PG&E Will Build and Own 25,000 Public EV Charging Stations

By · February 09, 2015

PG&E Plug-in Hybrid Truck

PG&E is going beyond the electrification of its fleet. In an unprecedented move, it will own 25,000 charging stations.

The service area of a single utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric in Northern and Central California, represents one in five of every plug-in cars in the United States. The utility company, hoping to leverage the desire of its customers for EVs, today asked state regulators for permission to build an estimated 25,000 public charging stations. This step puts into place the largest deployment of EV charging infrastructure in the country.

From 2011 to 2013, the Department Energy, through The EV Project, installed more than 13,000 Level 2 residential and commercial charging stations, and approximately 100 DC Quick Chargers. The PG&E program is nearly double the size of the previous effort, and it would exclusively focus on a single utility’s service area.

During a telephone news conference on Monday, PG&E executives emphasized how the program—which could provide about 25 percent of California's public EV charging needs by 2020—will have profound environmental benefits. However, full details about the financial structure of the program—including its total cost, business model, and the amount of energy to be provided—were not provided.

Nonetheless, the step is further evidence that PG&E wants to play a bigger role in promoting vehicle electrification than utilities have traditionally served in the past. It maintains a large fleet of electric cars—as well as innovative plug-in hybrid field service vehicles—and last month announced a partnership with BMW to incentivize electric car drivers to reduce the environmental impact of charging on the grid.

The installation of 25,000 charging stations will take at least a couple years to get off the ground, with the first charging stations expected in 2017. In addition to 25,000 Level 2 chargers, PG&E will install about 100 DC fast chargers—equipped with both CHAdeMO and combo cord connections. The entire build-out is expected to take about five years.

James Ellis, director of electric vehicles, outlined these details about the program:

  • The chargers would be provided at no cost to the site host
  • The chargers would be located at commercial and public locations, including multi-family dwellings, retail centers, and workplaces
  • PG&E will own the infrastructure
  • Third-party firms, chosen through a competitive bidding process, would build and maintain the chargers
  • The charging will not be free, but could incorporate time-of-use pricing to encourage off-peak use
  • Billing will be handled by third-party services, rather than showing up on a utility bill

Ellis said that PG&E will not be a direct threat to existing charging networks. He said the utility, in providing about 25 percent of necessary public charging would “accelerate” the market, but not “take it over.” Pasquale Romano, chief executive of ChargePoint, the leading electric vehicle charging network, disagrees. “PG&E’s proposal will hamper the industry, is bad for ratepayers, bad for EV drivers and bad for California’s emissions reduction goals,” he said, in a prepared statement. “Allowing one monopoly utility to define the EV charging hardware, network, pricing, features and everything in between, will reduce competition and innovation.”

Ellis said that applying a consistent pricing and policies across the broad network would “take cost out of the process.” The bottom line for EV drivers is that PG&E, if its request is approved, will single-handedly guarantee significant growth in public, workplace and multi-family EV charging from 2017 to 2020.

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