Cathy Zoi has been promoting clean energy in the power sector for decades, holding leadership posts in both business and government.
Then in 2016, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation exceeded the power sector for the first time, and Zoi pivoted to accelerate the transportation sector’s transition to clean energy.
Zoi, 57, serves as CEO of Los Angeles-based EVgo, which has developed the nation’s largest public network of DC fast-charging stations for electric vehicles.
Q: Why is getting more EVs on the road important to you?
A: Air pollution writ large, the incidents of asthma, all of that is coming from tailpipes. I think everyone is probably feeling climate change right now. The crazy weather over the last 12 months is bringing it to the fore, and one thing that’s so important that we need to do is move our transportation sector toward non-carbon-emitting, and that’s what EVs are doing.
The electric grid is gradually getting lower and lower greenhouse gas emissions, with the rise of renewables. We’re moving in that direction, but we also need to wean ourselves off oil.
Q: What are the best cities or states in the U.S. to drive an EV without range anxiety?
A: There have been more than a million EVs sold in the United States, and more than half of those are in California. You need to have the charging infrastructure where the most cars are. About 90 percent of Californians live within 35 miles of a charging station. We have great concentrations in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, and some of the more rural cities.
We’re working really closely with the EV manufacturers such as Nissan and General Motors to install chargers where they’re planning to sell the next generations of cars. GM leases to both Uber and Lyft drivers, and we are working with them in Boston, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Austin, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Phoenix, all cities with lots of charging infrastructure.
Q: Your company built a fast-charging network for GM’s car-sharing unit. Why do electric vehicles and car-sharing or ride-hailing go together?
A: With an EV, the more you drive, the more you save, and people that earn a living through car-sharing typically drive a couple hundred miles a day. They absolutely need fast charging away from home.
Last year, a third of the electricity that was sold through our fast-charging network in the United States was from ride-share drivers. It’s amazing, it’s growing very quickly.
I’ve got two millennial kids who, even though my husband and I gave them cars for graduation, after they moved to San Francisco they sold them. They said, ‘We’ve done the math, Mom. It’s actually cheaper for us to ride-share than to own a personal car in a city.’
So when you hear those figures about the growth of ride-share, I actually believe them, because I’m seeing the behavior change and the economics of that.
Q: You served in the Department of Energy during the Obama administration. How has the landscape changed for federal policies that impact electric vehicles?
A: The Department of Energy has articulated some really interesting goals on battery improvement and durability and getting more EVs out there. But the place where we differ is the role of policy when it comes to market transformation.
The president’s latest budget proposed eliminating the EV tax credit, and I think that’s unfortunate. It’s a well-designed policy that ratchets down over time. It speeds the market and accelerates the transformation that’s essential because of our climate challenges.
Q: Are there limits to how many EV charging stations the electric grid can handle?
A: A typical station that has four chargers that are 50-kilowatt fast chargers, that doesn’t particularly stress or change the grid at all. That’s like the size of a little grocery store.
Some of the larger-scale depots that we’re working on right now where we’re going to have 25 or 30 chargers in one place, we’re working closely with utilities and they may require a service upgrade.
Going into the future where you might have trucks charging 1 or 2 or 3 megawatts …those are going to require more significant planning with the electric utilities, but it’s all quite manageable, and it just involves working hand in glove together to ensure the capacity is available in those areas.