Ready To Charge

Five Ways California Can Improve Charging to Unleash the Power of Electric Cars

Ready To Charge
MARKS Engineers

Written by:

Alana Miller

Frontier Group

Dan Jacobson

Environment California Research & Policy Center

Emily Rusch

CALPIRG Education Fund Spring 2019

Layout: Alec Meltzer, Cover: kasto/Bigstock


The authors wish to thank the following individuals for their comments on drafts of this document: Christopher Chavez, Deputy Policy Director, Coalition for Clean Air; Obrie Hostetter, Director of Market Development, Hubject Inc.; Bill Magavern, Policy Director, Coalition for Clean Air; Samantha Rosenbaum, Project Manager, Hubject Inc.; Claire van Zuiden, Associate Partner, California Strategies. Frontier Group also thanks Elise Keddie and Stephanie Palmer from the California Air Resources Board for their assistance. Thanks also to Tony Dutzik, Susan Rakov and Jon Sundby of Frontier Group for editorial support.

Environment California Research & Policy Center gratefully thanks the Arntz Family Foundation, the Energy Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for making this report possible.

The authors bear responsibility for any factual errors. The recommendations are those of Environment Califor- nia Research & Policy Center and CALPIRG Education Fund. The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of our funders or those who provided review.

 2019, Environment California Research & Policy Center and CALPIRG Education Fund. Some Rights Reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 3.0 U.S. License. To view the terms of this license, visit

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Executive Summary

Global warming is already impacting California in devastating ways. In 2018, wildfires ravaged the state, with the deadliest wildfire  85 people, and the largest wildfire ever recorded in the state, the Mendocino Complex, burning almost half a million acres.

For nearly seven years, the state has been experiencing a drought, which has greatly impacted agriculture and water resources.

At the same time, rising sea levels threaten coastal communities with flooding, erosion and mudslides.

We must accelerate action to reduce emissions in order to protect our state. Transportation is now cli- mate enemy #1, the result of California’s dependence on private gasoline-powered cars.

To prevent the worst impacts of global warming, we must reduce our reliance on cars and ensure that the cars we do use run on clean electricity.

Electric vehicles (EVs) offer many benefits for California, including cleaner air and the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Electric vehicles are far cleaner than gasoline-powered cars, and produce less carbon pollution and fewer of the emissions that lead to smog and particulate pollution.

California is a leader in the adoption of electric ve- hicles, accounting for half of America’s EV sales.

The trend is expected to continue as the state works to achieve its goal of 5 million zero-emission vehicles on California streets by 2030, up from 513,000 that had been sold in the state through 2018.

In order to meet these ambitious goals, many more Californians will need to choose electric vehicles over gasoline-powered cars, which requires that owning an EV become just as easy, if not easier, than owning a gasoline car. Unfortunately, the day-to-day ex- perience of EV drivers seeking to charge up their vehicles has a long way to go to match the ease and convenience of refueling a gasoline-powered car – especially when it comes to public charging.

Only 75 percent of the public charging stations in California that are included in a Department of Energy database are open to the public 24 hours a day.

Only about 15 percent (750 stations) function with the ease of how we are accustomed to fueling vehicles – with the station open to the public 24 hours a day, compatible with different car types, and without requiring membership to a specific company’s network.

People’s habits for charging their electric vehicles will be different from refueling their gasoline cars. Similar to how we charge our cell phones, most EV charging will happen overnight at home and during the day

at work. Inconvenient or confusing public charging, however, still threatens to be a barrier to the mass adoption of EVs. 

California should use public policy tools and state investments in EV infrastructure to improve access to charging for all EV users.

Public charging is essential for the mass adoption of electric vehicles. Most electric vehicle owners need convenient access to public charging during longer trips and occasionally in daily driving. In addition, many residents of California who live in compact urban areas or multi-family housing do not have a driveway or garage and will have to rely on public charging to drive an electric vehicle. For instance, in a 2016 survey by the Union of Concerned Scientists and

Consumers Union, only 54 percent of respondents reported having private off-street parking (like a garage or driveway) with an electrical outlet.

