Special Report: Infrastructure – The EV Race is On

Special Report: Infrastructure – The EV Race is On
EVgo charging stations await customers in Santa Monica.

With California’s mandate that by 2035 all new vehicles sold in the state must be zero emission, the race is on to build the infrastructure to meet the demand for charging the expected crush of new electric vehicles. And, with its status as the nation’s largest car market expected to continue into the electric vehicle era, Los Angeles County is poised to be the leading market for charging infrastructure.

To meet this demand, dozens of area-based companies have sprung up – or are pivoting to – the deployment and management of electric vehicle charging stations. Together, these companies are challenging Silicon Valley for supremacy when it comes to the regional marketplace for development of electric vehicle charging systems.

Given the expense of large-scale manufacturing in this region, few of these companies make the actual charging equipment. Rather, they – and several other companies besides – are focusing on software innovation and management to guide the deployment of these chargers, according to Matt Petersen, chief executive of the downtown-based Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, which has among its company ranks several pursuing the buildout of electric vehicle charging systems.

“If you have to manufacture large-scale products, this is not the place,” Petersen said. “But there are so many other areas that are integral to this industry: software, deployment of components, repair and maintenance, just to name a few.”

These companies are being aided by a push among local government agencies to make the region the center of this emerging industry.

“In 2018, we set regional targets to have enough electric vehicle charging stations in place to accommodate 80% of new vehicles being sold being electric,” Petersen said. “It’s all part of the commitment to have L.A. be the market leader in electric vehicles and electric vehicle infrastructure.”

There’s also plenty of public funding available to help these companies get off the ground. Calstart, a zero-emission vehicle industry consortium based in Pasadena, is disbursing $270 million in state funds to build up the infrastructure to power hydrogen and electric cars, trucks and buses; the consortium is also set to begin disbursing early next year another $90 million in funds for enabling the plugging in of high-capacity electric vehicle charging equipment.

And the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are also kicking in millions of more dollars to speed the infrastructure development to convert heavy-duty cargo transport trucks to electric power. Last year, for example, the ports announced a $25 million partnership with Reston, Virginia-based Electrify America to build out electric charging infrastructure in and around the ports.

“We’re going to see more projects like this to build out a zero-emission freight corridor,” said Alycia Gilde, vice president of clean fuel and infrastructure for Calstart.

But these companies are facing challenges in their efforts to deploy chargers throughout Southern California.

“First and foremost is the cost of land,” said Petersen of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator. “Finding sites is a challenge,” he continued. “Then, once you find the sites, you have to go through permitting.”

But, Petersen said, public agencies are beginning to streamline that permitting process. And, he noted, the region is beginning to attract notice from private-sector funders.
“Venture capital firms from around the country are looking at L.A. as a market for EV infrastructure,” he said.

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Howard Fine
Howard Fine is a 23-year veteran of the Los Angeles Business Journal. He covers stories pertaining to healthcare, biomedicine, energy, engineering, construction, and infrastructure. He has won several awards, including Best Body of Work for a single reporter from the Alliance of Area Business Publishers and Distinguished Journalist of the Year from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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