Plugging In: Speeding the Adoption of Electric Vehicles in California with Smart Local Policies

Released by: Environment California Research & Policy Center


Executive Summary

The adoption of large numbers of electric vehicles (EVs) offers many benefits for California cities, including cleaner air and the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Electric vehicles are far cleaner than gasoline-powered cars, with lower greenhouse gas emissions and lower emissions of the pollutants that contribute to smog and particulate matter.[i]

California must speed the adoption of electric vehicles to protect the environment and public health. The state estimates that it won’t be able to meet California’s long-term climate goals unless nearly all vehicles sold by mid-century are electric vehicles.[ii] Shifting to electric vehicles will be a revolutionary disruption and will require smart policy solutions to ensure success.

The number of EVs on California’s streets is at an all-time high and rising fast. By the end of 2017, more than 360,000 EVs had been sold in California, making up nearly half of the country’s total EV stock.[iii] Throughout 2017, the number of electric vehicles in the state increased approximately 34 percent, with nearly 92,000 more EVs estimated to be on California roads.[iv] The introduction of Tesla’s Model 3, the Chevy Bolt, and other more affordable, long-range electric vehicles suggests that growth in EV sales is just beginning. In fact, Chevrolet’s Bolt EV was named Motor Trend’s 2017 Car of the Year.[v]

But with more EVs on the road, and many more coming soon, cities will face the challenge of where electric vehicles will charge, particularly in city centers and neighborhoods without off-street residential parking. Moreover, a lack of charging infrastructure could deter prospective EV owners from switching to electric cars, potentially hindering California’s efforts to meet ambitious zero-emission vehicle goals.

The good news is that smart public policies, including those already pioneered in cities in the U.S. and around the world, can help California cities lead the electric vehicle revolution while expanding access to clean transportation options for those who live, work and play in cities.

Figure ES-1. Estimated Number of Electric Vehicles in California by Year[vi]

Electric vehicles are poised for explosive growth.

Technological gains that allow electric vehicles to drive farther, charge faster, and be produced more affordably are revolutionizing the vehicle market. With adequate policy and infrastructure investments, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that more than half of new cars sold by 2040 globally will be electric vehicles.[vii] California is poised to lead the nation, committing to 5 million zero-emission electric vehicles in the state by 2030, building upon a previous order calling for 1.5 million EVs by 2025.[viii] The state could reach even more ambitious targets, as leaders have been considering requiring that all new cars sold in California be zero-emission vehicles in coming decades.[ix]

Cities need to be ready for an influx of electric vehicles.

In a few short years, tens of thousands of electric vehicles could hit city streets across California, from Sacramento to San Diego (see Table ES-1). If California chooses to be more aggressive in its goals, the state could have many more EVs than projected, with correspondingly greater infrastructure demands. These vehicles will need places to charge, so access to EV charging stations at home, in public places and at workplaces will be critical. According to the 2015 American Housing Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly a quarter of residents in the San Francisco metro area lack a garage or carport, along with 20 percent of residents in the Los Angeles metro area (with rates likely much higher within the cities themselves where density is greater), necessitating a broad network of publicly accessible charging infrastructure.[x]

Table ES-1. Possible Number of Electric Vehicles on California City Streets by 2030 and Corresponding Publicly Accessible Charging Infrastructure Needs (Excluding Residential Charging)[xi]

Major cities will require the installation of hundreds to thousands of publicly accessible electric vehicle chargers in order to serve the increased demand for electric vehicles. Studies conducted separately by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Electric Power Research Institute, and Pacific Gas & Electric estimate that between 1 and 5.2 public fast chargers are needed to support every 1,000 electric vehicles.[xii] The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that 36 non-residential Level 2 chargers are necessary for every 1,000 electric vehicles.[xiii] Cities will also need to facilitate at-home charging since the majority of EV owners will need to park and charge their vehicles overnight at or near where they live.[xiv]

Types of Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure[xv]

There are three primary types, or levels, of electric vehicle chargers – Level 1, Level 2 and DCFC (often referred to as “fast charging”).

