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California Charges Ahead on the Road to Electric Car Ubiquity

Man charging electric car on streetGetty Images
Over the last year, as Congress has dithered over the college tuition crisis, it has become increasingly clear that solutions to high education costs will come from state governments like Oregon and Delaware, not Washington, D.C. But education is only one of many problems facing the country. For another one — high gas prices — the solution may come from California.

For years, gas prices have fluctuated wildly, ranging from relatively-bearable lows to budget-busting highs. The wider adoption of one increasingly popular solution, electric vehicles, has been severely hampered by a few key factors: high sticker prices, expensive batteries, and a limited number of charging stations. The first two problems are linked, and largely technical issues: The batteries for an electric car currently cost $12,000 or more, which keeps their retail prices high. Analysts predict that prices will drop by half within the next seven years — a prediction that is promising, but not all that useful right now.

And then there’s the charging station issue. Currently, the number of stations in each state ranges wildly, from Wyoming, which has one, to California, which has 1,417. Given that charging stations are a prerequisite for electric vehicles, it’s not surprising that the Golden State currently leads the country in electric cars, while Big Wyoming … doesn’t.

However, Californians aren’t resting on their laurels: A law recently by the Palo Alto city council requires that every new home must be electric car compatible. On the surface, this isn’t all that impressive: After all, electric chargers hook into a simple 220-volt line, which is basically the same kind of outlet that a clothes washer uses. The added cost to install one in the garage of a home under construction is about $200; on the other hand, the cost of retrofitting a house to install one later would run you about five times as much.
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