San Diego Gas & Electric to Use Electric Cars to Integrate Renewable Energy

California just took another key step in expanding the market for electric vehicles (EVs); 3,500 charging stations will be installed in the San Diego area under a "Vehicle Grid Integration" program approved by the California Public Utilities Commission today that also includes dynamic pricing to encourage charging when renewable energy is abundant, maximizing the savings from fueling the vehicles with electricity.

Today's unanimous vote for the San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) program comes two weeks after the CPUC approved a pilot program to deploy 1,500 EV stations in Southern California Edison (SCE) territory. After completing the pilot, SCE intends to deploy another 28,500 stations. Together, the SDG&E and SCE programs represent an important step in meeting Governor Brown's goal of deploying infrastructure to support 1 million EVs by 2020 and increasing access to the use of electricity as a transportation fuel, in line with the Charge Ahead California Initiative (SB1275, De León, 2013).

In both cases, these programs should tap pent-up demand for EVs outside of single-family homes and increase the number of miles driven on electricity by targeting sites where there is a dearth of charging infrastructure, namely apartment complexes, workplaces, and other locations where cars are parked for most of the day.

SDG&E's dynamic "Vehicle Grid Integration" rate will vary to reflect the market price of producing electricity, making it cheapest to charge when renewable resources like wind and solar are plentiful. Paired with user-friendly web-interfaces and smartphone apps, this should allow EV drivers to maximize their fuel savings.

In addition, it could lower the cost of complying with California's requirement that the state procure at least half of its electricity from renewable resources by 2030. Solar and wind energy are becoming increasingly cheap, but you can't control when the sun shines or when the wind blows. Thankfully, utility customers have already bought and paid for a potentially huge energy storage resource in the form of EV batteries that could be used to soak up renewable energy when it is abundant. This program aims to do just that by matching EV charging to real time grid conditions.

The proposal approved today represents a modified version of a settlement agreement supported by SDG&E and 17 other organizations, including EV charging companies, environmentalists, environmental justice advocates, EV drivers, automakers, and labor unions. Just like in trial courts, if consensus can be reached between interested parties at the Public Utilities Commission, those parties can propose a deal that, if approved by the court (or in this case, the commission), avoids the need for a long and adversarial process. A similar process was followed for the SCE agreement.

Here are some reactions from a few of those who helped negotiate the latest settlement agreement that served as the basis for the program approved today by the commission:

  • "Plugging in electric cars to soak up the sunshine in San Diego benefits everyone. Now all we need is more convertibles with plugs." - Max Baumhefner, Natural Resources Defense Council
  • "We are pleased that the CPUC's decision will help make charging an electric car convenient and cheaper than gasoline, while ensuring that charging infrastructure is built and maintained safely with highly skilled union electricians." - Johnny Simpson, Business Manager, IBEW Local 569 San Diego
  • "Today's decision to jump start electric vehicle use in San Diego, powered by clean energy, will help California build healthier communities and sets the bar across the country for innovative transportation." - Larissa Koehler, Environmental Defense Fund
  • "The SDG&E pilot means more jobs for underserved communities in the San Diego Area," said Joel Espino from the Greenlining Institute. "And although the CPUC's decision may not line up neatly with statewide low-income EV incentives, we're committed to working with SDG&E to prioritize placing charging stations in underserved communities that urgently need the economic and clean air benefits of EVs."
  • "With this decision, California continues to speed ahead in the all-important race to power our vehicles with clean electricity. We applaud the hard work by all of the stakeholders to craft a program that works for the environment, public health, and all San Diego electricity users". - Joe Halso, Sierra Club
  • "The Vehicle Grid Integration program from SDG&E is innovative and timely and will pave the way toward accelerating the electrification of California's vehicle fleet. As we transition away from a petroleum based economy, today's decision by the Public Utilities Commission, will allow San Diego to help drive the change to cleaner, more affordable, domestic electricity as our major transportation fuel." - Jay Friedland

About the Authors

Max Baumhefner

Attorney, Clean Vehicles and Fuels, Energy & Transportation program

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