Electric Vehicles and Global Urban Adoption

How do city dwellers use electric vehicles in France and California, and what can the two regions learn from each other? Collaborators Ethan Elkind (Berkeley Law) and Yannick Perez (CentraleSupélec, Université Paris-Saclay) tackled these questions with dozens of participants at their FBF-funded international conference in June 2019. We sat down with Elkind to learn more about the project and the policy ideas it has generated.

November 26, 2019
Ethan Elkind (left) and Yannick Perez
Ethan Elkind (left) and Yannick Perez

Your work at CLEE centers on climate law, business, and policy. What sparked your collaboration with Yannick Perez?

Here at CLEE we focus on policy solutions to address climate change and reduce gas emissions. I knew that there were researchers in France doing interesting work on vehicles there, and had gone to a conference Yannick organized, so when I became aware of the France-Berkeley Fund he was very enthusiastic about teaming up to discuss various policies and compare notes. Yannick and I imagined that challenges in cities such as Paris, San Francisco and Los Angeles were similar to those being faced all over the world, and that other urban areas could learn from what our respective regions are doing, so we wanted to make our conference an internationally focused event for knowledge-sharing. This grant opportunity prompted us to deepen our ideas and think through what could be useful.

Tell us about the conference. What results and outcomes did it generate, and what knowledge were you able to gain from your collaborator in particular?

The conference was a success, with high-level participation from some of the leading energy officials in California and France, such as ENEDIS, Uber, and General Motors. One of the leading grid operators from France attended and helped sponsor it. We also got to tour the Tesla Factory in Fremont and a micro-grid-ready parking garage here in Berkeley. At the same time, we had side-bar conversations giving the heads of California agencies the opportunity to meet with their French counterparts. As summarized in the report, participants identified various challenges to greater EV deployment, including the lack of access to affordable electric vehicles, and the complex, expensive nature of installing charging stations in urban settings. For instance, since an increasing percentage of the population is living in apartments that they don’t own, charging electric vehicles is an ever growing challenge. French cities have faced the challenge of getting apartment buildings to install chargers, since older structures often require upgrades to electrical systems, not to mention permitting challenges. Discussions centered on the need for upgraded infrastructure, increased federal incentives, and policy changes at the government and electric utility level to encourage and facilitate EV adoption. Specifically, Yannick has done some very interesting research on optimal electricity rates to encourage charging that really supports the grid, to take advantage of times when there is extra electricity on the grid to try and make it more affordable. We had the opportunity to exchange and learn from these experiences while broadening our network. Based on those discussions, UC Berkeley Law’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment (CLEE) recently released the symposium brief Electric Vehicles and Global Urban Adoption: Policy Solutions from France and California. While we are not yet tracking how the conference will translate into action on the ground, any time people come together to have these conversations it influences where policy goes. 

What impact will the FBF have on your research and teaching?

I will be teaching a course looking at European and American climate and energy policy. I now have more familiarity with EU policies, and will incorporate what I learned about how France is approaching these issues. On the research side, we continue to look at issues surrounding electrification of transportation generally. Knowing more about what France is doing as it relates to issues Californians are facing has been very informative and helpful, especially when it comes to crafting a research agenda for our climate program at Berkeley Law. This is a big area where we need to see growth. Programs like the FBF are crucial to support joint conferences that bring researchers together and help them find out what people are up to in different areas.


Electric Vehicles and Global Urban Adoption: Policy Solutions from France and California can be downloaded here.