City of Palo Alto Paves the Way for More Electric Vehicles with Local Renewable Energy
On Monday, July 24, the City of Palo Alto unveiled new solar panels installed atop parking carports of two public garages and electric vehicle (EV) charging stations that are powered by the renewable energy generated on-site. An event to mark the opening was held at 2 p.m. on the rooftop of the garage at 445 Bryant Street.
In an effort to make EV driving in Palo Alto as convenient and economical as possible, the City is expanding the number of EV charging stations at public facilities and offering incentives for residents and businesses to install charging infrastructure on private property locations. An additional benefit to those operating EV chargers is the ability to power them with clean, renewable energy delivered from the City's utility or powered on-site.
"Our ability to generate local renewable power used to enhance the infrastructure in support of electric vehicle ownership and driving reinforces Palo Alto’s role as a leader in clean energy and EV market share," said Palo Alto City Manager James Keene. “Both are key to reaching our sustainability and climate action goals.”
Solar panels were recently installed at the 520 Webster and 445 Bryant Street parking garages, bringing the City halfway to its goal of adding a total of 1.3 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity to four City-owned parking structures. The solar installations are the result of sustained efforts by the City of Palo Alto and the Clean Coalition, a non-profit organization working to accelerate the transition to renewable energy, and to bring local renewable energy online. The City’s goal is to achieve four percent of its total electric energy consumption from local solar by 2023.
Last year, Komuna Energy was selected to build, own and operate the solar rooftops. The ability to structure the contract as a competition for leasing rights was facilitated by the City’s Feed-in-Tariff program, known as Palo Alto CLEAN (Clean Local Energy Accessible Now), which the Clean Coalition advocated for in 2013. Palo Alto CLEAN standardizes the process for selling local renewable energy to the utility and will make it possible to buy all the solar energy generated through Palo Alto CLEAN at a fixed price. Komuna Energy has five projects in Palo Alto participating in the CLEAN program with a total capacity of 1,587.40 kilowatts (kW).
At the Bryant Street parking garage, six additional EV chargers were installed for a total of nine charging ports at that location. Along with solar panels, Komuna will install six additional EV charger ports in each of the other two garages on Cambridge near California Avenue. Komuna Energy is also installing electrical infrastructure to support 20 additional EV chargers at each of the four garages. The City has a Bay Area Air Quality Management District grant to install 40 chargers using the electrical infrastructure, totaling more than 90 EV chargers installed at public facilities around town.
Part of the City’s effort to make it easy to drive electric in Palo Alto is by encouraging greater “turnover” at charging stations. The City will begin implementing a “charge for charging” fee at public facilities beginning August 1. The new fee -- 23 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) with the average charging session lasting two hours, or 8.5 kWh – will cost EV owners about $2 to charge up. Chargepoint, the vendor managing the system, will send individuals a mobile notification once a charging session is complete. Drivers will have a 20 minute “grace” period to move their car, after which they will face a $2 per hour fee while their fully charged car continues to be plugged into the charger. Parking garage limits will remain at three hours, and cars parked longer or parked in a space designated for EV charging without being connected to the charger are subject to a citation. The fee is intended to not only spur turnover at the charging stations, but also serve as a cost recovery mechanism for ongoing maintenance and support expansion of public EV charging facilities.
Palo Alto has one of the highest per-capita electric vehicle ownership rates in the country with 2,500 residents owning a vehicle, and another 1,000 EV commuters coming into town each day. Palo Altans account for about one percent of the state’s total EV ownership which is estimated to be around 250,000 vehicles. Both the state and federal government offer incentive programs to encourage EV ownership, and earlier this summer the City began offering rebates of up to $30,000 for EV charging stations to schools, nonprofits, multifamily and mixed-use properties. In August, Palo Alto residents and employees will be able to take advantage of limited-time discounted rates on EV charging stations at their homes through the Bay Area SunShares program.
The City launched a series of new webpages (www.cityofpaloalto.org/electricvehicle) to help EV drivers navigate the permitting and installation procedures for charging infrastructure on their properties and easily identify other charging locations in the City. Additionally, there is some financial relief offered to customers who want to install a charger and need to expand electrical capacity to do so. These and future initiatives play an important role in allowing Palo Alto to achieve a goal of 90 percent EV market share by 2030.