Skip to main content

Palo Alto sets the standard for EV readiness

The California hometown of Tesla Motors has made it even easier for residents to own electric vehicles with new infrastructure requirements for apartments, hotels, and commercial buildings.


Palo Alto is well aware of its status as the home of the world’s most progressive electric automaker. It plays the part well, doing more than almost any other city to support the adoption of electric vehicles. Another initiative passed last week takes EV-readiness to a new level.

Home to 64,000 people, Palo Alto of the famed Silicon Valley boasts more electric vehicles per capita than anywhere in the United States. Last year, Palo Alto passed a city ordinance mandating that all new homes come pre-wired for Level II electric vehicle charging units. Similar to installing wiring for a clothes dryer, installing the necessary circuitry with initial construction is cheaper and easier than retrofitting.

Palo Alto’s EV-friendly new law

At the time, Mayor Gregory Scharff indicated the city’s next move would be to mandate EV charging at all commercial buildings, hotels, and apartments. True to his word, last week Palo Alto Online reported that the city had passed a law requiring all new multi-family developments, hotels, and commercial buildings to accommodate electric vehicles.

The buildings must provide the necessary wiring for future installation of charging stations. The requirements differ based on the type of building, but across the board calls for a significant proportion of parking spaces to either provide charging stations or be prepared to accommodate charging stations with the necessary circuitry.

Apartment complexes will be required to include either one charging outlet or one charger for each residence. At least 25 percent of guest parking spots must be installed with either an outlet, charger, or appropriate circuitry for future charging stations.

Those wishing to stay at new Palo Alto hotels will be pleased if they wish to charge their electric vehicle; the law mandates 30 percent of hotel parking spaces provide EV charging services, through either an outlet, conduit, or charger. 10 percent of spaces must physically provide a charging station.

New commercial developments are required to provide 25 percent of parking spaces with EV accommodation. At least 5 percent of parking must include a charging station.

For those worrying about the costs of these new laws, city officials stressed that constructing a new development would see a cost increase of just 1 percent as a result of the EV charging requirements.

Consensus from a city with a clear vision

The city council approved the law by an 8-0 vote without much debate. Palo Alto is very motivated when it comes to emissions reduction – with last year’s ordinance, Mayor Scharff stated that “we want to make it as easy as possible for someone to own an electric vehicle.”

The city adopted a carbon-neutral electricity portfolio last year and is expanding its efforts to the transportation sector, where 40 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions originate.
Jim Barbera, an EV owner in Palo Alto, summed up the council’s EV charging initiative: “This is a long way toward moving us in the right direction.”

Making EVs accessible for those without garages

Electric vehicle ownership is particularly difficult for those without a garage to charge in at night. As a significant chunk of the nation’s population (not to mention the world) falls in that category, bringing charging to apartments and the workplace is particularly critical for widespread adoption of EVs.

Palo Alto has set an excellent example that other metropolitan areas ought to follow. It is a relatively simple and inexpensive measure that is essential for the viability of EV ownership by apartment dwellers. Eco-conscious renters will seek out EV-ready apartment complexes, and more people will be able to own electric vehicles without having to buy a house. Kudos to Palo Alto for taking this initiative.