April 18, 2011

Los Angeles' Sets the Stage for Plug-In Electric Vehicles

Los Angeles, California, is once again helping lead the nation's deployment of plug-in vehicles and electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) infrastructure.

Los Angeles' Plug-In Vehicle Evolution

In 1990, California passed the nation's first Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate, putting it at the forefront of that decade's deployment of plug-in vehicles, such as the General Motors EV-1, Toyota RAV4-EV, and Honda EV-Plus. Although many vehicles from this generation were discontinued in the early 2000s, California's vision helped set the stage for today's plug-in vehicle rollouts.

As California's largest city, Los Angeles was a leader in deploying the previous generation of plug-in vehicles and is committed to leading the next generation as well. Los Angeles is a huge vehicle market: home to 4 million people, with one of the nation's highest per-capita car-ownership rates. A municipal utility, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), serves the city's electric needs, and permitting in the utility's service area is done entirely by the city's Department of Building and Safety—both of these factors facilitate plug-in vehicle and EVSE deployment.

LADWP is leading Los Angeles' plug-in vehicle efforts. As part of its Electric Vehicle Program, LADWP is helping to upgrade 350 publicly accessible charging stations and plans to add new charging stations based on public interest. It is promoting off-peak residential charging by offering discounted off-peak electric rates to plug-in vehicle owners. It also helped streamline the EVSE permitting and installation process (see section below) and is providing subsidies of up to $2,000 for each of 5,000 residential customers who agree to have their charging data collected. It is upgrading its electric distribution system to address the potential impacts of plug-in vehicle charging. In addition, it is expanding its own plug-in vehicle fleet and helping other city departments do the same.

The efforts don't stop at the city's borders. LADWP initiated the Southern California Regional Plug-In Electric Vehicle Plan (SoCal EV) to foster collaboration among governments, utilities, automakers, businesses, and other southern California stakeholders in support of establishing plug-in vehicle infrastructure. SoCal EV has the following objectives:

  • Educate stakeholders about the benefits of plug-in vehicles and how to become ready for them
  • Prepare southern California to be a major plug-in vehicle market
  • Collaborate on EVSE infrastructure deployment
  • Work with stakeholders to incentivize plug-in vehicles and infrastructure
  • Streamline the EVSE permitting and installation process
  • Adapt local codes and standards to encourage plug-in vehicle deployment
  • Develop a customer service process that can support large-scale plug-in vehicle deployment
  • Collaborate on fleet-acquisition plans.

National plug-in vehicle programs are focusing on Los Angeles as well. With support from the U.S. Department of Energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ECOtality (EV Project) and Coulomb Technologies (ChargePoint America) are deploying thousands of publicly accessible and residential EVSE stations in select locations nationwide to serve the first owners of new plug-in vehicles. The goals of these projects are to analyze this first wave of plug-in vehicles and infrastructure and facilitate the transition to large-scale, nationwide deployment. Los Angeles is participating in both of these programs.

Los Angeles' EVSE Permitting and Installation Process

Los Angeles applied its existing online Express Permit system to EVSE installations (see flow chart at the right). The system enables standard EVSE customers to receive a permit automatically/instantaneously and start using their EVSE immediately after installation. Inspection follows within 24 hours; a separate EVSE inspection division created within the Department of Building and Safety helps ensure this rapid turnaround. All of Los Angeles falls under the Department of Building and Safety's jurisdiction, which gives customers and their contractors a consistent process throughout the city.

Next Steps

In addition to home-based EVSE for many plug-in vehicle buyers, about 1,550 publicly available Level 2 charging stations and 110 fast-charging stations will be installed in the Los Angeles–San Diego area as part of the EV Project. LADWP is working with automakers to identify areas of high plug-in vehicle demand precisely so appropriate grid capacity can be maintained. In addition, it is working with EVSE providers to evaluate the interaction of EVSE with utility meters and enable time-of-use pricing.

EVSE provider EV Connect and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority are collaborating on a pilot project to analyze the integration of plug-in vehicles and infrastructure with a public transit network. Also under consideration are incentives such as HOV lane access and free parking for plug-in vehicles. As a sign of Los Angeles' leadership in the plug-in vehicle arena, Chinese plug-in vehicle manufacturer BYD is locating its North American headquarters in the city.

California provides incentives for plug-in vehicles and EVSE. See California Incentives and Laws on the Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center.

Photo of palm trees and Los Angeles skyscrapers.
Connecting Customers with EVSE Providers
Because Los Angeles is part of the EV Project, many initial plug-in vehicle customers will obtain EVSE through ECOtality, the EV Project's EVSE provider. For example, information about Nissan LEAF purchases is collected through the Nissan LEAF website and sent to ECOtality, and ECOtality contacts customers about their home EVSE options. Nissan is also working with EVSE provider AeroVironment. General Motors is working with EVSE provider SPX Service Solutions to serve Chevy Volt customers. As more vehicle choices enter the Los Angeles market, the manufacturers of those vehicles likely will partner with EVSE providers to serve their customers.
Assessing a Customer's Site
As part of the EV Project, ECOtality assigns electricians from its preferred-contractor network to assess EVSE sites. If a site that qualifies for the EV Project is a standard, new single-family residential installation and no utility-service upgrade of the home's electrical capacity is required, ECOtality installs the EVSE for free. For more-complex EV Project sites, ECOtality may pay for a portion of the installation. If a site does not qualify for the EV Project (e.g., because the EVSE customer rents rather than owns a home), the customer has the option of working with an automaker's EVSE provider (such as AeroVironment and SPX Service Solutions), another EVSE provider, or any other licensed electrician.
Getting a Permit
For standard installations, the EVSE customer's electrician applies for a permit online via the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety's Express Permit system. Approval is automatic and instantaneous for standard installations. The fee is $75. More-complex installations have different permitting requirements.
Installing EVSE
Typically, the same party who conducted the site assessment also performs the installation. Los Angeles is working to incorporate a metering discussion into the installation phase so customers who want time-of-use (TOU) pricing will not require an additional meter-upgrade step later.
Inspecting the Installation
Following the EVSE installation, the electrician requests an inspection from the Department of Building and Safety. The inspection is completed within 24 hours of the request; for standard installations, the customer can use the EVSE before it is inspected.
Connecting with the Grid
LADWP will be collecting and analyzing grid-impact data to enable proactive vehicle-to-grid interactivity discussions. TOU pricing for vehicle charging is also planned, and a TOU meter would be installed following inspection of the EVSE installation (within 48 hours).