by Jeff St. John
December 14, 2020

Electric vehicle charging will play a major role in how U.S. utilities operate their power grids — particularly in the states that are pushing the hardest to electrify their transportation sectors. 

The Edison Electrical Institute utility trade group projects that more than 18 million EVs will be on U.S. roads by 2030 and will require 9.6 million public charging ports to support them. By 2025, U.S. installed EV charging capacity will reach 31 gigawatts, a load that “could wreak havoc on the electrical grid” if left unmanaged, according to an October report from Wood Mackenzie.

As the two states with the most ambitious EV goals, California and New York will be the first to face the pressure to manage this growing load. California has set a target of 5 million zero-emission vehicles by 2030 and 250,000 charging ports in service by 2025, while New York’s goals include 2 million EVs by 2030 and more than 50,000 charging stations by mid-decade. 

This will take a lot of public and private investment. The California Energy Commission has directed roughly $1.2 billion toward EV adoption, from incentives to support for charging infrastructure. California’s three investor-owned utilities are spending more than $1 billion on charging infrastructure and incentives. New York regulators this year dedicated $750 million to EV infrastructure build-out, all but $49 million from its investor-owned utilities. 

Utilities may be looking forward to massive revenue growth from selling electricity to EVs and the rate base to come from the capital investments to support their charging. But they’re also under pressure to ensure their approach to integrating them into the grid doesn’t limit the rapid growth of EVs on the road — or end up burdening ratepayers and undermining the case for electrification with excessive costs. 

That’s the balance the California Public Utilities Commission is trying to strike with last month’s Vehicle-Grid Integration proposed decision. It’s meant to comply with 2019 state law SB 676’s call to maximize feasible and cost-effective EV-grid integration by 2030; variables covered by the proposal range from considerations of grid upgrade costs and electricity supply-demand imbalances to using EVs to absorb renewable power and provide backup power during wildfires and power outages.