2023 Topical Reporting: Climate Change finalist

Race to Zero: California’s bumpy road to electrify cars and trucks

About the Project

California is undergoing a transformation like none other. In three years, more than a third of new cars purchased in California must be zero-emissions, and beginning with 2035 models, no new gasoline-powered cars will be sold. The mandate will have a dramatic impact on Californians’ lives, and this move to rapidly electrify all vehicles will spread to other states. But it carries with it many uncertainties and lingering questions, including the affordability and practicality of the vehicles. In our multimedia “Race to Zero” series, CalMatters is holding government and industry accountable as California launches a historic journey.

In the summer of 2022, when California approved its landmark mandate, the state had just experienced an unprecedented, 10-day power crisis. Californians asked: How can the state guarantee that there will be enough electricity for 12 million electric cars if it can’t keep the lights on now? CalMatters launched an exclusive analysis of the state’s power grid. The findings: California’s promise that the grid could cope is based on a series of flawed, optimistic assumptions. Reporter Nadia Lopez discovered that powering these vehicles and electrifying other sectors of the economy means the state must triple its power generation capacity and deploy new solar and wind energy at almost five times the pace of the past decade. Our reporting led to a top-ranking state lawmaker grilling state officials about CalMatters’ findings, ordering them to do more to prepare the grid.

The series includes interactive graphics showing where battery materials are sourced from, probing whether the grid can handle the load, and revealing that EV ownership is centered mostly in affluent, white, urban areas, leaving rural and low-income communities behind.