  • Level 1 charging is from a standard wall outlet and provides a slow charge, adding 4 to 5 miles of range per hour. Therefore, with a Level 1 charger, an empty EV battery may need to charge for 10 hours to get 50 miles of range. Level 1 chargers can work well for at-home charging, where EV owners park overnight, and in many workplaces, since the typical commute in many metro areas is less than 10 miles each way.[xvi] Because Level 1 charging requires only a standard three-prong outlet, it is often the most affordable way to offer charging, with minimal installation costs.
  • Level 2 chargers require special installation but can charge an electric vehicle battery 2 to 6 times faster than a Level 1 charger, adding 12 to 25 miles of range per hour of charge, so 50 miles can be added in 2 to 4 hours. If people install a charger in front of their house, in their driveway, or in their garage, it is most likely a Level 2 charger. In public spaces, such as parking lots or on public streets, most chargers are Level 2, allowing EV drivers to charge their car for a few hours while at work or shopping. Level 1 and Level 2 plugs are standard in the United States, so all EVs can charge at those charging stations.
  • Fast chargers, known as DCFC (for direct current fast charge), can add 100 miles of range or more in an hour of charging – meaning an EV driver can add 50 miles to their battery in just half an hour. Different EV makes and models are compatible with different fast chargers and may require an adaptor to charge. Fast chargers will be especially important for long-distance travel when drivers won’t be stopping for hours at a time, so DCFC chargers work well at rest stops and service stations off highways. DCFC chargers are also important for the viability of electric shared mobility services, whose vehicles may be used for many trips – and travel many miles – in a given day. However, only pure battery electric vehicles can use DCFC charging, so it excludes plug-in hybrid EVs.

This report recognizes the value of Level 1 chargers as a low-cost option at homes, workplaces, and some public parking areas (like airports), but focuses on Level 2 and fast charging (DCFC) for public spaces, which are the chargers you would expect to find curbside, at workplaces and businesses, in parking garages and in other public areas.

Electric vehicle charging stations on lampposts in Los Angeles. Credit: Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting.

The world’s leading EV cities have adopted key policies that enable urban residents to own and operate electric vehicles. In particular, these cities have been able to deliver electric vehicle infrastructure to urban drivers through innovative parking and planning policies, including:

  • Residential access to on-street EV charging: Residents in densely developed neighborhoods often do not have access to an off-street parking spot where they might charge their electric vehicle overnight.[xvii] Cities around the world are tackling this problem with innovative solutions to install or incentivize residents to install on-street charging infrastructure at curbsides in dense areas. For example, residents in London can ask the city to install, and mostly pay for, EV charging infrastructure at streetlights on their block.[xviii]
  • Access to public charging stations: By acting directly or partnering with other entities – such as private garages, public schools and community centers – cities can ensure that there are adequate parking spaces for people to charge their EVs when they aren’t at home, for instance, while they are commuting, shopping or traveling. Coordinating with utilities is one promising way that cities can expand local networks of public charging stations.
  • Support for private investment in publicly accessible stations: “Semi-public” stations can provide EV owners a place to charge at privately owned stations at businesses, parking garages or private driveways. By incentivizing the installation of shared charging stations, cities can optimize use of charging infrastructure.
  • Incentivized EV parking and charging: Some cities have local government programs or agencies that offer discounted or free charging and parking for electric vehicles in public spaces.

Leading cities are encouraging shared mobility options and reforming parking policies to expand access to electric vehicle travel and reduce conflicts over parking.

