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The energy driving California to its zero-emission goals

 October 3, 2023 at 10:35 AM PDT
A Nissan Leaf electric vehicle charges at a vehicle charging station outside Bloomingdales at the Fashion Valley mall in San Diego, Nov. 13, 2013.
Associated Press
A Nissan Leaf electric vehicle charges at a vehicle charging station outside Bloomingdales at the Fashion Valley mall in San Diego, Nov. 13, 2013.

Last year, California announced it would ban the sale of new cars with combustible engines by 2035. What's it going to take for California to meet this climate goal?

Some experts point to more charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs) and making infrastructure and consumer behavior changes to lessen the future strain on California's electrical grid.

“I think many of the studies suggest that light-duty vehicles alone — cars — they are going to be responsible for a one-quarter increase in the demand for electricity between now and 2045,” said David Victor, professor of industrial innovation at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy.

Meanwhile, SANDAG recently estimated the region will need 3,200 public EV charging stations by 2040 to keep the estimated zero-emission cars on the road juiced. Some low-income areas in California, and San Diego, already see a lack of public charging stations.

"If you're living in Logan Heights and thinking about making the switch to an electric vehicle, that's going to be a really difficult challenge to overcome," said Kyle Heiskala, the co-director for state and regional policy at the Environmental Health Coalition in San Diego. "If you're renting you might not have control over installing a charger at your home and just the cost alone for electric vehicles can be a burden that many families are finding hard to overcome as well."

A state program is trying to bring equity to the charging station dilemma. The Golden State Priority is accepting applications to fund public EV charging stations in areas that are low-income and experiencing negative environmental factors that can impact public health.

Some San Diego County areas that could qualify include Logan Heights, National City, and Imperial Beach.

There's also another zero-emission option outside of EVs — hydrogen fuel cell cars.

Unlike EVs, hydrogen cars haven't been popular with consumers. Of the 1.1 million zero-emission cars in California, only about 1% of them are hydrogen powered.

Despite their unpopularity, CalMatters climate reporter Alejandro Lazo said lawmakers approved using 15% of funds from the Clean Transportation Program to build more hydrogen fueling stations. Previously, program had given 20% of funds to the cause.

"Hydrogen powered cars have their proponents and they advocated very strongly to not only keep this set aside, but increase it," Lazo said. "They wanted a 30% carve out and lawmakers settled on 15% over six years as a compromise."


  • Kyle Heiskala, policy co-director, regional and state policy at Environmental Health Coalition
  • Jan Kleissl, professor at UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering and director of UCSD's Center for Energy Research
  • Alejandro Lazo, climate reporter at CalMatters