Frequently Asked Questions 


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Electric Vehicles (EVs) are growing in popularity in Palo Alto as owning, charging, and driving an EV in the region has become easier and convenient. Learn more through the City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) frequently asked questions.

1. What is an electric vehicle (EV)?

An EV uses an electric motor powered by electricity from batteries. These vehicles do not have an internal combustion engine like conventional vehicles that use gasoline or diesel fuel. EVs do not emit tail pipepollution or require oil changes. As a plus, the electricity provided in Palo Alto is carbon neutral, which means that in addition to your EV being emissions free, so is the energy used to fuel it!

2. What are the benefits of driving an EV?

Cheaper - EVs can be cheaper to drive than gasoline or diesel-powered cars as they need less maintenance and do not require oil changes or gas fueling. As gas prices continue to rise, EVs are quickly becoming a cheaper alternative for getting around. The cost of electricity to charge an EV is much lower than gas prices in California. EVs do not need oil changes, do not contain spark plugs, and overall have lesspart that need to be maintained or replaced. The US Department of Energy estimates that driving an EV costs about half as much as driving a gasoline fueled vehicle. Plus, federal and state incentives help lower the purchase price of EVs, often making them more affordable to buy than a new traditional gasoline-powered vehicle. 

Convenient - EV owners claim that driving an EV is more convenient in that they don’t have to fuel up at gas stations, nor bring the vehicle in for oil changes and other engine maintenance as often as an internal engine vehicle. Having the ability to charge your car overnight, during the day at work, or while out running errands saves you time and money at the pump.  

Fun - EV drivers say these vehicles are also more fun to drive as they are fast and smooth on acceleration.  

Environmentally-friendly - Perhaps the most important benefit of EVs is the positive impact on the environment. Driving electric is an environmentally friendly alternative to driving a vehicle that relies on fossil fuel sources, which releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions into the environment. The combustion of petroleum-based (fossil) fuels results in the release of noxious chemicals into the air, which create dangers to human health. These gases are also responsible for causing climate change, and pollute our air and waterways, endangering ecosystems and further aggravating harm to fish and wildlife species. With no tailpipe emissions or pollution, EVs are a better environmental choice to keep greenhouse gas emissions and other harmful contaminants out of our atmosphere, waterways. You can be an active participant in the fight against climate change by eliminating emissions from your transportation. Plus, in Palo Alto, electricity is carbon neutral, so the energy used to fuel your vehicle is also emissions free. 

You may find these testimonials from EV drivers helpful.

3. Are there any incentives available for purchasing or leasing an EV?

Local agencies, the State of California and the Federal Government currently offer incentives for leasing or purchasing an EV. Some programs apply to all residents. Others are designed for low to moderate income households. Some programs are focused on getting older fossil fuel vehicles off the road, while others are incentives focusing on clean transportation including the use of public transportation. There are also limited time discounts from dealers. Rebates are also available for multi-family properties and non-profits interested in installing EV charging infrastructure. Please note that, these rebate programs change throughout the year and are subject to availability. We have attempted to summarize these offerings, but please check the websites of each of these organizations for the most up to date information.

4. What education and resources about EVs does the City of Palo Alto provide?

The City of Palo Alto hosts a number of EV educational events throughout the year, including workshops and test drives. Find a full listing of these events at

i. Ride and Drives - We have discovered that the best way to encourage someone to switch from a fossil fuel powered car to an EV is by allowing them to ride or drive in an EV. “Ride & drive” events are a great way to view and test drive different EV models all in one location and ask questions of other EV drivers. The City participates in at least a couple Ride & Drive events every year:


ii. Workshops - the City offers workshops throughout the year to share information and resources with residents. We also partner with the Stanford Health Improvement Program on a series of “Is an EV Right for You?” panel discussions with local, long-time EV drivers and experts. This class is typically offered twice per year in the fall and spring.

Attend an upcoming workshop to learn about how you save save money on rooftop solar and EVs.

