California has chosen to ban gasoline-powered vehicle sales as of 2035 and claims that the state will have enough electricity supply to support an all-electric vehicle fleet of 12.5 million cars by then. That surprises many since the state currently cannot even get through the summer/fall season without having to worry about rolling blackouts because of inadequate supplies. To meet EV electricity demand, California will need to build solar and wind power at a rate almost 5 times higher than that of the past decade since they are pushing the de-carbonization of their grid. It will also have to train its residents to charge their electric vehicles only at certain times of the day when excess power is available, i.e. in off-peak periods. California’s grid is already heavily stressed, and it is compelling much higher demand at the same time it is forcing more intermittent sourcing of electricity.
Under the state’s regulation, 35 percent of new 2026 car models sold must be zero-emission, ramping up to 100 percent in 2035. For an all-electric fleet, the state must triple the amount of electricity produced and deploy new solar and wind energy at almost five times the rate of the past decade. At the same time, they are forcing electrification of cars and trucks, California’s state law requires it to shift all of its power to renewable energy by 2045. The state will also be retiring its last nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, in 2030, after a 5-year extension granted by Governor Newsom, who also asked the Federal government for funds to keep it operating. Fearing emergency brownouts like those that hit the state in 2020, Newsom and the Legislature last summer also allowed some natural gas plants that were supposed to go offline this year to keep operating past 2023, and perhaps longer.
Heat waves have already stressed California’s energy grid, especially when residents crank up air conditioners in the late afternoon and early evening as they return home. Last August, California’s power grid was so taxed by heat waves that an unprecedented, 10-day emergency alert warned residents to reduce electricity use or face outages.
Despite California expecting 15 times more electric cars on its roads by 2035, the California Energy Commission believes that the EV electricity demand will be a small fraction of the power used during peak hours — increasing from 1 percent in 2022 to 5 percent in 2030 and 10 percent in 2035. To power its EVs, the state’s electricity grid needs to be expanded at a much faster rate than it has been. The state’s analysis assumes the following:
- Drivers must avoid charging cars during evening hours when less solar energy is available. With new discounted rates, utilities are urging residents to avoid charging their cars between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. But that may not be feasible as many residents do not have unrestricted access to chargers at their jobs or homes.
- 15 times more public charging stations must be built. About 1.2 million chargers will be needed for the 8 million electric cars expected in California by 2030. Currently, about 80,000 public chargers operate statewide, with another estimated 17,000 on the way, at a time when thieves have been targeting chargers for their valuable copper wire.
- Solar and wind farms must be built at an unprecedented pace. Transitioning to all renewables requires at least 6 gigawatts of new resources per year for the next 25 years — a pace that’s never been met before.
- Offshore wind farms — non-existent in California today — must be built. State officials predict that offshore wind farms will provide power by 2030, and then increase by a factor of over 16 by 2045. Planning, obtaining permits and construction could take at least seven to eight years.
- State officials want electric cars to send energy back to the grid when electricity is in high demand (vehicle-to-grid technology), but the technology is new and has not been tested in electric cars.
Total electricity consumed by Californians is expected to increase by 96 percent between 2020 and 2045, while net demand during peak hours is projected to increase 60 percent, according to a study commissioned by San Diego Gas & Electric. If drivers charge during late summer afternoons, electric vehicles could strain the grid as Californians come home from work and turn their appliances on. California electric customers’ peak use times are when solar power is less available as the sun goes down.
For many drivers, charging during the day or late at night is not a problem: Most electric cars have chargers that can be automatically turned on after 9 p.m. But for some drivers, especially those who live in apartments or condominiums, charging during those hours may not be an option. Unlike filling a gas tank, charging an electric car takes much longer. Drivers may not have a reliable place to park their cars for long periods of time during the day while they work or late at night when they are home.
Fast chargers — like the Tesla superchargers available at some public locations — can power a battery to 80 percent within 20 minutes to an hour, but require enormous quantities of power. Most chargers are a lot slower: A level one charger, often supplied by manufacturers, could take between 40 to 50 hours to fully charge an empty battery. An upgraded, level two charger can take four to ten hours, but is also enormously energy intensive.
The California Public Utilities Commission in 2015 ordered state’s investor-owned utilities — San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric — to transition its residential customers to rate plans that offer lower pricing during off-peak hours. For instance, in the summer when energy is the most expensive, PG&E customers pay about 55 cents per kilowatt-hour during peak hours, more than double the 24 cents during off-peak times. Most PG&E customers take advantage of the lower pricing: On average, between 60 percent and 70 percent of electric vehicles in PG&E’s service area are charged during non-peak hours. For PG&E customers, charging an electric vehicle when rates are lowest — between midnight and 3 p.m. — is roughly equivalent to paying about $2 for a gallon of gas. But as electricity rates keep rising, charging a car could cost more than filling a gas tank.
