By Garrett Johnston, Director of Utility Programs at SemaConnect
Electric vehicle (EV) programs from power companies are like fingerprints – no two are exactly alike. Some utilities provide rebates to residents and businesses part or all the cost of installing EV chargers. Others provide free or low-cost upgrades of electrical infrastructure on the utility side of the charger. Still, others provide EV rates that encourage EV owners and businesses to charge their cars overnight to lighten the peak load.
But while some utilities boast all these options, others are still developing their EV programs. The good news for those utilities still formulating EV strategies: They can learn a lot from their first-moving peers. Utilities in states like California and Colorado offer extensive rebates for EV charging stations.
EV Ready Infrastructure
Not every building has the necessary electrical infrastructure to support EV charging stations. To address this, some utilities are offering EV Ready programs. This involves retrofitting properties with electrical infrastructure and encouraging or subsidizing it in new construction.
Georgia Power is an excellent example of this type of program. As part of an $18 million investment, the utility provides everything to customers except for the charger itself. Depending on the property’s readiness, this can range from transformer upgrades to trenching to adding breaker panels.
EV Ready programs are a win-win-win for utilities, station owners, and drivers. The utility increases their capacity to sell more electricity. Owners save money on installation. Drivers have more places to charge their vehicles.
Without legislative support, it can be difficult for utilities to provide EV programs to their customers. If this is the case, utilities may have to get creative. One option is to work together. In Massachusetts, Eversource and National Grid worked in tandem to propose a plan to regulators. They asked for a combined $468 million for programs to provide rebates for EV charging infrastructure. Specifically, National Grid requested approval to provide up to $700 for upgrading single-family homes with 240-volt service while also offering $3,000 for EV chargers placed in low-income or environmental justice communities.
That’s not the only way utilities can get creative in promoting EVs. As part of a larger initiative of its parent company, Exelon Corp., Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE) is supporting ridesharing drivers from lower-income areas. BGE will install and operate a 500-charger network available to all EV drivers containing both DCFC and Level 2 charging stations. Largely, the program aims to provide more charging to ridesharing drivers. “Publicly available charging infrastructure is critical to electrifying vehicles operating on transportation network companies’ platforms,” states BGE.
Focus on Underserved Communities
Like Exelon, all utilities should work to install EV infrastructure in underserved communities or ones that are disproportionately affected by pollution. Legislative and regulatory mandates in California, Colorado, New York, Massachusetts, and most recently, Nevada are among those calling for utilities to invest millions of dollars in underserved communities. NV Energy, for example, will spend $100 million on EV infrastructure over the next three years with more than half of that dedicated to disadvantaged communities. This will include money to develop a network of electric school buses.
Of course, no utility EV plan would be complete without helping to electrify fleets – both the utility’s own vehicles and their commercial fleet customers. Some utilities have even started their own deregulated fleet advisory services such as Duke Energy’s eTransport unit that provides EV planning and analysis to fleet operators.
Work With Other Organizations
All utilities – whether they are a municipality, cooperative or investor-owned entity – should also work with clean cities organizations in their states. Clean cities organizations can often help with education, as well to help finance projects through grants and other funding.
Lastly, utilities need to educate customers about the benefits of EVs. Many regulatory agreements call for utilities to spend significant resources educating customers on the benefits. This can be done on the utility’s website, social media, and public relation efforts. Education is truly vital, and utilities are well-suited to explain how EVs will change the way we fuel our cars. No longer will we stop at fueling stations for 10 minutes for a fill up. Instead, we will top off wherever are – just like we do with our phones and laptops.
Utilities should continue to expand their incentives over the coming years for EV infrastructure. While different areas have different needs and circumstances, utilities should work with regulators to find ways to maximize the investment in each area to enable EV adoption for single and multi-family homes as well as at businesses.