The City will continue to update information on its EV webpages about programs and resources available to help people go EV, such as through rebates or other incentives. Please feel free to call or email us anytime at (650) 329-2241 or with questions about EVs and City programs. 

5. What are the different types of EVs and how do I know what is right for me?

There are over 40 different models of EVs and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) on the market today with varying battery ranges. Plug in America offers an EV Shopping Assistant to help you find the right EV to meet your needs. 

6. How do I charge my EV battery and what are the different types of EV chargers?

There are different types of EV chargers and knowing which one to use or understanding how fast it will charge your EV battery can be confusing. The length of time it takes to charge an EV depends on the type of EV and how well-charged your battery is when you plug in the car to begin charging. A full charge can range from 30 minutes to 12 hours, depending upon these factors. The length of charge will also depend on the size of the battery pack in the vehicle and the speed of the charging equipment. 

EV chargers are commonly referred to as Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3 (L1, L2, L3). 

Level 3 - Tesla Superchargers & DC Fast Chargers are the primary examples of L3 charging equipment. These charging stations are up to 16 times as fast as typical public charging stations. It can take about 20 minutes to 75 minutes to charge an EV battery to about 50% or 100% of full energy storage, respectively. 
Level 2 - It will take about 4 hours to fully charge a typical EV from a level 2 EV charger. 
Level 1 – This is often just a standard household power outlet using a 120-volt connection. An EV plugged into this type of power will typically require overnightcharging, or between 8 to 20 hours for a full charge. 

Different Types of Electric Vehicle Charging Equipment

7. What is the mileage range for an EV and can that get me where I need to go?

EV drivers tell us that for most commuters or multi-car households taking many short-distance trips, a 100-mile range that can usually be gained through one full charge is more than enough for daily commutes and errands. The larger battery capacities available in Teslas, Bolts and other new EV models have a higher mileage range and some feel that canalleviate anxiety around completing a longer single trip.   

8. Will my EV run out of battery before I reach my destination? 

When driving an EV, the fear of running out of battery charge before reaching a destination can be unnerving. The uncertainty of being able to complete a trip before needing to charge has long been described as a key impediment to adopting an EV for many potential EV owners. This is often referred to as “range anxiety.” Accessibility and convenience of charging equipmentis essential. Luckily, there are many places to charge an EV and resources available to help you locate EV chargers. Most EV drivers charge their vehicles at home overnight, but if you are unable to charge at home, do not let that deter you. Many EV drivers who do not have access to charging equipment at home are able to find plenty of ways to charge their EV in public locations or at work.

9. Over 80% of current EV drivers charge at home. Are there incentives for charging at home?

EV charging at single family homes – For most homes, a Level 2 charger is sufficient and convenient to use. You will want to make sure that your home is wired to provide enough electrical capacity for your EV, as well as all other home appliances using electricity. Most Level 2 EV chargers will pull about 30 to 50 amps of current. If your home has a 100 amp electrical panel, you may need to upgrade to a 200 amp panel. 

i. The City of Palo Alto has developed a streamlined permitting process to help homeowners upgrade their electrical panel.
ii. In some rare cases, the transformer supplying electricity to your home and other homes in the area may need to be upgraded to provide additional electrical capacity. If this is the case, you can apply for financial assistance from CPAU. We offer a rebate of up to $3,000 for a Utility Service Capacity upgrade

EV charging at multifamily complexes – About 50% of Palo Alto residentslive in multi-unit buildings. Until now, many of these residents had to rely on charging stations in public locations or at the workplace to charge their EV.

i.      To help make EVs a viable option for people who do not have easy access to a private garage or another area to charge an EV, CPAU offers a rebate of up to $18,000 for multifamily dwellings to install electric vehicle charging equipment. These funds can be used to install EV chargers in shared parking spaces, upgrade electrical services, and/or make a multi-unit parking garage EV ready for multiple EV chargers in the future. This can be a great benefit to your tenants and increase the value of living at your apartment, condominium or duplex building. Read more about Palo Alto’s EV Charger Rebate for multi-user facilities. 

