Updated: Jan 12, 2021
Katie Sloan’s first car was a well-loved, light blue, 1979 Mercedes diesel “tank” with a front passenger window that wouldn’t close properly. Her father, a “strong” U.S. Marine Corps officer, and her mom, a scientist and an expert phlebotomist, had always encouraged her to be curious about how things work and open to exploring new ideas. So she did what any confident, inquisitive 16-year-old would do: she took the door of the Mercedes apart to see if she could fix the dysfunctional window herself.
Ultimately, she would need a trained mechanic to “unstick” the window. But not before coming to the realization that math and logic are key to understanding and resolving many everyday problems. That discovery would also help lead her to a career in economics, where math and logic also prevail; they help explain how markets work, how economic policy affects consumer behavior, and how to create a balance between economic policy and market forces.
Today, as the director of eMobility for Southern California Edison (SCE), Sloan leads an electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure campaign that the utility hopes will persuade millions of Californians to give up their fossil-fuel powered vehicle for a #climatechange-fighting EV. It's an activity that draws both on her training in economics – she received a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, both in economics, from New Mexico State University – and her disciplined problem-solving skills.
“Our goal is to put seven million EVs on the road in California by 2030,” said Sloan. “We do this by making sure that charging is available, that the fueling is clean and affordable, and that our customers understand the benefits of electric vehicles.”
According to Sloan, the state has approximately 500,000 EVs on the road today. SCE, one of the nation's largest electric utilities, serves more than 15 million people in a 50,000 square-mile area in central, coastal and Southern California. The program she leads, known as Charge Ready, is part of a larger SCE effort to electrify the transportation sector.
“We’re looking at this issue across all modes of transportation, from passenger vehicles to port equipment to transit buses and school buses,” explained Sloan. “We’re looking to electrify anything you can think of that’s on the road today.”
Power to the People
Charge Ready began as a pilot program in mid-2016. Its goal was to reduce the cost and complexity of deploying charging stations for SCE customers, which include workplaces, apartments, condominiums, and owners of vehicle fleets. It also includes destinations such as hotels, theme parks, universities and city/county facilities where drivers might spend four hours or more.
The Charge Ready pilot program reached its initial goal of installing 1,000 charging stations in 24 months in mid-2018.
In a follow-on program proposed to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), SCE hopes to install another 32,000 charging ports in its service area and provide rebates for charging stations and installation at new construction sites for another 18,000 charging ports. A charging port is the nozzle that plugs into a car. A charging station typically has one or two charging ports.
Building a Clean Future
Sloan manages a staff of 25 from her office in Rosemead, California, a 60,000 person community about 15 miles northeast of Downtown Los Angeles. Her team draws inspiration from the work of the late SCE President Ron Nichols, who passed away in June 2019.
“Ron was a tireless advocate for electric transportation,” said Sloan. “He worked very hard to bring together organizations and other utilities, both in California and regionally, because he felt we should be leading the effort to clean up the air and address climate change.”
Sloan and her team take that mission very seriously.
“We have this target of 2030—that’s 10 years away—and by having that target, that North Star, we’ll be able to get the best and brightest people focused on those barriers,” she exclaimed. “I have faith that even though it will be complicated and difficult, we’ll be able to do it.”
Equity is Job One
Charge Ready, however, is more than just a numbers game. It also reflects SCE’s focus on equity and environmental justice.
“Approximately half of the charging ports deployed in our pilot program have been installed in disadvantaged communities,” emphasized Sloan. “These communities often suffer disproportionately from economic, environmental and health factors related to air pollution from nearby trucking routes."
“We see our role as providing clean fuel
for the electrification of California’s vehicles.”
-- Katie Sloan, SCE
In May 2019, SCE announced the launch of Charge Ready Transport, a program modeled after Charge Ready that plans to deploy charging stations for medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles including transit and school buses, delivery trucks, forklifts, and port equipment at a minimum of 870 commercial sites in SCE’s service area.
“This program is tailored specifically to Southern California, where the goods movement is critical to the economy, but also a major source of GHG emissions and air pollution,” Sloan said at a recent program launch event.
Driving the Vision
Sloan, who is married with a two-year-old daughter, not only talks a good story of electrification, but also lives and drives it. She and her husband are a one-car (a BMW i3 EV) family. Her days begin with mother/daughter time and a 30-minute commute from her home in Arcadia, Calif. to Rosemead. Along the way, she swings by her favorite coffee shop for an almond-macadamia iced latte to go with a few headlines from her local NPR station.
A typical day for Sloan includes both time in the office and, if she’s lucky, out in the field. She meets regularly with SCE executives and other members of her cross-functional team involved in shaping and communicating the utility’s vision of the future. She also makes frequent presentations at industry conferences, and serves as an expert witness for SCE proposals submitted to the CPUC.
“What I enjoy most is seeing our customers’ operations,” she said. “The complexity they deal with (in evolving their facilities and fleets of vehicles) is always eye-opening, illuminating and helpful for us as we think through the path forward.”
Blue Skies, Silent Highways
It is not lost on Sloan, however, that California is both a leader in #cleanenergy and home to some of the worst air pollution in the country thanks to its large transportation sector and the growing regularity and intensity of wildfires linked to climate change.
“When it comes to the electrification of vehicles, California is truly leading the charge, pun intended,” she said. “But we can’t just have California (electrifying vehicles). We also need the U.S. to electrify its vehicles to keep those EV trends going – lower prices, higher availability, and making people more comfortable with the technology.”
“If we can do that,” she concludes, “we can get to a place with clean air and clean energy and do it in a way that has the economy flourishing, not just surviving.”
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