DRIVE: California's Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program

Consumer Upgrades

Consumer Upgrades

If you’re buying a new vehicle, do your homework. Here are some excellent resources to help you narrow down your choice for a cleaner, energy efficient vehicle:

Choosing an Alternative Fuel Vehicle

Hybrid Electric Vehicles

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) are powered by conventional or alternative fuels through an internal combustion engine and electrical energy stored in a battery. The battery is charged through regenerative braking and the internal combustion engine and is not plugged into an electric power source.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) are powered by an internal combustion engine and electrical energy stored in a battery. The vehicle can be plugged into an electric power source to charge in addition to regenerative braking and the internal combustion engine.

Plug-in Electric Vehicles

Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEVs) run completely on electricity stored in a battery that powers the motor. PEVs are charged by regenerative braking and by plugging the vehicle into an electric power source.

If you decide that a plug-in electric vehicle fits your driving needs, contact your electrical utility. Most California utilities have checklists, rate calculators and other resources just for EV owners.

What Level of Charger Do You Need for Plug-Ins?

Start with the vehicle: Look at the manufacturer websites for the charging requirements for their vehicles. Find out what plug-in electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) you may need for charging at home, at work or while out on the road. Vehicle and EVSE manufacturers are working with utilities to develop an effective, integrated and streamlined infrastructure installation process. Most vehicles and EVSE will allow users to set timers in order to tailor charging schedules so they won't be required to actually get up during off-peak hours to start the charging process.

While nearly all electric vehicles can be charged using a standard 3-prong cord and outlet (120 volts), most BEV drivers will prefer the convenience of charging more quickly with a 240-volt outlet like those powering an electric dryer. Using faster charging equipment usually requires a utility service upgrade - installing a dedicated higher amperage circuit, the EVSE appliance itself, and potentially an upgraded panel and circuit breakers.

Alternating Current (AC) Level 1 charging takes advantage of existing residential or commercial 120-volt wiring and connects through any three-pronged outlet. Be prepared for a long wait – fully charging most electric cars from a near empty state of charge can take anywhere from 8 to over 24 hours.

A faster way to go is AC Level 2 using a purpose-built EVSE. Depending on the electric vehicle's internal charging equipment, Level 2 can deliver up to ten times the power of Level 1, and significantly reduces charging time. , Installation of Level 2 charging equipment typically requires some modification of electrical wiring and may necessitate obtaining an electrical permit. Typical costs are $500 to $1,800 per home.

Your utility company also needs to know that you're planning to install a 240-volt charging station (EVSE) so that they can ensure reliable electrical service for your neighborhood. California utility companies continue to develop creative ways to redistribute energy demand through various load management programs such as demand response options, time-of-use rates, energy storage facilities, distributed generation based microgrids, consumer education programs and making the electrical grid smarter.

Will your Home Need an Upgrade?

  • Your utility company can tell you if your home requires an electrical utility upgrade and will explain the process, advising you about costs, equipment installation and local building department permitting and inspection details. Some utilities will send an installer out to your home. An industry-wide effort is being made to simplify and streamline these processes.
  • Visit your local electrical utility company's website to research utility rate options and how your new car might affect your utility bill. Many utilities offer discounted rates for consumers charging EVs. You'll want to know the most cost-efficient time for charging your car. Learn about on- and off-peak charging to determine which rate plan is the best option for you. On- and off-peak hours vary by utility, so it is important to check with your utility to take advantage of reduced rates. For example, in San Diego, the most expensive rate applies between 12 PM to 8 PM while in Sacramento, these times vary by the season. It's best to be safe and check specifics with your own utility.
  • Consider installing a second meter dedicated to tracking your electric vehicle charging activity if you plan on taking advantage of separate tariff rates for your home and electric vehicle usage.
  • In some cases, consumers may want to enlist the services of a licensed electrical contractor. Guidelines for hiring a state licensed electrical contractor can be found at the Contractor State Licensing Board.
  • The actual time it takes to complete the installation of your charging system can vary from a few days to several weeks depending upon how much upgrading is needed and if the neighborhood requires a transformer load increase.

Incentives for Home Recharging

  • Information about vehicle charging, equipment and installation can be found at Drive Clean.
  • Incentives may be available to offset the cost to install your charging system at Go Electric Drive.
  • If you live in a multi-residential complex, talk to your building manager about plans for installing charging stations.


E85 is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline and is used predominantly in light-duty vehicles. Only certain vehicles, known as flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs), possess the necessary engine modifications to accommodate the use of E85 (as well as conventional gasoline). FFVs are offered by several vehicle manufacturers. To determine if your vehicle can use E85, consult your owner's manual or check the inside of your car's fuel filler door for an identification sticker.

Find out more information about E85 vehicles here.


Biodiesel is a diesel fuel blended with biofuel sources at various concentrations, including 5 percent (B5), which is approved for sale in California as diesel fuel. Blend concentrations also range from 5 percent to 99 percent (B5 to B99) and have varying emissions and fuel quality characteristics. Generally, the higher the biofuel blend concentration, the greater the potential GHG emission reductions.

Consult with your light-duty diesel vehicle manufacturer or find more information about biodiesel here.

Natural Gas

Natural gas, an odorless, nontoxic, gaseous mixture of hydrocarbons—predominantly methane—is becoming a popular alternative fuel with consumers and fleet owners interested in purchasing vehicles that comply with California's emissions standards, lower fuel costs, and further the state's objectives of reducing petroleum dependence and GHG emissions. While government and public fleets represent the majority of vehicle owners, the number of vehicles owned by commercial owners has steadily increased.

Find information and check out rebates.


Fuel cell vehicles, using hydrogen as fuel, are a prominent prospect for encouraging the deployment of alternative fuels. These vehicles emit no GHG emissions or air pollutants from the tailpipe, and have a significantly lower lifecycle carbon intensity than a comparable gasoline vehicle. Like other alternative fuel vehicles, they can also reduce dependence on foreign imports, as hydrogen can be derived from domestic sources of energy.

Discover more about hydrogen here.

Fueling Infrastructure

Charging equipment and vehicle manufacturers are working with local and regional agencies to provide coordinated infrastructure networks of publicly accessible charging locations. Use Google Maps to find electric vehicle charging stations along your route.

Additionally, find alternative fueling stations in your location.

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