To adequately cover all the angles, implications, and consequences of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order to rid the state of gasoline and diesel cars and trucks and replace them with electric vehicles would require a short book, or a long policy paper. We’ve already covered a few points, primarily the governor’s decision to make law without the Legislature, the mandate’s impact on jobs and the economy, and the lack of the promised impact on the climate. Here are a couple of other matters we haven’t yet touched on but need to be raised.
Will there be enough electricity to charge the growing number of electric vehicles? We’ve all seen the snarky comments questioning California’s capacity to provide enough power to keep everyone’s electric car on the road when it can’t even provide sufficient power on now. Federal Environmental Protection Agency Director Andrew Wheeler even asked Newsom last month in a letter how the governor expected “to run an electric car fleet that will come with significant increases in electricity demand, when you can’t even keep the lights on today.”
With both nuclear and natural gas plants scheduled to go offline in a few years, and the future generating capacity of solar and wind still in doubt, the quips reveal a hard truth: The grid will likely be unable to supply the demand created by an expanded electric vehicle fleet.
Retired meteorologist Anthony Watts of the Watts Up With That website did the math and determined that even with the proliferation of off-the-grid rooftop solar panels generating more power over the coming years, the state is headed toward a “green new car version of a train wreck.”
“Under the most optimistic best-case scenario, where solar operates at 100% of rated capacity (it seldom does), it would take every single bit of the 2040 utility-scale solar and rooftop capacity just to charge the cars during the day. That leaves nothing left for air conditioning, appliances, lighting, etc. It would all go to charging the cars, and that’s during the day when solar production peaks,” says Watts.
Will the state be able to build a suitable charging infrastructure? Anywhere cars and trucks are parked over long periods will have to be outfitted with chargers to meet the demand. According to Washington Examiner energy and environment reporter Abby Smith, California officials and energy analysts are convinced it can be done, but acknowledge that “it would require a massive overhaul of the state’s infrastructure and policy.”
“Massive” might not be up to describing how big the job will truly be. There are only about 62,000 charging stations in the state in 2020 (compared to a little more than 10,000 service stations selling gasoline and diesel). Environment California believes 1 million will be needed by 2040.
Patty Monahan of the California Energy Commission told Smith apartment buildings are “one of the biggest challenges” in increasing the number of charging stations. About half of California’s residents live in apartments, yet at the same time, fewer than 20% of charging stations across the state are located in multi-family complexes. That’s no small gap that must be spanned in just 15 years, when all new automobiles sold in the state have to be zero-emissions vehicles (which don’t actually exist).
“Electrical upgrades at older (multi-unit dwellings, or MUDs) can be costly, especially when they require trenching to lay wiring,” says Amanda Myers, a policy analyst at Energy Innovation. “Installing EV charging at existing MUDs can also trigger building code requirements in ways unrelated to EV charging, making a project financially infeasible, while utility interconnection approval can add cost and hassle.”
Myers also notes that “property owners often get little to no return on EV charging investments,” which discourages incentives for adding stations.
Assigned parking spaces typical at multi-family housing complexes pose another hurdle. They make “equal charging challenging without installing chargers at each parking stall.” Of course, dedicating a charger for each parking space is not impossible, it’s just “likely a cost-prohibitive option,” says Myers.
California has been accused of relying on “magical thinking” in its quest to move to fully renewable energy sources. Newsom’s electric car mandate shows that that’s much more true than officials and activists would ever admit.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.