SAN DIEGO — In an ad running on social media, San Diego Gas & Electric boasts that public EV chargers in the region are more plentiful than surfers at popular Swami's Beach, apple pies in the mountain town of Julian "or gas stations in all of San Diego." The same is true in much of the rest of California.
But that still might not be enough to meet electric-vehicle growth projections.
SDG&E, a private utility, estimates there are 1,500 public charging stations in the San Diego-South Orange County area. That sounds like a lot. But finding them and getting charged in Southern California or San Francisco can be a chore. Unlike gas stations, they're not always in high-traffic areas, and their fill-up time takes longer than five minutes.
A recent trip to the beach in San Diego went like this for one new EV driver: The location of the station was mislabeled on the map, resulting in a low-speed search through several parking lots; the charging company required downloading a smartphone app and registering a credit card. After two hours of charging, the Level 2 device added just 25 miles of electric range.
The popular PlugShare app that's a clearinghouse for EV chargers is full of similar stories: broken chargers, payment problems and inconsistent prices and charging speeds. There are bright spots, to be sure. Tesla superchargers and companies such as Electrify America get good marks for easy-to-find locations and hassle-free payment.
California is the epicenter for EV driving in the U.S., and it is central to the industry's projections on electric-vehicle sales in the coming decade. The solutions that the state and its cities and counties reach on how to keep all of its future EVs charged will shape the national charging grid.
Of the more than 60,000 existing public charging connections estimated in the U.S. by the Department of Energy, about 22,000 are in California. But the details of that number are complicated. California's network is a patchwork of Level 2 chargers that take hours for a full battery, Level 3 that are much faster and different plug standards.