The state is driving toward a future in which five million zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) will navigate California roads by 2030, a goal set nearly a year ago by outgoing Governor Jerry Brown as part of a fight against climate change. But this path to cleaner transportation requires a lot more charging infrastructure, and Bay Area employers are being called upon to continue jolting the workplace.
One important reason is that employees with access to workplace charging are six times more likely to drive a ZEV, according to Department of Energy data cited during a transportation panel discussion at the Marin Sustainable Enterprise (MSE) Conference in late October. Additional charging options will enable ZEVs to be pervasive as the market continues to grow and strengthen. Technology advancements are cutting vehicle cost and charge time, as well as increasing range and battery storage.
“The best thing you can do is install charging at your workplace,” said Doron Amiran, EV program manager for the Center for Climate Protection, during the MSE panel.
While home-charging is ideal, it’s not always practical for ZEV owners who live in multi-unit dwellings or rental properties. But people who commute by car tend to follow a consistent route to work and spend several hours, if not more, parked in the company lot. These anecdotal perspectives are in line with data presented at the MSE Conference, which was focused on the North Bay, and spurred the Monitor to contact other experts for a broad view of regional activity.
“For some of us, home [charging] is not an option if we rent or live in a city and park on the street every day in a different location,” said Gil Tal, director of the Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center at UC Davis’ Institute of Transportation Studies.
Public policies surrounding ZEVs at the state, regional, and local levels aim to reduce transportation-related emissions and ensure communities are prepared to address climate change. So raising awareness about the ways employers may further those goals is a logical step in the playbook. Now, workplace charging is touted as an amenity akin to cafeterias and gyms that aid employee retention.
“Workplace charging, for those that are not transit accessible, is popular, important, and seen as a necessity,” said Laura Tam, sustainable development policy director at the San Francisco nonprofit SPUR.
Certain grant programs from utilities and air quality regulators also help employers purchase and install stations, decisions that often flow from an organization’s sustainability commitment and preference for renewable energy options.
“As a maker of design software for auto manufacturers and civil engineers, we want to contribute to the transition to clean transportation infrastructure,” said Ben Thompson, senior manager of sustainability at Autodesk, which has 12 chargers on its San Rafael campus from Greenlots, an EV charging technology company.
“Employees apply for the program and reserve the spot when they need it,” Thompson said. “The cost is 50 cents per hour for 100 percent renewable energy.”
Yet for all these benefits, ZEVs could still pose challenges to traffic congestion, the reduction of which is a critical priority for Bay Area policymakers and transportation planners alike.
“Electric vehicles might get us to our greenhouse gas reduction goals but not to congestion reduction,” said Krute Singa, principal regional planner for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. “We’re looking at a multi-pronged approach now and in the future.”
The intention is that as the transportation landscape evolves, the ZEVs will converge alongside public transportation and other mobility options like shared vehicle trips and automated vehicles that eliminate the need for a driver.
In the meantime, state goals are firmly fixed on stepping up charging infrastructure to encourage ZEV adoption. For example, Governor Brown’s administration also proposed a $2.5 billion initiative to install 250,000 charging stations by 2025. That goal feels a long way off: According to a recent check of the Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center website, California has 5,429 charging stations.
Nonetheless, charging infrastructure currents are buzzing as future growth plans are identified. For example, City of San Jose officials are developing strategic plans that will look at ways to make more stations available so the public can reliably charge their cars, according to Laura Stuchinsky, San Jose’s sustainable transportation manager.
ChargePoint, a Cupertino-based EV charging station network operator, will install 2.5 million charging spots across Europe and North America by 2025. That’s up from 57,000, according to Mike DiNucci, senior vice president of sales.
“North of 1,000” spots are being added to that count each month, he said during an October 30 interview.
For many employers, the decision to add charging stations starts with employee feedback. BioMarin Pharmaceutical, also a ChargePoint customer, experienced “tremendous” employee demand for stations and installed them at its Novato site in early 2013. Others already were included in San Rafael when BioMarin began operations there the same year. Now it has more than 70 stations and will expand over time.
“We continually assess our needs and develop programs accordingly,” said Debra Charlesworth, vice president of corporate communications at BioMarin.
ChargePoint’s DiNucci said that, at most companies, 10 percent is the “baseline” number of employees driving EVs. If you keep the ratio of drivers to charging ports at two-to-one, you see “almost no problems whatsoever,” he said. A three-to-one ratio is “do-able,” but four-to-one starts to cause “consternation.”
It’s up to individual companies to decide whether staff pay to use charging stations. Fees can help deter station misuse, or even help an employer pay down electricity expenses.
The price of a new charging station varies, but ChargePoint’s level-two port starts at approximately $3,000, DiNucci said. Then the cost of installation, handled by outside contractors, can be as little as $500 or several thousand dollars more, depending on factors like how far the station is located from the building, if it’s necessary to add transformers, or whether crews must dig through concrete to upgrade the current electrical system.
To counteract these costs and challenges, agencies like the Bay Area Air Quality Management District offer grant funding. Its Charge! Program has given out more than $7.7 million to install publicly accessible charging stations at Bay Area workplaces, according to the Air District’s Mark Tang.
The agency counts 6,600 publicly accessible charging stations at all types of facilities in the Bay Area, 36 percent of which were installed with the help of Air District funds. Its overall goal is to transition at least 90 percent of the region’s existing light-duty vehicles to ZEVs by 2050.
“To reach our EV adoption goals, we will continue to offer funding to support EV adoption programs around the Bay Area,” Tang told the Monitor in an email.
At the start of 2018, Pacific Gas & Electric launched its “EV Charge Network,” a three-year program to set up 7,500 level-two chargers at condos, apartments, and workplaces, including at sites in disadvantaged communities. The program is open to PG&E customers, but they must be willing to install at least 10 adjoining parking spaces, among other requirements.
Even with these conditions, the end game is about creating shared mobility options that serve a variety of needs. Outside the workplace, public charging infrastructure is emerging around transit hubs to provide a cleaner option for first-and-last-mile connections. For example, BART is piloting a program at the Warm Springs/South Fremont Station, with 20 charging ports in the EV parking area and another two in the ADA accessible lot, according to its website. And the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority also has public EV chargers at some of its park-and-ride lots, with plans to add more going forward, according to its website.
“It’s important to install as many chargers as we can at [public transit] stations,” said UC Davis’ Tal. “Then you don’t have the motivation to drive into traffic head on, and can get a charge when you head into the city.”
Cecily O’Connor covers transportation for the Monitor.