Sacramento’s $44 million plan to become the U.S. electric car capital

By adding electric buses, chargers, and hundreds of shared electric cars, Green City wants to help Sacramento plug in.


Sacramento, California, can often be under-appreciated. While the growing city is in the midst of a building boom, and just opened a high-tech new basketball arena, it’s mostly known as the capital of the Golden State.

But a new initiative wants to turn Sacramento into a different kind of capital, the capital of electric cars.

A new $44 million Green City program funded by Electrify America seeks to radically upgrade the city’s electric vehicle infrastructure—adding hundreds of cars, charging stations, and buses—to see if building a support network for more sustainable transit can be replicated in other cities.

“Sacramento’s developments are quite exciting,” says Nic Lutsey, who works on electric vehicles for the International Council on Clean Transportation. “The city and business leaders are making serious commitments and investments to grow the electric market.”

The plan, which will begin rolling out this summer, works on multiple fronts. Two car-sharing services will add hundreds of electric vehicles to the city. Envoy, which pairs electric vehicles with specific properties, including apartment buildings, will offer a pair of Volkswagen e-Golf cars and chargers at 71 locations around the city, many strategically positioned to help low-income areas. Another service, Gig, which is run by AAA, will add 260 free-floating Chevy Bolts to Sacramento streets, which will allow vehicles to be picked up and parked anywhere within a 13-square-mile zone downtown, including metered spaces.

In addition, a pair of new zero-emission electric bus lines will roll out, including regular service to the nearby University of California at Davis and an on-demand microtransit shuttle in the underserved Franklin neighborhood.

Finally, the city will install 10 charging depots with three to 10 chargers per site. These stations will offer super-fast 350kW charging—which isn’t yet available commercially—that dramatically cuts charging time to near parity with a standard gas fill-up.

Richard Steinberg, a senior director with Electrify America, believes that when all these investments are in place by the end of 2019, Sacramento will offer a critical mass of EV options, as well as user data that will eventually showcase the best way to introduce similar programs to other cities.

“Whether it’s bus or car share, more and more people will have access to pure electric travel options,” says Steinberg.

Steinberg says that the Sacramento program will be different than past electric vehicle services, such as Drive Now and Car2go. With more robust infrastructure support, faster charging stations, and greater range—Chevy Bolts can go 200 miles after a full charge—the Green Cities pilot offers the freedom and flexibility to fit into commuter lifestyles.

“Our goal is to try and change ownership to usership,” says Aric Ohana, cofounder of the Envoy electric carshare service. By partnering with real estate developers, Ohana’s service can offer sustainable transit options where people already live and work. And by providing electric cars as a vehicle amenity, Ohana believes his company can help make sure the EV revolution is inclusive and affordable.

The new high-speed chargers being built in Sacramento will have the capacity to charge an electric car at nearly the speed of a conventional gas fill-up.
 Electrify America

The Sacramento plan comes as cities and states are increasingly taking the lead on promoting electric vehicles, while the federal government backtracks on cleaner emissions standards.

From a coalition of northeast states planning to invest in charging infrastructure, to a group of mayors purchasing $10 billion-worth of American-made EVs, to LA’s new all-electric car-share program, local initiatives are pushing to reduce emissions and improve air quality. Even Uber has a plan to help drivers access EV chargers (and save money on gas)

This Green City program is one facet of Electrify America, the program that emerged out of Volkswagen’s emissions-cheating scandal which will spend $2 billion on supporting electric vehicle adoption. The company chose Sacramento for a few reasons. It’s the perfect size, not too large or small, and based on studies of transit behavior, the city has a more “self-contained” workforce, making it more conducive to car share.

The Green Cities plan also builds on the city’s existing investments in EV adoption. Sacramento’s share of electric vehicles is about three times the national average, and it boasts the fifth highest uptake level of EVs among U.S. cities, behind four other California cities: San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

“Sacramento is definitely at the vanguard of U.S. cities growing the electric market,” Lutsey says.

Currently, 3 percent of Sacramento’s new car sales are electric, but to meet California Governor Jerry Brown’s ambitious goal of having 5 million EVs on the road by 2030, that share needs to grow to roughly 36 to 50 percent.

“The Electrify America plan is a great start on the fast-charging infrastructure we need in the U.S., but we estimate that much more will be needed to really meet the market size we expect,” says Chris Nelder, manager for mobility at the Rocky Mountain Institute.

With the Green Cities investment, Steinberg and others hope to raise the city’s profile even higher. Sacramento will have more fast chargers than any city of its size, and there are discussions between Electrify America, the city, and local utilities about pairing the increase in EV usage with increased renewable energy production.

It’s all about driving adoption, and making Sacramento the first of many cities where’s it’s easier to plug in, says Steinberg. “We hope we can apply the learnings of this program and scale to other cities.”


Originally published on Curbed