Electric vehicle interest is rising: How can utility companies educate buyers & manage the grid?

Published on August 25, 2022 by Erin D’Amato

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The following is a contributed article by Erin D’Amato, Director of Innovation Solutions at Uplight.

The wallets of drivers everywhere are starting to run dry at gas stations as national gas prices continue to soar. Currently, the average price of gas is $4.95 a gallon, according to reporting by AAA. Today, filling your tank can now cost more than $70- $90, depending on your car and where you live. With gas prices painfully high for nearly five months, people are looking for alternatives to feel less pressure at the pump.

According to a study by professional services network EY, over half of consumers — 52% — who intend to buy a car in the next 24 months say they will choose an electric vehicle (EV) or hybrid vehicle. By 2033, EY predicts EV sales will dominate the sales of all other types of vehicles — five years sooner than experts previously anticipated. Although sales of EVs are increasing, some EV purchasers are less happy because only 11% report that charging access is always available at home. Energy providers have been introduced with new challenges because if EV purchasers do not make them aware of their new car, utilities don’t know where EVs are on the grid, making planning and managing the load at any given time difficult and sometimes impossible.

With the market rapidly trending in favor of EVs, there is an opportunity for utilities to educate their customers on owning one. This will not only help energy providers prepare to manage the grid, but create a space for EV buyers and utilities to engage with one another to bridge this gap, making everyone happy.

The Opportunity for Utility Companies to Educate First-Time EV Buyers

Nearly all first-time EV purchasers did not think about charging their vehicles or contacting their utility provider before their purchase, according to interviews conducted by Uplight. However, what most EV buyers do not realize is that discussing their purchase with their energy provider can help them charge their car more efficiently, maximize the positive impact of their green investment and ultimately save money.

A recent study found that 78% of U.S. adults surveyed said they had no access to EV charging where they currently park their vehicles, which demonstrates a misunderstanding that vehicles can be charged with a simple wall plug. This is a crucial time for collaboration between automakers, charging manufacturers, and utilities to provide educational tools and chargers for EV buyers. This way,  more customers can not only charge their vehicles at home, but also understand best practices for at-home charging too. As the number of EVs on the road grows, energy providers are at an advantage to provide the charging infrastructure to power them. Meeting customers where they are, or where they park their cars, will not only help consumers understand the best charging practices, but will also allow energy providers to drive more customers onto EV programs that are critical to their long-term goal of balancing increased energy demand. This will help customers make the most out of their new, greener purchases while simultaneously introducing a better use of the grid’s resources.

Managing More EVs on the Grid

Knowing which of their customers recently purchased an EV can help simplify the managed charging process and allow utility providers to get ahead of the inevitable increased EV load on the grid. According to the Federal Energy Management Program, managed EV charging balances vehicle energy needs and the control objectives from the energy source. Utilities can even save up to 41% on serving their residential electric vehicle charging loads by deploying smart charging technologies like managed EV charging. Managed charging can ensure EVs are properly powered when needed, while also supporting a more reliable and resilient grid. Managed EV charging can operate individually on a network, seamlessly and automatically adjusting power levels or shifting charging sessions, or with human planning where drivers can opt to charge their vehicles when there is less strain on the grid and the TOU (time of use) rates are lower.

While the cost of electricity is significantly more stable than the cost of gas in the US, electricity used at peak hours will cost EV drivers the most. According to utility provider DTE, charging an EV overnight on a TOU rate is like paying less than $1 for a gallon of gasoline. For example, depending on the driver’s electricity plan, charging during off-peak hours can cost 11 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) compared to 24 cents per kWh during peak hours. If an EV needs 40 kWh to recharge a fully depleted battery, and the rate is 11 cents per kWh, that’s only $4.40 for a fill-up. If your current car has a gas tank that is 15 gallons (about the average size), it would cost you nearly $70 to fill up your tank.

Ultimately, managed charging programs need to be designed with customers in mind to enable EV consumers to see the benefits in enrolling. In order to realize the full benefits of driving an EV, energy customers must engage with their energy footprint and their utility company. Once engaged, consumers will be open to acting in bigger ways, like participating in a managed charging program. Programs with upfront benefits also have an increased retention because through them, customers continue to visualize how much money they are saving. Utilities have a wide array of hardware and software technologies they can use to support these managed charging programs and decrease the grid load. Incentivizing consumers to charge during off-peak hours is one way energy providers can manage the charging process. Behavioral messaging, such as encouraging customers to charge at times that benefit the grid or are good for the environment, or monetary incentives like gift cards can help reduce the grid load and help customers develop positive habits with their EV charging.

Educating buyers on their EVs will also help energy providers manage the grid, potentially reducing the load by up to 30%. Communicating with their customers about positive charging habits will allow utility providers to develop their own best practices surrounding grid load, like incentive programs for their customers with EVs. As more drivers become EV owners, energy providers have a great opportunity to drive customers towards greener decisions.