NREL Quantifies California’s Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Needs

How many electric vehicle (EV) chargers does the state of California need to accommodate 1.3 million EVs? That was the subject of a recent study conducted by NREL on behalf of the California Energy Commission with respect to the state’s 2025 zero-emission vehicle goal.

Study results—detailed in the California Plug-In EV Infrastructure Projections: 2017–2025PDF report—indicate that the state needs 229,000–279,000 chargers in public locations and multi-unit dwellings to meet its goal. This range does not account for chargers at single-family homes.

NREL used its EV Infrastructure Projections (EVI-Pro) tool and representative statewide travel data housed in the Transportation Secure Data Center to conduct the evaluation, which was designed to determine an infrastructure solution enabling convenient charging access for EVs while maximizing the electric miles traveled for plug-in hybrid EVs. The agile EVI-Pro tool accounts for variations and uncertainty in vehicle and charger technologies, user demographics, market adoption conditions, the shared use of chargers, and EV travel and charging preferences.

“Real-time networking technologies that confirm chargers are maintained and available can play a critical role in improving the efficiency of charger installations by enabling the shared use of chargers, thereby potentially increasing the use and reducing the size of the network necessary to support the growing fleet of EVs,” said NREL Vehicle Systems Engineer Eric Wood.

“Also critical is the effective integration of charging loads with the utility grid to prevent additional ramping generators and stressing the distribution infrastructure,” Wood added. “According to our estimates, the power demands from the proposed number of chargers could exceed 1 GW—shifting the EV charging load to better align with midday solar energy production could help utilities manage the load.”

Leveraging smart-charging technologies in combination with greater diversity in charging power and location- or time-variant prices that encourage customers to conserve energy during peak times while incentivizing the use of low-cost electricity during periods of excess renewable energy generation could enable such a shift. Such strategies provide the added benefit of helping to keep electricity prices down by averting demand spikes and reducing the need for utilities to invest in additional generation capacity.

NREL has conducted numerous EV infrastructure studies in states and regions across the country to better understand the potential costs and benefits of large-scale EV infrastructure deployment. Understanding the charging requirements of current and future EV owners—as well as the regulations impacting a given state or region—will influence the development of a successful charging network that fits the needs of users and station owners alike without putting undue strain on the utility grid.


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