs in the US, half are registered in California but the state has only 15,000 charging stations.

In October 2015, the New York Times reported tensions between EV owners including “unplugging one anothers’ cars, trading insults and creating black markets and side deals to trade spots on corporate parking lots”.

California utilities journey to ZEVs

So what are utilities doing to get California ready for one million EVs?

In mid-January, the California Public Utilities Commission approved two proposals from Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas and Electric to increase EV charging infrastructure in their territories.

SCE this month launched its Charge Ready programme – a US$22m pilot project that will deploy 1,500 stations for EVs in the utility’s service territory.

Caroline Choi, SCE vice president for energy and environmental policy, backed the notion that the limited number of charging infrastructure is limiting the growth in adoption of EVs.

“A major barrier to electric vehicle ownership is that there aren’t enough charging stations where people normally park their cars, such as workplaces and apartment complexes,” Choi said.

She added: “We believe that by giving electric vehicle owners more options to charge their vehicles, this programme can actually help to accelerate the market in Southern California.”

The results of the pilot project will determine whether the CPUC will allow SCE to expand Charge Ready and increase the number of the charging stations to 30,000 for a total estimated cost of US$355m.

ZEVs within utility fleets

Another major California utility – Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) – is investing heavily in EVs for its own field service fleet as well as in public charging stations.

Late last year, PG&E submitted a US$654m proposal to install 25,000 EV charging stations.

The regulator rejected the appeal preferring a more phased deployment approach.

In October, 2015, PG&E announced its US$100m investment to purchase EVs over the next five years in a bid to reduce fuel costs as well as a means to apply the pilot fish model towards further adoption of EVs in California, reported HDT.

The utility said it expects to buy close to 750 EVs with the investment.

Tony Earley, PG&E’s chairman, said: “Converting more of our fleets to electric vehicles is a powerful way for the utility industry to take the lead and set an example.”

Smart grid-EV interoperability

Besides developing solutions to support smart grid-EV interoperability, utilities are also tasked with giving EV users demand-response education about the best time to recharge their vehicles.

SDG&E is actively carrying out campaigns for EV users to practice sustainable charging behaviours by launching its EV time-of-use rate tariff program encouraging users to charge when rates are lowest, during peak hours and super off-peak hours.

During off-peak hours (6pm-midnight) in summer, consumers are being charged US$0.22 per KWh and US$0.21 in winter.

SDG&E is charging US$0.46 during summer on peaks while during winter the rate is US$0.21.

In January 2015, a group of investor-owned utilities in California contracted EV smart grid charging company, eMotorWerks, demand side contracts to allow the firm to provide precise EV charging curtailment from its JuiceNet network of EV charging stations to the wholesale real time energy markets.

eMotorWerks will also participate in California Independent System Operator ’s Demand Response Auction Mechanism allowing demand response capacity providers to be paid monthly for energy reductions they promise to deliver in the coming year.