Even people with access to charging at home will use public chargers to make up for insufficient range or to provide a range buffer for their trip.

California electric vehicle users often run into road- blocks or confusion when charging away from home. Among the challenges they face are:

Too few chargers: Current numbers of electric vehicle chargers are insufficient to meet demand in California. Electric vehicle drivers report that chargers aren’t always in the areas where they need to charge or are often occupied. Today, the state has around 14,860 Level 2 public charging plugs (not including chargers in private workplaces) and 2,500 public fast charging plugs.

However, to support the current number of EVs, California needs 18,500 Level 2 plugs and 3,600 fast chargers, a 24 percent and 44 percent increase, respectively.

Meeting the state’s ambitious goals for growing the electric vehicle market will require even more chargers. By 2030, the state will need approximately 180,000 Level 2 plugs and 35,000 fast charging plugs to support the goal of 5 million zero-emission vehicles (see Figure ES-1)

Chargers that are not available to the public:

Many charging stations can only be used by patrons of a business, by paying a fee for parking, or during certain hours. According to the Department of Enrrgy’s database on electric vehicle charging stations, only 75 percent of public stations in California are open to the public 24 hours a day.

Incompatible chargers: Certain chargers are not usable by some types of cars, with some fast-charging plugs (CHAdeMO) only working for Asian cars, others (SAE Combo) working on European and American cars, and Tesla’s proprietary connection only working on Teslas (see Figure 2). For instance, in downtown San Diego, an area with dense multi-family housing, there are only three fast chargers. One charger works with U.S. and European models, one works with Asian car models, and one works for Teslas.

Effectively, all elec- tric vehicle owners in downtown San Diego, and those traveling into the city, have access to one fast charger.

Figure ES-1

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Current Charging Infrastructure Versus the Infrastructure Needed to Support Current EV Numbers and 2030 Zero-Emission Vehicle Goals in California15

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Charging an electric vehicle can be overly cumbersome, particularly compared to how people are used to easily refueling their cars at gas stations.

Different proprietary network

There are at least nine networks of EV charging stations in California. For an EV driver to use a network operated charging station, they often must be a member of that system or have the company’s app downloaded. This poses a challenge for EV drivers to find and use chargers.

Opaque pricing and multiple payment models

EV networks offer many different payment meth- ods, including through a mobile app, credit card and in-vehicle purchasing. Some networks require purchases to be made within the app. Some stations charge a flat fee, some charge based on the amount of electricity used, and others charge by the length of time the car was charging. The cost of charging is not always clearly marked at the chargers, leaving drivers guessing how much they’ll end up paying. Comparison shopping across payment metrics is very challenging for the average EV driver looking for a charge, particularly when compared to the ease of understanding the standard metric of dollars per gal- lon at gas stations.

Powered trips

In order to meet California’s electric vehicle goals and replace gasoline-powered trips with electric- powered trips, people will need more convenient options for public charging.

The good news is that smart public policies can help streamline how we charge EVs, making it easier for more Californians to participate in the electric vehicle revolution.

There are five key strategies California should pursue to improve EV charging in the state and maximize the potential of electric vehicles:

5 Key Strategies

1. Expand access to electric vehicle charging by supporting and requiring the installation of more public stations. The state and local can expand access by installing charging on public property, including parking lots at government buildings, schools and curbsides. Public funds and public property should be used preferentially for stations that are open to the public, operable by all users regardless of network membership or car manufacturer, and that have clear, fair rate policies. Entities in California can help speed deployment of charging infrastructure by streamlining permitting and expediting utility interconnections. By incentivizing the development of charging stations that are available to the public, people will have access to more chargers, alleviat- ing some of the usability challenges.

2. Ensure interoperability between stations so

EV drivers can seamlessly use and pay at any station, regardless of which company owns or operates it. Interoperability has been standard in Europe for many years, with high competion among companies facilitating connections between stations. 

