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Charging Ahead on Road to an EV Infrastructure

SUSTAINIBILITY: Experts Discuss Fast Charging Challenges, Triumphs

In just 12 years from Earth Day 2023, California aims to eliminate the sale of new gas-powered cars and light trucks in the state. The Advanced Clean Cars II (ACC II) regulations were approved by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in August of last year, setting a zero-emissions standard for all new cars sold in the state beginning in 2035.

Gavin Newsom
Governor
California

“The climate crisis is solvable if we focus on the big, bold steps necessary to stem the tide of carbon pollution,” Newsom said, describing the plan as “groundbreaking” and “world leading.”

“It’s ambitious, it’s innovative, it’s the action we must take if we’re serious about leaving this planet better off for future generations,” he added.

According to CARB projections, greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks will be 62% lower in 2040 than in 2026 and result in a cumulative health benefit worth approximately $13 billion.

However, for those benefits to be realized, the state’s energy infrastructure will need to be overhauled and modernized to accommodate the millions of new electric vehicles (EVs) sold in the state and overcome significant challenges in installing the required battery charging stations needed to meet the demand.

Advancing EV Charging Projects

That infrastructure challenge was the topic of an April 5 panel discussion hosted by CleanTech San Diego. The “Transportation Electrification” panelists were Susan Freedman, climate program manager at SANDAG; Rick Azer, associate vice president of strategy at Black & Veatch; and Michael Stadler, CTO and co-founder of XENDEE. The discussion was moderated by Jamie Garrett, strategy and growth manager at ENGIE.

Jamie Garrett
Strategy & Growth Manager
ENGIE

“More and more we’re starting to look at bigger projects either complete electrification or bigger expansive EV projects,” Garrett said of ENGIE’s work with the public sector on energy efficiency and EV charging over the last 10 years.

To advance EV charging, Garrett emphasized the importance of economic incentives brought by “the abundance of funding right now” for EV charging projects, especially those that encourage “equity and access for all communities.”

To meet the infrastructure needs, Garrett also advised policy makers and charging infrastructure companies to take a “distance view” of these projects, “not just to install an EV charging station, but to look at the long-term view of these bigger projects and integrate a systems approach – integrating them with other technologies like solar and battery is important.”

Collaborating regionally and with customers is also important, Garrett said, “because this is new really to all of us, so having a good relationship with between customer and your energy or EV charging partner is really crucial because you’re going to have to troubleshoot and work on things through the process.”

Regional Snapshot

To help policy makers and businesses in the charging infrastructure industry work through the process, SANDAG prepared a regional snapshot of where the San Diego region was at in 2020 and where it needs to be in 2030, based on current state goals and regulations.

Susan Freedman
Climate Program Manager
SANDAG

“We needed to figure out how many vehicles, what infrastructure we had in the region and how much do we really need to plan for and get more money in the region for by 2030,” Freedman said.

In 2020, San Diego County had approximately 70,000 EVs. SANDAG predicts that the number will reach 750,000 by 2030.

“We think is going to be on track,” Freedman said. “What we have now at the end of 2022, there’s about 110,000 registered ZEVs (zero emission vehicles) in San Diego County. And what we’re seeing in year-over-year car sales is the percentage of ZEVs has been increasing dramatically. Last year it was about 19% of all new car sales for zero emission.”

To accommodate for the continuous quick adoption of EVs in the region, the county needs to “keep doing a lot in infrastructure to make this work,” Freedman said, adding that in 2020 San Diego had about 7,000 EV chargers and by 2030 SANDAG expects the region’s needs will be “well over 100,000 chargers.”

Electrification of transportation is “a theme throughout” SANDAG’s regional transportation plan through 2050, Freedman said, “whether it’s the vehicles that are going to be transitioning to zero emissions or it’s the infrastructure along our corridors or around major hubs in the region.”

In addition to planning, SANDAG is also leaning on incentives programs to further transportation electrification. Freedman highlighted recent EV charging projects with combined funding from the Air Pollution Control District and the California Energy Commission where 45% of installations are in low-income communities which was achieved by offering higher incentives for installations in those areas and no-cost technical assistance. SANDAG is also kicking off a vehicle incentive program with a focus on social equity to incentivize 100,000 vehicles in the next decade by exploring rebates for new and used EVs to low-income households.

Overcoming Obstacles in EV Charging

Affordability of EVs is not the only obstacle to reaching state goals. Affordability of electric power is also an issue.

Michael Stadler
Co-founder & Chief Technology Officer
XENDEE

“The challenge is the infrastructure because the utilities system was never built for this – it’s very old and aging, sometimes failing, and it’s not cheap. It’s expensive, especially if you live in California,” Stadler said. “If you put cost of power on top of the problems we’re already facing in electric vehicles, then this will be a really huge challenge.”

