Over the next few years, electric car drivers in California should find it easier to recharge their batteries while they’re away from home, thanks to a recent decision by the state to allow utilities such as Southern California Edison (SCE) to invest in electric vehicle charging.

Ed Kjaer, SCE’s director of Transportation Electrification, says the ruling by the California Public Utilities Commission is very good news for both electric vehicle drivers and SCE customers. 

“A big problem is that there aren’t enough charging stations where people leave their cars for long periods of time, and we can help with that,” he said.

Kjaer, who is responsible for the company’s broad effort to support the connection of transportation to SCE’s electrical system, believes utilities have a major role to play in helping to accelerate the electric vehicle market in California.

SCE has 36,000 electric vehicle owners in its 50,000-square-mile territory, and that number is growing by 1,200 to 1,500 monthly. But research shows that many more put off buying electric cars out of “range anxiety,” or the fear that their car will run out of power and leave them stranded before they can get home to recharge their batteries.

Or, in the case of plug-in hybrids — electric vehicles that have small backup internal combustion engines — people have “gas anxiety.” That is, they fret about having to switch over to gasoline mid-trip, losing much of the savings that comes from driving solely on battery power.

Relief for either anxiety could be on the way if the commission approves a five-year plan recently proposed by SCE to help install as many as 30,000 electric vehicle chargers at locations where people leave their cars for extended periods of time — for example, at apartment and condominium complexes, workplaces, campuses and recreational areas.

The proposal would also provide funding to educate more people about the benefits of electric vehicles and charging from SCE’s power grid.

SCE’s Charge Ready program, as it is known, is proposed to begin with a $22-million, year-long pilot for installation of up to 1,500 chargers. The results of the first phase would help shape the rest of the program, which is expected to cost an additional $333 million over the remaining four years.

The program would also support Gov. Brown’s recently announced energy initiatives, which include reducing today’s petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent within the next 15 years.

Kjaer says the Charge Ready program, which would include installation of chargers in pollution-impacted communities, is designed to accelerate the market for electric vehicles, similar to what electric utilities did for solar power and energy efficiency in the past.

He said the program would also move California closer to its objective of putting 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025, which would, in turn, help the state achieve its goals to reduce greenhouse gases and meet deadlines for federal clean air standards.

“Electricity has a benefit that few other alternative fuels can claim,” said Kjaer. “While electric vehicles currently cut carbon emissions by 70 percent, they will only get cleaner and cleaner because the grid is getting cleaner and cleaner as the result of state clean air policies.”