January 23, 2024

Understanding California's Electric Vehicle and EV Charging Laws


7 Min. Read

In August 2022, California made history by adopting a bold plan to completely phase out internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle sales by 2035. Since then, the Golden State has been developing a strong legal framework to support this groundbreaking measure.

Let’s take a closer look at California EV law and how this precedent is shaping the future of electrification.

How Does California View ZEVs?

California is the highest-ranking state for electric vehicle adoption, with experts agreeing that other states are, on average, five years behind compared to California’s EV sales, charging infrastructure, and legal framework.

ZEVs, a category that includes Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs), some fuel-cell EVs, and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) with at least 50 miles of range represent 24.3% of new passenger vehicle sales in California. At the national level, combined sales of BEVs and PHEVs represent slightly less than 10% of new sales.

This extremely favorable attitude toward EV adoption in California greatly stems from Executive Order N-79-20, also known as the Zero-Emission Rule. This measure introduced a plan to gradually phase out ICE vehicles and replace them with zero-emission vehicles by 2035, with a further goal of achieving complete carbon neutrality for the state by 2045.

Electric Vehicle Charging Basics in California

With more than 105,000 public and shared private EV chargers, California is leading the way in terms of developing a charging infrastructure that is strong enough to support widespread EV adoption in the state. The current infrastructure can be described as varied, with 44% of chargers being public and close to 56% falling into the shared private charger category.

The Golden State is actively supporting the development of this charging infrastructure with a $40.5 million investment to deploy charging locations along major highways, as well as an updated version of the CalGreen Code with provisions outlining the addition of multifamily EV charging units, hotels, and other locations.

An Overview of California EV Law

California is paving the way for the development of a legal framework that supports EV adoption along with access to charging.

The Zero-Emission Rule is a key California EV law that outlines ongoing efforts for phasing out ICE vehicle sales by 2035 while implementing rebates designed to encourage EV adoptions by lowering costs for EV buyers and renters.

The Golden State is also shaping the EV and charging industry with a number of innovative measures. For instance, California EV law currently states that J1772 ports are required under the state’s Code of Regulations and the state also has billing guidelines for EV charging stations as well as EVITP certification requirements for installers.

This legal framework also includes several provisions for having state entities regularly assess the state of the charging infrastructure and issue recommendations, allowing for rapid updates to meet the growing needs of an evolving energy landscape.

Learning More About California EV Law

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center has compiled close to 80 different EV-related legislations for California as well as information about close to 40 incentive programs at the state level.

Related Reading: California’s EV Rebates and EV Charging Incentives

California City Ordinances

Local governments are playing a central role in supporting EV adoption in California. For instance, the city of San Jose updated its code of ordinances to require hotels and multifamily buildings to have at least 10% of their parking spots equipped with EV charging and 70% of their parking spots ready for EV charging with the proper panel capacity.

The city of Los Angeles is also making a difference by offering a streamlined process for obtaining a permit for an EV charging station.

Upcoming California EV Laws

In May 2024, tax exemption measures adopted to support zero-emission transit buses will be assessed — a step that could lead to updated tax rules. Additionally, in July 2024, plug-and-charge payments for DCFC stations will become mandatory in a measure that supports the creation of an open-access model for charging infrastructure within the state.

Another California EV law could make bidirectional charging a mandatory feature on EVs sold after 2030, but this law is currently inactive.

Do You Need a Permit for an EV Charger in California?

Yes, if you want to upgrade your home with a Level 2 EV charging station, you’ll need to obtain a permit from your local government to ensure that your EV charger installation project follows NEC and local requirements. While it may seem like this is an unnecessary step, having a permit and proper inspection helps ensure that your EV charger installation is up to code and properly installed for the safety of you and your home.

Having your licensed electrical contractor pull the permit adds an extra layer of protection to you and your EV charger installation, as it ensures that they are accountable for any errors in filing instead of you. Working with a licensed electrician also ensures that if anything does go wrong, your EV charger installation and any damages or injuries will be covered by insurance.

If you hire an unlicensed or unqualified individual to install your EV charger or perform any other type of electrical work within your home or business, it may void any warranties you have on the vehicle or EV charger, and can even negate your insurance.

In short, it’s always best to hire a qualified individual to perform any type of electrical work, but especially for a Level 2 EV charger installation which requires a dedicated 240V circuit and may need additional electrical upgrades such as a panel upgrade or load management device.

Your licensed electrician can work with you to determine your existing electrical capacity and demand through an EV charger load calculation and make recommendations based on the existing electrical infrastructure in your home and your current and future demand.

You will need a permit for your EV charger installation, and this is something your electrician can do to save you time, money, and future inconveniences.

Latest News About California EV Law

In October 2023, the state adopted the Powering Up Californians Act, a measure that sets new targets for grid connections in an effort to build a stronger electric grid that will create a more resilient energy future for California.

California’s Gas-Powered Car Phaseout

California also announced its intent to phase out ICE vehicles by 2035 in August 2022, becoming the first state to implement a program of such an ambitious scale under the Clean Air Act. Since then, nine states have adopted similar plans, further highlighting California’s role as a leader in the energy transition — paving the way for other states to follow suit.

Californians tend to see the gas-powered phaseout in a positive light with 55% of voters supporting the decision, but there has been some opposition to this measure, including bill proposal H.R. 1435 designed to update the Clean Air Act and limit states’ authority when it comes to regulating vehicle sales.

While there is some hesitancy in making a complete transition, the state as a whole is confidently moving toward an all-electric future.

What Do I Need to Know About Charging My EV in California?

The California EV charging infrastructure ranks first with the most chargers — at over 43,000 public charging stations and over 105,000 charging ports, the state has more than four times as many as the second-highest state when it comes to EV charging station installation — and the current infrastructure is growing at a fast pace.

However, even with a robust public EV charging infrastructure, at-home charging remains a convenient and preferred option for many EV owners with Level 2 EV charging stations representing an affordable and accessible solution that preserves battery longevity, a common concern linked to DC Fast Charging.

With Level 2 EV charging delivering up to 19 kWh of power, a BEV can get a full charge in less than 10 hours and a PHEV typically charges in an hour or two. Having access to Level 2 home EV charging means you don’t have to wait for hours at a public facility and can even plug in your EV overnight to wake up to a full charge.

At-home EV charging is also significantly more cost-effective, with homeowners in California expecting to pay $500-700 on average to fuel their EVs at home while public EV charging can cost anywhere from $700-$3,000+ annually depending on the type of EV, mileage, and cost per kWh.

At-Home EV Charging in California and Elsewhere

California is the most advanced state in terms of EV adoption, and California EV law is playing a key role in supporting the development of a strong charging infrastructure.

However, even with the state’s phenomenal public EV charging infrastructure, at-home charging remains an affordable and convenient choice preferred by many EV drivers.

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Author: Greg Sowder

Greg Sowder

President, Qmerit Network