10. Are there incentives for employers who want to install EV charging equipment so employees can charge at work?

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) offers grant funding for purchasing and installing publicly-available EV charging stations. Read more about the Air District's Charge! ProgramSchools and non-profits are eligible to receive rebates from CPAU of up to $5,000 per EV Charger, for a total of up to $30,000. Multifamily & mixed-use properties can receive up to $3,000 per EV Charger from CPAU, for a total of up to $18,000. Read more about CPAU's rebates for EV Chargers

11. How easy is it to charge my EV around town?

The City is attempting to make it as easy as possible for people to drive an EV in Palo Alto by installing EV charging stations at public facilities. There are currently seven L1 ports and 53 L2 ports located in public parking garages and at libraries throughout the City. The City plans to install at least a couple dozen more L2 chargers at public facilities as well as Superchargers. 

Additionally, people who work in Palo Alto will find that a number of businesses offer free EV charging for employees and visitors. 

12. Does it cost me to charge my EV at public locations in Palo Alto?
In 2017, the City adopted a fee structure for charging an EV at public charging stations. This is to recover the costs for supplying electricity and maintaining the charging station equipment. The current cost is 23 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to charge an EV in Palo Alto. Yet on average, it still costs about half as much to “fuel” an EV compared to a gasoline-powered vehicle, according to the US Department of Energy. In Palo Alto, we’ve implemented an “overstay” fee for EV drivers that leave their vehicles parked in the charging station spot after their car is fully charged. This is to discourage EV drivers from unnecessarily taking up an EV charging parking space when other EV drivers need the space to charge their vehicles.

13. How can I find EV charging locations in Palo Alto?
The City’s main EV webpage provides a map of charging stations. Additionally, numerous apps are available to help you look up locations of EV chargers: 

14.   What do I need to consider before purchasing & installing an EV Charger at home?

In order to install a home EV Charger, a permit from the City of Palo Alto is required. Follow the steps outlined on the EV Chargers for Home page.

15.   Are EV rates or Time-of-Use (TOU) rates available to me?

At this time an EV or TOU rate plan is not available. All residential customers pay for their electricity at the E-1 rate. Any new CPAU rate options, programs, or adjustments are publicized through the Residential Rates page. Please note that CPAU's average electricity rate is still much lower than the average rates in neighboring communities with a TOU rate plan.

CPAU has a pilot program called Customer Connect that installed advanced meters for participating residents with the option to enroll in a pilot TOU rate plan. However, we are no longer accepting new applicants as all participant slots have been reserved. If you'd like to be included in our mailing list to receive updates on EV-related rebates, TOU, or other future programs, please register. 

16.   As a CPAU customer, what is the best time of day to charge my EV?
Although CPAU currently does not offer a city-wide TOU rate, we highly recommend EV charging during post peak night hours to help lower the load and alleviate stress on the distribution grid. CPAU also recommends EV charging during the day in the Spring to consume excess solar PV generation. 

CPAU recommends EV charging during the following time periods:

 -     Nighttime: 11 pm to 6 am (All Seasons)
 -     Daytime: 9 am to 3 pm (Spring only)

17. Are the number of EVs on the market increasing?

Yes. In fact, some industry groups estimate that within a few years, EVs will account for at least 25% of all new vehicle sales. This report on California’s continued electric vehicle market development states that “California has continued to see much faster uptake of electric vehicles than elsewhere in the United States and most other places around the world.” The report continues saying, “The California market—about 96,000 electric vehicle sales in 2017—accounts for half of the U.S. market, as well as nearly half of cumulative electric vehicle sales through 2017.” 

As demand for EVs and EV charging continues to increase, we will see more and more charging infrastructure installed throughout the State of California and the United States. This helps further the ability for people to drive electric and not need to worry about the next place to charge up, even on long trips.

