San Diego Plots the Course to a Zero-Emission Vehicles Future

San Diego’s approach to expand electric vehicle adoption could serve as a template for the state as the region explores opportunities to grow partnerships and collaboration to expand zero-emission vehicle use among all sectors of society.

San Diego, Calif.
San Diego, Calif.
Shutterstock/View Apart
Imagine powering your vehicle with the cost equivalent of 75-cent-a-gallon gas. That’s the message San Diego electric utility officials are sending to motorists as the region tries to nudge consumers toward electric vehicles.

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDGE) has modernized its electric rates so that drivers can charge their electric car overnight for the equivalency of less than a dollar per gallon of gas. 

“The last time gasoline was 75 cents a gallon, was in the 1970s,” said Estela de Llanos, vice president for clean transportation, sustainability and chief environmental officer at SDGE.  

“We need this kind of rate plan modernization if we’re going to be successful in this transition,” she added at the annual Veloz summit last week. Veloz is an electric vehicle advocacy and education organization based in Sacramento, Calif.  

Officials in San Diego have launched the Accelerate to Zero Emissions Collaboration (A to Z), a network formed by local governments, SDGE, public agencies and nonprofits. Key stakeholders in the region came together about a year ago to develop a road map to advance clean transportation, and to ensure that it’s done in an equitable way. Some of those key stakeholders include, the San Diego Association of Governments, the county and city of San Diego, other cities in the county and the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District.

“The biggest challenge for our region is transportation. More than half of the greenhouse gasses in San Diego comes from the transportation sector,” said de Llanos. All told, the transportation sector accounts for 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. 

San Diego ranks as the sixth worst in the U.S. for ozone pollution. 

“For us, as a region, if we’re serious about curbing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, it is absolutely critical that we focus on the transportation sector. Even more so than at the state level,” de Llanos added. 

The challenge for San Diego is how to rapidly scale up the adoption of EVs and the infrastructure needed to power them. The region has positioned itself to become a “national leader” in EV adoption. 

To make this a reality, the A to Z Collaboration is focused on four key initiatives: developing a comprehensive EV strategy for the region; attracting public and private charging investment; and then developing programs for residents, businesses and public agencies to purchase EVs and installing chargers. 

Much of the programing will include significant investments into disadvantaged communities. 

“More than 30 percent of our 3,000 workplace and multi-unit dwelling chargers are located in vulnerable communities,” said de Llanos. 

Other advancements in the region include placing car-chargers in new home construction projects, as well as placing high-speed charging at libraries and other facilities. The county has also worked with other cities in the region to streamline the charging infrastructure permitting process. 

“How do we gear those incentives to make sure that communities that have never seen an EV get one, understand how it works … because that’s where we get the environmental justice benefit. It’s not just about carbon emissions, globally. That’s very important. But when you go to those families whose kids have asthma, and generations of kids have asthma, how do we tell them how this is going to be good for them?” said Nathan Fletcher, chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, and a member of the California Air Resources Board, speaking on a Veloz panel focused on challenges and opportunities for EV adoption in the state. 

California remains one of the states with the highest rates of EV adoption. Zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) make up about 2 percent of vehicles in the state, according to an analysis by Next 10, a nonprofit and non-partisan think tank. The state is on track to meet its 2025 ZEV goals; however, it is not on track to meet its 2030 goal of five million ZEVs, according to Next 10. 

In order to support the 1.5 million ZEVs by 2025, the state will need 250,000 EV public chargers, said Hannon Rasool, deputy director for the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. It is expected to miss this goal by 60,000 chargers. By 2030, the state will require about 1.5 million chargers, just for the light-duty segment.

“So the problem gets bigger,” said Rasool. 

Several months ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order stating all new cars sold in the state after 2035 are to be zero-emission vehicles. The order has served as a rallying cry among EV advocates to move quickly — and collaboratively — toward putting in place the public policy and other changes needed to accelerate the adoption of EVs, and support them with infrastructure. 

“With 2030 and 2035 looming, we are in an all-hands-on-deck situation. It is a pivotal moment … But a hopeful one,” said de Llanos.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.