California will soon lose major sources of electricity: the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant and at least four coastal natural gas plants. Combined, nuclear power and natural gas provide nearly half of the total electricity consumed in California today. California needs three times more power capacity to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. The goal is technically feasible with a sustained high pace of construction: 6 gigawatts annually for the next 25 years. Over the last decade, the state has built on average 1 gigawatt of utility solar and 0.3 gigawatts of wind per year.
To replace them, the state Public Utilities Commission has ordered utilities by 2026 to procure 11.5 gigawatts of new renewable energy resources. A new state mandate requires 60 percent of California’s power supply to come from renewables by 2030 — nearly double the amount of 2022. And by 2045, solar and wind combined must quadruple, according to the California Energy Commission. That’s about 69 gigawatts from large-scale solar farms, up from 12.5 gigawatts, plus triple the amount of rooftop solar and double the amount of onshore wind power.
California’s target to build at least 6 gigawatts of solar and wind energy and battery storage a year for the next 25 years is daunting, given that in the past decade, it has built on average just 1 gigawatt of utility solar and 0.3 gigawatt of wind per year. In the past three years, the pace increased, with more than 4 gigawatts added annually. But, obstacles remain, including insufficient materials for energy-storing batteries and a need for more transmission lines, especially in the Central Valley. There is also pushback from “not-in-my-backyard” in the desert and other rural communities. San Bernardino County outlawed solar farms on more than a million acres, and two projects were rejected in Lake and Humboldt counties. To speed renewable energy projects, Newsom and the Legislature enacted a controversial new law allowing state agencies to usurp control from local governments for siting solar, wind and some battery backup projects.
California is also betting on giant offshore wind farms to strengthen the grid and meet its renewable energy goals. The state’s ambitious offshore wind targets build off President Biden’s pledge to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind nationally by 2030. Newsom hopes to add between 2 to 5 gigawatts of offshore wind off California’s coasts by 2030. Ultimately, the state aims to produce at least 25 gigawatts from offshore wind by 2045. On December 6, the first auction of wind leases in waters off California was held, with 43 companies leasing 583 square miles in five areas off Morro Bay and Humboldt County. These deep ocean waters have the potential to produce more than 4.5 gigawatts. But, the state is hinging its hopes on an emerging sector that does not yet exist in California, along with vast regulatory and technological hurdles. California will need expanded ports, and developers must first submit detailed plans about a project’s cost and scale before facing extensive environmental reviews. Planning and regulatory processes alone could take five to six years. Installing the massive turbines with blades bigger than a football field and constructing transmission lines and an onshore production plant would take another two to three years.
Current offshore wind turbines off the East Coast are fixed to the ocean floor in shallow waters. But California’s turbines would be the first in the nation to float on platforms anchored by cables in waters reaching about half a mile deep. This new technology will not be cheap. The cost of producing the energy averages about $84 per megawatt-hour, more than most other sources of energy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Public Charging Stations
California has about 838,000 electric cars and plug-in hybrids. By 2030, about 1.2 million chargers will be needed for 8 million vehicles, according to a state report. Currently, only about 80,000 public chargers have been installed statewide, with another 17,000 on the way, according to state data. The goal is 250,000 by 2025. Mostly, private companies are responsible for installing them, although state grants help. A standard level 2 charger could cost between $7,000 to $11,000, while direct fast charging costs about $100,000 to $120,000 each, according to the California Energy Commission. California is deploying new chargers with funds from an $8.9 billion investment for electric vehicle incentives from this year’s budget. Those dollars are being used for 170,000 new chargers. In addition, California also received $384 million in federal funding this past year to help it construct a 6,600-mile statewide charging network and deploy 1.2 million chargers by 2030. California’s budget picture is changing rapidly, however, with this year’s budget running a deficit approaching $23 billion.
Securing the stability of the grid also requires a huge investment in energy storage, which can help provide energy during peak demand times. One method is called vehicle-to-grid integration, where energy can be reabsorbed by the grid when the vehicle is parked. So far, the only projects that exist in California are for buses. San Diego Gas & Electric and a battery company deployed a first-of-its kind project with buses that have battery capacity five times greater than an electric car’s. The technology is still in the early stages, has not been tested with other electric vehicles and it is unclear when it will be ready. Some car owners may not want to use the technology because they worry that it could affect their car battery’s life. While studies have not reported battery damage, convincing consumers could be a slow, difficult process given the very expensive batteries required by electric vehicles.
California’s regulations and laws toward a green economy are likely dreams that are not feasible. California has problems meeting electricity demand today when almost half its electricity is supplied by natural gas and nuclear power. To think that it can meet a doubling of its electricity supply by the time all-electric vehicle sales go into effect using only renewable energy is pure folly. California will be walking in the footsteps of Europe, whose renewable transition has resulted in energy shortages and skyrocketing prices. The dreams of politicians about a rapid all-EV future may prove to be a nightmare for the affordable personal transportation most Americans have come to expect.