  • Carsharing services are expanding access to EVs – and to EV charging – around the world. Fleets of shared electric cars, like BlueLA in Los Angeles (scheduled to begin full operation in the spring of 2018), allow people to drive electric vehicles without needing to personally own one. These services can also expand public access to EV charging by opening up their charging infrastructure for the public to use.
  • Expanding shared mobility, electrified public transit, safe biking and walking, and other transportation options – as well as implementing parking reforms – can reduce competition for on-street parking that might crowd out space for EV charging, while supporting the creation of walkable communities where people have a variety of low-carbon and zero-carbon transportation options.

Electric vehicles are an essential tool for cities to combat global warming and air pollution, and offer consumer benefits such as lower operating costs. Technological developments mean that EVs are poised to hit the market in record numbers. However, there is a lot left to be done. If cities fail to develop comprehensive plans for EV charging now, they risk being unprepared for the large numbers of EVs that are beginning to hit local streets. In order to be successful, cities will need to develop comprehensive solutions to accommodate electric vehicles, including convenient opportunities for charging, while fostering the creation of neighborhoods where residents have access to a variety of low-carbon and zero-carbon transportation options.

[i] U.S. Department of Energy, Alternative Fuels Data Center, Emissions from Hybrid and Plug-In Electric Vehicles, accessed 6 October 2017, archived at

[ii] Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., Governor’s Interagency Working Group on Zero-Emission Vehicles, 2016 ZEV Action Plan: An Updated Roadmap Toward 1.5 Million Zero-Emission Vehicles on California Roadways by 2025, October 2016.

[iii] Veloz, Sales Dashboard, accessed 13 February 2018, at

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Angus MacKenzie, “Chevrolet Bolt EV Is the 2017 Motor Trend Car of the Year,” MotorTrend, 14 November 2016, archived at

[vi] See note 3.

[vii] Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Electric Vehicle Outlook 2017, July 2017.

[viii] Office of Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr, Governor Brown Takes Action to Increase Zero-Emission Vehicles, Fund New Climate Investments (press release), 26 January 2018.

[ix] Ryan Beene and John Lippert, “California Considers Following China with Combustion-Engine Car Ban,” Bloomberg, 26 September 2017, archived at

[x] United States Census Bureau, American Housing Survey (AHS) – 2015, accessed 17 January 2018 at

[xi] See Methodology for full details. Using California’s target of 5 million zero-emission vehicles by 2030, we calculated the number of EVs that could be in major cities, within city limits. Using charging needs from NREL’s September 2017 study (Wood et al., National Renewable Energy Laboratory, National Plug-In Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Analysis, September 2017), we calculated each city’s corresponding charging infrastructure needs. Technology developments and more ambitious policy adoption could mean many more EVs in the state and greater infrastructure demands.

[xii] Central estimate from NREL is 1 – 3.3 ports per 1,000 EVs: Eric Wood et al., National Renewable Energy Laboratory, National Plug-In Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Analysis, September 2017; Electric Power Research Institute estimated 1.7 – 5.2 fast charge ports per 1,000 EVs: EPRI, Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment Installed Cost Analysis, Final Report, October 2014; Pacific Gas & Electric estimated 2.2 – 3.7 ports per 1,000 EVs: M. Metcalf, Pacific Gas & Electric, Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC), September 2016.

[xiii] Eric Wood et al., National Renewable Energy Laboratory, National Plug-In Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Analysis, September 2017.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Informed by: ChargePoint, Driver’s Checklist: A Quick Guide to Fast Charging (factsheet), archived at

[xvi] Commuting distance: Elizabeth Kneebone and Natalie Holmes, Brookings, The Growing Distance Between People and Jobs in Metropolitan America, July 2016.

[xvii] Some city EV plans call attention to this challenge specifically, e.g. City of Houston, Electric Vehicle Charging Long Range Plan for the Greater Houston Area, accessed 6 October 2017, archived at

[xviii] Rob Hull, “Want an Electric Car Charge Point on the Street outside Your House? There's a £2.5m Pot, but the Catch Is You Have to Apply through Your Council,” This Is Money, 23 February 2017, archived at