18. How does EV adoption relate to the City of Palo Alto’s Sustainability Climate Action Plan (S/CAP) the City’s Sustainability Implementation Plan (SIP)?

In April 2016, Palo Alto City Council unanimously adopted a goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2030. This ambitious goal is 20 years ahead of the State of California’s 80 percent by 2050 target.

To help achieve these goals, the City created a Sustainability Implementation Plan and dedicated a portion of the plan to EVs. Powering transportation through EVs as opposed to traditional fossil fuel powered vehicles can significantly reduce GHG and climate pollution. The largest portion of Palo Alto’s GHG emissions are from road transportation. Palo Alto is actively encouraging residents and non-resident commuters to adopt EVs to help reduce its carbon footprint – through policies, incentives and by providing EV charging infrastructure. The City continues to prioritize its efforts to accelerate EV penetration for both EV drivers in Palo Alto as well as EV drivers who visit Palo Alto and require destination charging. The City strives to make “going EV” more convenient and economical than using fossil fueled vehicles.  

19. Why is the City of Palo Alto concerned about my EV Charger installation?
Though an individual EV Charger may have a negligible impact on the utility electric system, the combined effect of several chargers in the same area could result in overloads on utility secondary wires and transformers. It is crucial that the City of Palo Alto Utilities is notified of any charging station installations to ensure that utility electrical system components are adequately sized to maintain high levels of service reliability. 

CPAU needs information on location (address), types of charging equipment, charging level (as defined by NEC, Article 625), and number of chargers or electric vehicles being installed.

20. Where can I ask EV or EV Charger related questions?
Please contact the following City of Palo Alto offices:

- General EV or EV Charger Questions: Utilities Program Services at (650) 329-2241
- Permit Related Questions: Development Services at (650) 329-2496
- Utility Service Upgrade Questions:  Utilities Electrical Engineering at (650) 566-4500

21. Not all EVs work the same way and there are many different acronyms associated with EVs, which can lead to confusion. To take away the myth behinds EVs, here are some frequently used acronyms and what they mean: 

a. AEV/BEV – All Electric Vehicle or Battery Electric Vehicle
b. ZEV - Zero Emission Vehicles (bicycles, scooters, BEVs and FCEVs) 
c. FCEV – Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (hydrogen vehicles)
d. PEV/PHEV – Plug-In Electric Vehicle or Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle
e. HEV – Hybrid Electric Vehicle
f. ICE – Internal Combustion Engine
g. EVSE - Electric Vehicle Service Equipment

•  AEV or BEV – use electricity stored in on-board battery packs as their only fuel source and are some of the greenest cars available. Some popular models include: Tesla Model 3, X and S, BMWi3, Nissan Leaf, Fiat 500e, Kia Soul EV, Volkswagen e-Golf, Ford Focus Electric.

ZEV – are AEV or BEV and also include electric bicycles, electric scooters, and fuel cell electric vehicles.
FCEV – use an electric motor that converts hydrogen into electricity. These vehicles offer fast refueling times and long driving ranges—but also require hydrogen refueling stations, which at present aren't widely available. Some popular models include the Toyota Mirai, Honda Clarity, Hyundai NEXO and FCEV.
PHEV – use both battery and gasoline as their fuel sources. Some popular models include the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, Ford C-Max Energi, Ford Fusion Energi, Chevrolet Volt, and Chevrolet Bolt.
HEV – use the combination of a conventional engine with some form of electric propulsion.  However, this category of vehicles is not considered an EV as they cannot be plugged in. Some popular models: Toyota Prius, Honda Insight.
ICE – use fossil fuel or gasoline as their power source. (Traditional vehicles)
EVSE – most commonly referred to as “chargers.” Chargers are how EVs receive their energy to power the vehicles. Chargers include: L1, L2, Tesla Supercharger and DC Fast Chargers.

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