To help address the rising costs of charging EVs, which can reach north of $35 per kilowatt hour due to demand charges, Stadler’s company XENDEE has developed a platform to greatly reduce the cost of building microgrids – energy production and storage facilities that can operate separate from or in conjunction with utilities.

“From our perspective, microgrids with distributed energy resources can really help here because if you put in PV systems with batteries that can manage these demand charges and backup generation, you can really bring costs down,” he said.

Although microgrids are increasingly being looked at as a solution to meeting EV charging infrastructure needs, Stadler said the current funding environment for charging projects is “restrictive” and “focused on high-power chargers next to corridors.”

Rick Azer
Associate VP of Strategy
Black & Veatch

However, Azer pointed out that increasing demand charges and power unavailability at charging stations is driving more infrastructure development companies to look at onsite generation and storage to bring down costs and increase access.

“The other thing we’re seeing associated with that is the opportunity to want to have green power and clean power and net zero,” he said. “It’s an objective our clients have, so that lends itself to want to be able to produce power onsite and store it onsite.”

More widespread development of microgrids with power generation and storage also offers a more cost-saving solution to EV owners who live in apartments.

“How do you give them energy for charging at night? If you don’t have a home with a PV system or a battery system, it can be really expensive to charge an electric vehicle,” Stadler said.

Democratizing EV Charging

Solving the challenge of EV charging for apartment dwellers is the core mission of San Diego-based ChargeNet Stations, which is developing a “democratic, turn-key network” of EV chargers located at fast food restaurants, said CEO Venus Jenkins.

Venus Jenkins
CEO
ChargeNet Stations

“This is where 80 million Americans eat every day and, disproportionately, these fast-food restaurants are in disadvantaged neighborhoods,” she said.

Last year, the first ChargeNet chargers went live at a Taco Bell restaurant in the Bay Area. ChargeNet has five more sites currently in various stages of development, 25 sites under contract, and another 500 sites in its pipeline.

“But that’s barely scratching the surface. There are over 31,000 fast food restaurants in California alone. And all over America, over 200,000,” Jenkins said and pointed out that SANDAG’s goal of increasing San Diego County’s chargers to 100,000 in 2030 from its current number of around 7,000. “It’s a massive gap and we’re trying to fill that gap with distributed energy resources and battery storage. That’s where we are adding resilience and reliability as well.”

Reliability in charging is a major concern of EV owners – especially for renters who do not have the means to charge at home.

Matt Gregori
Clean Energy Technology Scout
SoCalGas

In the Q&A portion of the CleanTech panel discussion, Matt Gregori, clean energy technology scout for SoCalGas asked the panel about the charging industry’s efforts to improve customer experience.

“I am a new EV owner and I have to say my experience with public charging has been absolutely miserable,” he said, citing issues like chargers that don’t work, needing to sign up for multiple charging networks and driving to chargers listed in a network only to find them behind a fence.

“We’re at a very early stage and I think there is a role for government to play to push for commonality and common specifications on operating parameters that will help in the coordination side of things,” Azer said, adding that operations and maintenance programs at some charging companies are “far less developed” than at others.

Stadler added that there is “only one company that does a good job at servicing charging stations … Tesla.”

EV Maker’s Perspective on Charging Networks

The reliability of Tesla’s charging network is one of several reasons local EV manufacturer Aptera opted to utilize Tesla’s recently opened North American Charging Standard (NACS) for its charging port.

Chris Anthony
Co-CEO
Aptera

“Tesla Superchargers provide the best EV charging experience. The connector is lightweight, easier to use, the port is small, convenient, and universal for AC or DC fast charging,” said Aptera Co-CEO Chris Anthony. “Tesla standards are what any talented electrical engineer would pick and what the public needs to make EV adoption easier.”

According to Anthony, charging standards in the U.S. have not kept up with advancements in EV technology.

“CCS and SAE J1772, the U.S.’s common standards, are clunky, cumbersome, and expensive,” he said.  “Not only is the CCS design difficult for those with limited mobility, making it less accessible, but it’s also known to be faulty and unreliable.”

In addition to ease of Tesla’s features and reliability of its network of fast chargers, Anthony said the cost of installing a Tesla charging station is “way, way less” than other chargers and applauded the company’s decision this year to open up its charging network to non-Tesla vehicles.

“We want the transition to cleaner forms of transportation to be easier for everyone,” he said. “If we want to make EV’s work for everyone, the U.S. needs to deploy a standard charger that is more affordable and has been proven in the market to work.”

Anthony pointed out that the Biden Administration has committed $5 billion to grow the nation’s charging number to 500,000 chargers by 2030.

“Given the significant amount of funding our government will put into charging infrastructure, we must have a say in the future charging infrastructure of the United States,” he said.  “If our country began to support Tesla’s charging standards now, we could begin expanding our infrastructure at a much-reduced cost, saving $4 billion dollars on projected charging infrastructure spending through 2027. Imagine what other EV programs we could support with that $4 billion in savings.”

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