Advancing Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure in San Jose
October 3, 2018

Who should build EV charging infrastructure — and where? SPUR brought together multifamily real estate developers with experts from PG&E, the City of San Jose and Tesla to discuss the challenges and opportunities. Photo by Sergio Ruiz for SPUR

Personal cars contribute more greenhouse gases to the environment than any other single source of emissions in the Bay Area, in California or across the United States. For many years, we have had a regional goal of reducing emissions 80 percent by 2050; in September, the state of California set an even more ambitious new goal of achieving economy-wide carbon-neutrality by 2045. To achieve these goals, travel must shift to more carbon-light modes such as transit, biking and walking. However, since some trips will undoubtedly still need to be made by car, electric vehicles (EVs) hold the promise that these trips can be made more sustainably. The electricity mix that fuels EVs is already cleaner than gasoline (currently PG&E’s electricity mix is 33 percent renewable and 80 percent greenhouse gas-free) and will continue to improve as California’s grid becomes even greener and as people install solar panels and home batteries to charge their vehicles.

California’s Clean Car Standards require the state to put 1.5 million EVs on the road by 2025, and Governor Brown has set a goal of 5 million plug-in electric vehicles by 2030. In 2016, California only had about 369,000 plug-in EVs. To meet the state’s targets, 100 percent of vehicles sold by 2040 must be electric. Fortunately, the popularity of EVs is growing quickly, increasing more than 30 percent within PG&E’s Northern California service territory in 2017 alone.

Widespread EV Adoption Will Require Infrastructure

Building infrastructure for charging electric vehicles will be essential to their growth. In our 2016 report Fossil-Free Bay Area, SPUR found that to support the growing electrification of vehicles, the Bay Area needs to install about 10 times the current number of existing EV chargers, in a variety of settings: in residential buildings, on commercial properties and on the street. Exactly where these should go will depend on the types of EVs people buy, their respective ranges and charge times, people’s driving habits and the availability of charging at home. The latest iteration of the state building code, CALGreen, contains some make-ready requirements for buildings: New one- and two-family dwellings must be built to accommodate chargers, and multifamily buildings with 17 or more residences must make 3 percent of all parking spaces ready to install EV chargers. In April 2017, SPUR supported an EV-readiness ordinance in San Francisco that requires new residential, commercial and municipal buildings to have sufficient electrical infrastructure to simultaneously charge vehicles in 20 percent of parking spaces. 

Who Should Build EV Infrastructure — and Where?

In a quickly evolving landscape of charging technology, demand, vehicle ownership and automation, what is the right level of charging service to provide in commercial buildings and multifamily housing — and is there a role for policy to support it?

As a leader in EV adoption, San Jose is a good place to start the conversation. In 2017, 13 percent of new vehicles purchased in San Jose were electric, the highest rate in the nation and almost twice the rate of the next-leading cities (which are also in California). Among the top 20 cities with the highest rates of electric vehicle ownership, San Jose also has more than four times the average number of public charging stations.

To discuss this challenge, and the market opportunity, SPUR brought together multifamily real estate developers with experts from PG&E, the City of San Jose and Tesla. We sought to understand the state of interest, knowledge and deployment of EV technology in new multifamily developments, as well as the challenges and opportunities with incorporating charging infrastructure. Here are some of the challenges and opportunities the group discussed:

Setting aside parking spaces for EV charging is expensive, and developers see varying rates of use in multifamily buildings. There is something of a chicken-and-egg problem: tenants or condo owners might not feel like they can buy an EV without available, easily identifiable charging spaces, but the inclusion of charging infrastructure might not be enough to motivate people to buy EVs, so these resources could go underused for years.

Demand for EV charging is surging among Silicon Valley workers. For office or mixed-used developments with a substantial amount of office space, there was agreement that EV charging is an important amenity for workers — yet supply is not keeping up.

The equipment needed to simultaneous charge multiple EVs can be large, requiring an architect to find space in the building for larger transformers. Also, these are sized at the time of construction for expected demand and cannot be easily upsized (or downsized) later when demand may change. This makes it hard to be flexible and take a “wait and see” approach to installing charging equipment. Additionally, the building permitting process might not accept upsized transformers and electrical panels sized for future expected load increases. This means buildings are generally not built — possibly not allowed to be built — for a future case where there is high personal EV ownership and charging at home is a highly desired amenity. 

Many building developers do not want to own and manage charging equipment. Many would prefer that a third-party manage the equipment, loads, usage and billing. Several vendors provide this, but it is another process to add to parking system management. As well, there are some charging stations that are vehicle-brand specific.

Housing is already undersupplied, expensive to build and hard to permit. Additional policy requirements on top of transportation, parking and other impact fees frustrate an already complicated development landscape. Adding EV charging regulations could increase costs for an uncertain immediate benefit and slow down our ability to respond to our regional housing crisis.

EV infrastructure in residential buildings could be seen as inducing gentrification, particularly if it adds to the cost of housing and if access to it is restricted to those who live in the building. Adding charging stations outside the building could enable greater flexibility and create access for all people in the community. In keeping with its new plan, Climate Smart San Jose, the city is considering strategic opportunities to increase the availability of superfast (level 3) chargers in the public realm, perhaps obviating the need to get it right in multifamily buildings.


It is clear that the EV landscape is quickly evolving and that there are many business models for providing EV charging infrastructure. The role of new multifamily buildings in providing charging availability, though, should be clearer if San Jose wants to continue leading the nation in EV ownership and charging station availability. Electric mobility benefits us all, and SPUR will continue to host stakeholder discussions and public events to share information as it becomes more popular in the Bay Area.  

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