California’s Electric Vehicle Charging Open Access Act, the implementation of which is being planned now, requires interoperability capabilities on all public charging stations (whereby EV drivers can use any station regardless of network operator). However, the law still depends on individual companies entering agreements with each other to allow cross-network usage, creating a patchwork user experience. Entities in California should encourage interoper- ability agreements between companies, including by requiring that rate-based utility investments in EV charging and stations using public funding be interoperable.

Drivers also need a standard way to pay at any station. Drivers know that if they pull up to any gas station or parking meter, they can pay by cash or credit card. Drivers similarly need to know they can pay at any charging station with one form of payment, whether it is a fob or card that works at all stations or a credit card. The proposed implementation plan for the Open Access Act requires that all charging stations use credit card readers. The state should continue monitoring EV charging payment options and periodically evaluate other options to ensure that anyone who chooses to drive an EV can easily pay for a recharge.

Finally, the state should improve price transparency at chargers so that consumers can easily make price comparisons, like they can with dollar-per- gallon pricing at gas stations.

3. Require open data from charging companies so EV drivers can find all available charging stations through one site or app and know whether the charger is being used. Companies that receive public funding, utility investment, or install stations in public spaces should be required to disclose real-time information about station availability and pricing so drivers can access that information in one location.

4. Enforce the state law that requires EV charging spaces to be occupied only by charging electric vehicles. Cities should work to enforce California’s law that EV charging locations are only for use by charging EVs, not parked EVs, hybrids or gasoline vehicles. That will help ensure that charging stations are available for people who need to charge.

5. Promote mobility options such as electric transit and fleets of shared electric vehicles so people can take advantage of the EV revolution without having to personally own a car. The goal of California’s electric vehicle efforts should not be to sell cars but to expand the number of miles people drive on electric power and reduce the number they drive in gasoline powered vehicles. The state should encourage and promote programs that give people shared access to electric vehicles when they need them.


Imagine you are driving a gasoline powered

car down the road and you notice the fuel tank needle approaching “empty.” You decide to look for a gas station to refuel your car.

But instead of brightly lit gas stations along the side of the road, all gas pumps have been relocated within parking garages or the parking lots of shopping centers and are marked only by small signs. In order to find a station near you, you’ll have to open up an app on your phone.

There aren’t very many stations anymore, either, so you may have to drive well out of your way in order to find a place to refuel. And when you arrive, you might find a car just parked there – not refueling, just parked.

When you do reach an accessible pump, you realize it doesn’t work with your car – it only works with Asian cars, but you drive a Chevy.

You finally arrive at an available pump that works with your car, but before you can get gasoline, you have to download another app and become a member of the gas station. And because every gas station charges for gas in a different way, you end up spending much more than you were anticipating.

This seems like a nearly impossible scenario. Californians have become used to having gasoline accessible when and where they need it, with minimal wait times, and for sale at prices that are mostly consistent across stations, advertised in big numbers visible from the street. However, scenarios like this are the daily reality for many electric vehicle drivers who need to charge their cars in public.

Electric vehicle charging will differ greatly from refueling gasoline cars: most electric vehicle charging will take place overnight at home and at work during the day similar to how most people charge their cell phones. However, every cell phone owner knows the stress of having a low battery and struggling to find an available outlet in a public place. Charging from an outlet in public, like at the airport, is not how people primarily charge their phones, but it is sometimes a necessity.

Similarly, to facilitate rapid electric vehicle adoption in California, car owners will need access to charging at home, at work, and on the go. Overcoming the obstacles of public EV charging will be critical for California to meet its zero-emission vehicle goals and to combat climate change.

This report seeks to improve understanding of the current system for electric vehicle charging in California and to identify policies and systems that could help simplify public charging of electric vehicles.

Convenient Access to Charging Is Key to Achieving California’s Electric Vehicle Goals

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A revolution is happening on California’s streets. More than 500,000 electric vehicles have been sold in the state in the past eight years, making up about half of the nation’s EV sales.

In January through August of 2018, EVs made up 7 percent of all new car registrations in California – double the market share in 2016.

The growth of electric vehicles in California has been spurred by strong policy – the state has a goal of 5 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030, and a variety of EV rebates and incentives are available to Californians.

