by Jessyca Sheehan
It seems California’s transition to electric vehicles (EVs) is in the news every day. More than 25 percent of new car sales in the state this year have been zero-emission vehicles (ZEV). About one-third of EVs sold in the nation happen in California. But as the state sets its sights on banning the sale of new gas-powered cars and trucks by 2035, is this progress rapid enough? Is rapid progress sustainable progress?
I believe the move toward zero-emission vehicles will be good for our air and the planet. The road to meeting California’s robust climate goals will take all of us buying in, and literally buying in is exactly what I planned to do when I went shopping for an electric car earlier this year.
But I must admit, almost immediately after starting my search, I started to feel angst over the challenges prospective EV owners face. A recent panel discussion on the issue we hosted at Lucas Public Affairs – featuring friends of the firm Oroville Thomas, Mark Watts and Tom Knox – offered further confirmation that, while the state can (and should) celebrate progress, we must not rest on our laurels with so much work still looming ahead for California to meet its ambitious goals.
As a communications professional, I sense that much of the public remains confused about the technology and skeptical about whether the state’s goals are achievable. As a consumer, I can see why people might feel this way. We need better batteries, more and faster charging stations that are geographically equitable and affordable, and an expansion and hardening of the electric grid. The challenges ahead are real and will take a collaborative approach to solve them.
Like me, most Californians buying electric vehicles are early adopters, excited about innovative technology and committed to doing our part to address climate change. But to convince everyone else to join this trend – and enable them to do so – California must invest a lot more in the public and private infrastructure that it will take to make a zero-emission lifestyle possible for everyone.
I encountered challenges regarding range and charging when researching what kind of EV I would buy. After initially planning to buy an all-electric car, I eventually (and a bit begrudgingly) settled for a hybrid. I have a short commute to work that would be well within the range of an all-electric car, but my transportation needs are about more than just me. I am not unique in needing a reliable form of transportation to and from work, for school drop-offs and pick-ups, extra-curricular kiddo activities and trips to the doctor. I cherish the frequent trips my son and I make to visit family – albeit hundreds of miles away – without the anxiety of if we will need to charge and where we might be able to do so.
Charging presents its own unique challenges. Charging an all-electric car effectively requires a particular electric outlet in your garage (if you have one) that can be difficult and expensive to install. Charging a fully electric vehicle from a standard residential outlet takes a very long time, so it isn’t practical for many, especially those who might work multiple jobs or have commitments that take them on the road a lot.
These hurdles are daunting even for someone eager to buy and with all the advantages I enjoy. So imagine how difficult such a purchase will seem to Californians with low incomes, who are disabled, or who live where charging a car battery can be even more difficult.
Consumers also have questions about rising electricity bills and the possibility of power outages, which are reasonable concerns. Powering a zero-emission future is expected to require California to triple its power generation capacity and massively expand its supply of renewable energy, all of which will require the kind of high-capacity transmission lines that the state has struggled to build. New technologies, such as vehicle-to-grid capabilities, are innovative and exciting but are still too new and experimental to say that they will help alleviate concerns about grid stability.
Yet, I do believe our goals are still in reach:
- Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced that the state was a year early in reaching a goal set by former Gov. Jerry Brown to have 10,000 publicly available fast chargers. California now has about 93,000 charging ports overall.
- The private sector is also stepping up as the major vehicle manufacturers realize that their early momentum in selling electric vehicles will stall if some of these barriers are not addressed. Seven major companies recently announced a joint venture to build 30,000 fast-charging ports in urban areas and near interstate highways in the years ahead.
- The state’s utilities are adopting discounted rates designed to encourage car owners to charge their vehicles in the middle of the night when electricity is cheaper and more plentiful, and a combination of incentives and mandates are being employed to help ensure apartment dwellers can find a charger at home when they need one.
There’s no denying that California is in the midst of a revolution in technology and human behavior, unlike anything we have seen before. We have aggressive goals, and it will take intentional, deliberate and timely action for Californians to feel comfortable saying goodbye to new gas-powered vehicles less than a decade from now to meet those goals. As long as we don’t ignore the challenges and, instead, work on finding solutions together, we can get there. Let’s get to work.