Utilities should help build electric vehicle charging network

Pasquale Romano
Pasquale Romano HandsOnPhotography

Electric vehicles are a reality and the future. Today there are more than 250,000 – 100,000 of them in California – and estimates say we’ll have 3.2 million nationally by 2020. Electric vehicles are not only revolutionizing what we drive, but also drastically reducing carbon emissions and reducing our dependency on foreign oil.

To continue this sea change, we need to keep finding solutions that will make EV charging more accessible to every Californian. While there are 19,000 charging locations on the ChargePoint network, the demand has grown exponentially. To accelerate the transition to fueling with electricity, we believe investor-owned utilities should take a larger role.

In the coming weeks, the California Public Utilities Commission will rule on a key issue in its review of the EV market and decide on the role of investor-owned utilities. This decision comes after San Diego Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison have submitted filings to cover nearly $500 million in EV charging infrastructure. We would urge the commission to allow utilities to play a significant role in building charging stations.

We are working with investor-owned utilities on a model for collaboration and see many of our recommendations in Southern California Edison’s proposal. We believe utilities should focus on installing stations and educating customers. They have a unique opportunity to leverage their experience and size to maximize ratepayer benefits, reduce costs and plan for a more efficient grid.

Utilities could help cut the cost of new charging stations by more than half by defraying their customers’ costs to complete an installation. This investment aligns with the role and expertise of utilities and will increase opportunities for businesses to add more stations in more places for more drivers.

By focusing utility investment on installation costs, the CPUC will ensure that the electric vehicle charging industry continues to grow and evolve. Site owners will not be restricted to one brand, technology, style or price – which means that companies like ChargePoint will be encouraged to innovate and compete.

Utility investment in EV charging stations even provides benefits to customers who do not yet own electric vehicles. Utilities will be able to better plan for, control and predict energy demand. Over time, this will help avoid long-term utility investments and will lower costs for all ratepayers. In addition, EV charging complements our state’s increased use of intermittent renewable energy, which means that utilities can balance renewable energy being produced with the electricity flowing off the grid and into cars.

Public utility and private sector collaboration will help to reduce the cost of installation, which is currently the biggest barrier to new charging stations. Such a policy will be a game-changer for the rapid expansion of EV adoption in our state and could be a model for the nation.

The practical long-term result of such a policy would mean that EV charging stations would become the norm to have at our apartments or condos, our schools, our workplaces and anywhere we go. And that will encourage automakers to continue to offer more affordable EVs.

Pasquale Romano is CEO of ChargePoint, which is based in Campbell and says it is the world’s largest electric vehicle charging network.