In the era of climate change and clean air concerns, electric vehicles are supposed to be a kinder, gentler solution to our transportation needs.
But it’s not always turning out that way. Witness the recent story in The New York Times that portrayed “sharp elbowed” California drivers competing for charging spots.
The more serious problem, though, is that the lack of charging stations is making people less likely to buy electric vehicles. Even the critic who misrepresented our proposal (“Don’t give PG&E a monopoly on electric vehicle charging stations,” Viewpoints, Oct. 26) conceded that she and PG&E “share the same goal” – a vast network of charging stations across California.
Unless that happens, California won’t achieve its climate change goals. While Gov. Jerry Brown has set a target of putting 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on our roads in the next 10 years, if we can’t find a way to get more chargers into service, worries about access to plug-in spaces and limited battery range will turn off most car buyers. And the dream of 1.5 million non-emitting vehicles will go up in smoke.
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State regulators initially barred electric utilities from supplying any public charging infrastructure, in hopes that other companies would fill the gap. That hasn’t panned out.
Now, California has only about 6,000 publicly available chargers. To support even the interim goal of 1 million electric vehicles by 2020, we will need close to 250,000 – a 40-fold increase.
Recognizing that we aren’t even remotely on pace, the California Public Utilities Commission asked the state’s three major utilities to offer plans to expand the number of plug-in stations. Each has presented a different approach, giving the state the opportunity to create a business laboratory for finding the best solution.
Now, however, some charging companies and their supporters are firing back that utilities want to monopolize the market. That’s simply not true.
PG&E is asking to install just one-quarter of the needed charging stations in our territory, and working with an electric vehicle charging company to make it happen.
But what’s not on anyone’s side is time. California’s utilities are in a unique position to get things moving. Given the stakes for our environment and our future economy, it’s a project that can’t wait.
Aaron Johnson is vice president for customer energy solutions at Pacific Gas and Electric Co.