State air quality officials approved new zero-emission vehicle standards that will require 100% of the new cars and light trucks sold in California to employ battery electric or fuel cell propulsion systems. Most agree rechargeable batteries—not fuel cells—will be the dominant technology automakers employ to meet the requirements.
The standards, adopted by the California Air Resources Board Aug. 25, will ramp up the number of new vehicles required to run on battery electric, plug-in hybrid, or fuel cell systems beginning in 2026.
“Once again California is leading the nation and the world with a regulation that sets ambitious, but achievable targets for zero-emission vehicle sales,” said Liane Randolph, CARB chair. Seventeen other states already follow California vehicle emissions standards and CARB expects them to follow its latest move.
Currently, 16% of the new passenger cars sold in California are electric models, according to California New Car Dealers Association sales data covering the first half of 2022. CARB’s latest standards project that figure will rise to 35% by 2026.
However, CARB acknowledged in its staff report the availability of charging infrastructure will be crucial to the success of the new standards.
The staff report cited a 2021 California Energy Commission study showing it is unlikely that new power generation capacity will be needed to charge an ever-growing number of electric vehicles through 2030. However, it also found significant upgrades to utility distribution circuits will be necessary to deliver the power needed to charge the vehicles.
CARB staff stated that the number of fast chargers statewide will have to grow from 7,158 today to 31,158 by 2030 in order to supply energy to the growing fleet of electric cars, more than a four-fold increase. Moreover, the number of lower voltage level 2 chargers needed will grow from 71,236 today to 792,394 in 2030, an 11-fold increase in eight years.
State air quality officials maintained progress is well underway on readying the grid for the surge in electric vehicles under the standards.
For instance, they cited the California Public Utilities Commission’s approval of $756 million for utilities to spend on preparing the grid for light-duty vehicle charging infrastructure.
Ironically, though, CARB’s approval of the vehicle standards came as Southern California Edison established a waiting list for distribution circuit upgrades related to light-duty vehicle charger installations. On top of that, the California Independent System Operator last week told motorists to refrain from charging their electric cars between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m., when demand peaks, to prevent blackouts during the long heat wave currently assaulting the state.