Is California, North Bay clean energy industry ready for electric vehicles?
The big shift to electric vehicles is on, maybe.
It comes with an announcement of a U.S. Department of Energy goal to put 15 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030, part of a more climate-friendly Biden Administration, as well as General Motors’ pledge last month to stop making gas-powered vehicles by 2035 and news that a fossil fuel company, ExxonMobil, lost $22 billion last year.
The question remains whether the clean energy industry will be able to meet the challenge, whether it is having enough charging stations or extended battery life to finally reach a cultural critical mass.
In car country, California earmarked $1.5 billion to develop a comprehensive strategy toward meeting an overall goal of zero emissions by 2035. As of last December, more than 800,000 zero-emission vehicles, including both EVs and hydrogen cars, have been sold in the state, the California Energy Commission reports. State law requires 1.5 million to hit the road in five years and at least 5 million by 2030.
Gas-powered cars contribute a substantial amount of greenhouse gases. To combat Californians’ love for their gas guzzlers, the state Legislature outlined the need to install 250,000 charging stations, including 10,000 direct current (DC) fast chargers under a requirement dictated by Assembly Bill 2127, which was signed into law September 2018.
These charging stations are what will drive the growing demand for zero emission vehicles.
“We’re definitely on the right trajectory,” California Energy Commission spokeswoman Lindsay Buckley said, while also referencing the big picture. “Electric vehicles are good for the electricity industry, which is very invested in their success. Electric vehicle manufacturers are doubling down on this.”
With so many stakeholders and lofty government goals, the industry has made inroads on upgrading the technology to support the venture that moves away from gasoline. For instance, batteries built to charge electric vehicles have improved by 90% in the last five years, with some vehicles averaging about 200 miles on a given charge, Buckley noted.
Maintaining the battery life is contingent on having as many charging stations as possible along roads and highways.
The Golden State now has nearly 67,000 public and shared chargers on hand. More than 5,000 DC versions have been installed.
“Until the infrastructure is built out, people will be reluctant (to buy in to the technology),” said Hemant Bhargava, a professor of technology management at the U.C. Davis Graduate School of Management.
The professor said some EV companies may face an uphill battle if they don’t line up agreements with charging station providers like Tesla has in its own network.
The North Bay is doing its part in increasing the number of stations available.
Through state reimbursements, Sonoma Clean Power has given away 3,400 electric charging stations over the last six years to companies agreeing to have them installed for users. The goal from this point forward is 500 per year.
“We want to stimulate the market,” Director of Programs Cordel Stillman said.
The beefed-up effort from the clean power provider has facilitated more staff and resources to transition into a clean energy era. Part of the plan involves a move into a renovated building on E Street in Santa Rosa.
When asked about whether the state’s electrical grid can sustain millions charging their cars, Stillman indicated that it will depend on when electric vehicles are hooked up.
Clean energy advocates contend that most electric vehicles can maximize replenishing battery life by charging at home overnight. As renewable energy resources go, wind power makes charging efficient at late night. Solar power kicks in during the day through the sun’s energy.
“It’s a matter of using the grid in a smart way,” he said.
“Generally speaking, we view the incorporation of EVs and charging systems as one of a suite of solutions to minimize oversupply, and we are supportive of systems that are responsive to changing grid conditions,” California Independent System Operator spokeswoman Anne Gonzales said.
Marin County is also on board
To gain more efficiency in energy storage, Sonoma Clean Power was joined last October by its power provider to the west — MCE, formerly known as Marin Clean Energy, and other “community choice aggregators” to find partners developing energy-related technologies to help secure 500 megawatts of long-term storage. CCAs are not-for-profit, public agencies aimed at providing clean energy choices including solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal sources to regions.