Cities are also taking charge. Los Angeles, for instance, has a goal that 25 percent of cars in the city are electric by 2035.

To support new electric vehicles, California will need to invest in the infrastructure to power them. Instead of gas stations, EVs will need charging stations. And because EV charging often takes place overnight, cities will need to ensure that people have access to charging near their homes, as well as at work and in other places where people spend time.23

The number one hesitation people have about buy- ing an electric car is lack of charging stations, with 47 percent of respondents in a 2018 survey citing that as the reason they were unlikely to buy or lease an EV, according to a survey by Axios and Survey Monkey.24

In January 2018, Governor Brown announced an exec- utive order to use $2.5 billion to build a quarter million new EV charging stations and other EV infrastructure across the state by 2025, supporting a goal of having 5 million EVs on California streets by 2030.25 A 2018 study from the California Energy Commission estimated that, to meet California’s zero-emission vehicle goals, the state would need 99,000 to 133,000 public and workplace EV chargers, and 9,000 to 25,000 fast chargers in public places.

According to estimates from the U.S. Department of Energy, however, the infrastructure needed to support 5 million EVs could be even higher – necessitating up to 180,000 Level 2 plugs and 35,000 fast charging plugs.

The state understands the need for rapid, widespread investment in charging infrastructure. However, the complexity of the current charging system represents an additional hurdle that could limit mass adoption of EVs. To make the biggest impact as new charging infrastructure comes on line, EV charging stations should expand access for most California consumers. Smart policy measures can help ensure that the stations not only exist, but they are intuitive, affordable and accessible to anyone who chooses to drive an electric vehicle.

EV Drivers Need Access to Convenient Public Charging

Meeting California’s climate change goals will require that we not only accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, but also that those vehicles help replace every trip that can currently be easily made with a gasoline-powered vehicle. Access to convenient, affordable and easy-to- use public EV charging can help to achieve that goal.

Most electric vehicle owners will need to charge their vehicles through a combination of chargers at home, work, school, shopping, and on-the-go during longer trips. Even people with access to charging at home will use public chargers, most frequently to make up for insufficient range or to provide a range buffer for their trip.

By expanding public charging options, more people can replace trips they currently make with gasoline-powered vehicles with zero-emission plug-in electric vehicles.

Access to public EV charging can be the deciding factor in the decision of two-car families to aban- don gasoline powered cars entirely. In households with electric cars, many people still feel they need their gasoline-fueled car for long trips because they are not confident in charging infrastructure along the way. For instance, a 2017 UC Davis survey of EV owners in California found that households with battery electric vehicles with shorter ranges still rely on internal combustion engine vehicles for longer trips.

Some plug-in electric vehicle owners who had

charging available outside of their house, particularly at work, greatly increased the share of miles they traveled on electric power as opposed to gasoline.

In another survey, less than 3 percent of 34,000 users ever took a trip in their electric vehicle that was longer than their EV’s range, though more than half said they would be willing to, if they knew they would be able to charge. This anxiety about access to charging infrastructure means that people are unable to rely on electric vehicles for all their trips and keeps Californians reliant on fossil-fuel powered vehicles.

Mara Leong-Maguinez is a 30-year-old Pasadena resident who drives her all-electric Fiat to work in downtown Los Angeles, about 9 miles each way. The car’s range allows her to make the trip without charging during the day, though she and her husband still rely on internal combustion cars for longer trips. She heard there are enough stations to drive up the coast to Northern California and they’ve considered trying it as “an adventure challenge,” but so far, their nervousness leads them to continue to use their gasoline car for such trips. Mara is disappointed they still have to own both cars, saying “the short range works 99% of the time; it feels crazy to have a gasoline car for just the 1% of the time, but with the charg- ing infrastructure, we don’t feel confident we can only have electric cars right now.”

Jeff Mathias owns a solar company in Sonoma County and drives a plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt instead of an all-electric EV because he can’t depend on adequate charging infrastructure to meet his needs. Sonoma has a high concentration of electric vehicles and the county has prioritized charging infrastructure, but Jeff says the “current infrastructure isn’t enough to meet demand... The charging stations at local grocery stores or the movie theater are often full and you can’t count on them.”

