Electric Vehicles

A utility blueprint for electric transportation

Want a fun dinner party conversation? Start talking about the future of mobility. Will an electric, autonomous, ride-sharing vehicle take me on my commute? Will the sidewalks in my neighborhood become cluttered with electric bicycles, scooters, or other “last mile” transportation options? Will I even own a car in several decades? What will happen to all of the parking lots and garages?

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do know that recent trends and various industry forecasts project that the electric vehicle market will continue to grow. As for autonomous vehicles, they are well-suited to be electric, and ride-sharing fleets are exploring electrification opportunities too. While the public may not automatically link electric utilities to the transportation sector, this movement towards electrified transport is important for utilities to understand. After all, providing customers with affordable and reliable electricity is a hallmark of public power.

Handling the growth of EVs at a utility means knowing the multitude of resources that can help in community planning and options to consider exploring for everything from incentives to rates and customer education.

At the federal level, the main incentive for adoption is the EV tax credit, but at the state and local level, there are a whole host of policies, laws, and regulations that can impact EV adoption. Some present a monetary benefit directly for EV drivers like state tax credits, rebates, and parking incentives. Other states may provide grant programs to advance EV technology and deployment. There are other laws that impact adoption too, like multi-unit dwelling policies, which can support charging infrastructure access, and public utility definitions and exemptions, which clarify who within the state has the right to sell electricity. These are just a few examples of what your state might be doing in the EV space.

You will also want to get a picture of vehicle model availability and charging infrastructure, not only in your service territory, but in the surrounding areas as well. A variety of online search engines enable users to compare vehicle models or locate charging stations.

Once you know what’s going on around you, what can you as a utility do? Whether you seek to promote EV adoption or just prepare for the new demand or load patterns, there are seven key areas you can explore from a utility perspective.

Deploy charging infrastructure

Depending on your local laws and regulations, you may be able to own and operate charging infrastructure within your service territory. Another option is to build make-ready infrastructure, where you add a service connection and the customer builds out and maintains responsibility for the charging station. These types of efforts help customers see charging an EV as a viable option.

Educate employees, customers, and auto dealers

Many people aren’t aware of the options for vehicles and charging, costs to own and charge EVs, and other changes that would come with driving an EV. Utilities can initiate a campaign to educate their staff, communities, and local auto dealers about EVs. You can start simple by offering information on your webpage and social media, and then progress to activities like participation in ride-and-drive events.

Electrify utility fleet

You can lead by example and explore electrifying your own utility fleet. This will also give you first-hand experience with the technology.

Evaluate rate design and payment options

Utilities can examine current rate structures through the perspective of EV drivers and charging station hosts. You will want to determine whether new rate schedules are needed. For example, time-of-use rates are typical for EV-specific rates. Consider how drivers will pay for any public charging stations deployed. This could range from free to subscription-based, pay-per charge, or pay-per hour.

Pilot vehicle-grid integration technologies

EVs are essentially mobile batteries, so some utilities are already exploring ways to use EVs as a grid asset to help manage load.

Provide incentives

Whether it is for the purchase of an EV, charging infrastructure, or both, public power utilities are offering their customers monetary incentives. These incentives can be used to help track trends in EV adoption in your service territory.

Understand and project EV adoption and grid impacts

Analyzing and projecting EV adoption is helpful for estimating new load and associated grid impacts. From the department of motor vehicles to auto dealers, there are ways to access adoption data. There are also characteristics of EV adopters that you can compare to your customer base to help project EV adoption. Additionally, monitoring and examining charging behavior can aid in understanding how this new load will impact your system.

Learn more about these strategies, including examples of what other utilities are doing, in the Association’s latest EV resource, Creating an EV Blueprint for Your Community: Public Power Strategies. Utility, state association, and joint action agency members are also invited to join the Association’s Electric Vehicle Interest Group as part of the discussion on the Public Power Forward listserv.