Public Charging Infrastructure Doesn’t Meet Current, or Future, Demand

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(Above) Charging stations that a Chevrolet Bolt EV can use, within about 20 miles of Bakersfield. Credit: PlugShare screenshot.

Currently, a lack of adequate public charging in California makes it more difficult for residents to shed their gasoline-powered cars and make the leap to electric vehicles.

There are three primary levels of electric vehicle chargers – Level 1 (L1), Level 2 (L2) and DCFC (often referred to as “fast charging”) – that provide varying speeds of charging. Level 1 chargers, which supply a slow trickle charge, can serve as a low-cost option at homes, work- places, and some public parking areas (like airports) where drivers will be parked for long periods of time. Most public chargers – on curbs, at workplaces or businesses, and in parking garages – however, will need to be Level 2 and fast charging (DCFC). 

While the state has made strides installing EV chargers, the current number of EV chargers is inadequate to support a rapid, widespread expansion of electric vehicles in California.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, every 1,000 battery electric vehicles require around 36 public and workplace Level 2 charging plugs and about 7 fast charging plugs (a charging station may have more than one plug so multiple cars can charge at the same time).

Today, the state has around 14,860 Level 2 public charging plugs (not including chargers in private workplaces) and 2,500 public fast charging plugs. However, to support the current number of EVs, California needs approximately 18,500 Level 2 plugs and 3,600 fast chargers, a 24 percent and 44 percent increase, respectively.

Meeting the state’s ambitious goals for growing the electric vehicle market will require even more chargers. By 2030, the state will need approximately 180,000 Level 2 plugs and 35,000 fast charging plugs to support the goal of 5 million zero-emission vehicles (see Figure 1).

Fast charging plays a particularly important role for some EV owners who need to charge outside of their homes. A 2017 study out of UC Davis found that half of the fast charging that drivers paid for was located just 6-8 miles away from their home, suggesting the need for fast charging in people’s daily lives, not just on long trips.

Over half of the survey participants said they would not have used their electric vehicle without fast charging options. Furthermore, nearly half said they shopped at a store, spending an average of $30 while shopping, in order to access charging, perhaps indicat- ing a lack of options in public places. The unavailability of affordable, convenient and easy-to-use public charging may be a high enough barrier to dissuade Californians from purchasing an electric vehicle or abandoning a gasoline-powered car.

Residents Without At-Home Charging Need Public Charging

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Public charging is particularly critical for EV owners without the opportunity to charge their vehicles at home, especially in the denser parts of cities. In a survey of people who use fast charging, 61 percent of respondents living in apartments said they do not have access to charging at home. In a 2016 survey by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Consumers Union, only 54 percent of respondents reported having private off-street parking (like a garage or drive- way) with an electrical outlet.

Will Gray is an assistant high school principal in Long Beach who now drives a plug-in hybrid, but previously had an all-electric Tesla. When he and his wife first got the Tesla and were looking for a new place to live, they “actually picked the apart- ment complex because it had an electric car char- ger.” Will said with current charging infrastructure, he couldn’t “imagine having an electric vehicle without some kind of overnight charging.”

Lack of Access to Charging

Unfortunately, many residents lack access to convenient public charging that could replace or supplement at home charging needs. In a 2017 survey of CleanTechnica readers by CarMax and CleanTechnica, 32 percent of respondents said the nearest public charging station is more than 5 miles from their home. Only around half of the respondents said there are convenient public charging stations near their home.

In Los Angeles, for instance, the apartments at the sprawling Park La Brea complex (one of the largest housing developments west of the Mississippi, with more than 4,000 units) don’t have an electric vehicle charger in their parking lots. Within about a mile of the apartments, there is only one fast charging location at the automotive museum where charging is only available from 10 am to 6 pm, which is unlikely to work for most peoples’ schedules. There are nine other publicly available charging locations within a mile, though most of them are in paid parking lots

at museums or shopping centers. Lack of public charging in residential areas makes owning an EV inaccessible to people who do not have charging opportunities at home.