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Austin Energy sees success with EV charging program

Austin Energy’s pilot electric vehicle charging rate program has been successful in attracting participants and reducing EV charging during peak usage hours, according to a report from the Texas utility.

“From the utility’s perspective, the program has paid for itself without incurring cross subsidization between electric vehicle owners and other ratepayers, and there has been 99% compliance with the off-peak charging incentive,” Lindsey McDougall, EV program manager at Austin Energy, said.

The utility’s pilot program is unique, McDougall says, because it uses a subscription model and it includes the use of Austin Energy’s public EV charging network.

Participants in the EV360 program were given unlimited charging at Austin Energy’s public PlugIn EVerywhere charging stations and unlimited offpeak charging at home. Offpeak hours are from 7:00 pm to 2:00 pm on weekdays, and any time on weekends.

The report reviews the utility’s EV360 Plug-In Electric Vehicle Charging Subscription pilot program. The rates for the program were published in November 2015 and the marketing campaign began in April 2016. Enrollment for the program ended in 2019.

Participants in the program pay a flat, monthly rate of $30 for off-peak charging or, if they have demand of 10 kW or more, they pay $50 per month. If a vehicle is charged during on-peak hours, an on-peak adder is applied in addition to the monthly subscription fee.

The adder is set at $0.40/kWh fuel charges in the summer (June through September) and $0.14/kWh fuel charges during non-summer (October-May).

One of the primary goals of the pilot program was to shift charging demand from on-peak to off-peak hours.

From the initial cost study using 89 customers’ EV360 meter data from the beginning of the program, the rate was 99% effective with nearly every EV360 customer avoiding on-peak charges, the report says. In addition, participants reported they were very satisfied with the EV360 program. A survey found that 83% of customers rated the program very highly and 63% gave the program a 10 out of 10 rating.

Participation in the program was limited to 100 EV360 meters and was only for customers that own or lease a plug-in EV, own a detached home, and have an Austin Energy residential electric account with an electric simple meter or solar meter. The program included customers both inside and outside of Austin city limits.

Participation also required customers to pay for the installation of a sub-meter and for an inspection of the sub-meter. Participants had to commit to 12 consecutive billing cycles in the program or they would incur a $200 termination fee and an enrollment fee of $150.

Austin Energy’s research showed that the typical EV driver would pay, on average, $26 on Austin Energy’s regular residential rate. The existing Plug-In EVerywhere program costs $4.17 per month. Combined, Austin Energy would provide both services for home and away charging, for the rounded cost of $30 a month for the lower tier and $50 a month for the higher tier.

The analysis in the report showed that customers inside city limits save an average of $0.45 per month compared with standard rates. Customers outside city limits pay about $3.69 more per month. However, outside city limit customers appear to drive and charge more in comparison to inside city limit customers. EV360 customers who continue to charge on-peak or who did not charge much at home to begin with might see their rates increase. The results do not include charging on the public network.

Austin Energy is looking for ways to expand its EV360 program, McDougall says. But before rolling out the program to a wider customer base, the utility is looking at making some changes. For instance, Austin Energy is exploring ways to run the program without customers having to install a sub-meter, which complicates the program and adds to the customers’ costs. One possibility would be to use vehicle telematics, which combine a GPS system with on-board diagnostics to keep track of a vehicle’s performance.

Austin Energy is also exploring the possibility of outsourcing the billing/incentive associated with the program in order to avoid using too much of the utility staff’s bandwidth.

EV360 is the first residential EV charging rate that Austin Energy has offered customers. Some customers save a lot of money under the program, other save just a little, but overall customers love the program, McDougall says. About 600 customers are on a waiting list to join the program, she says.

“People love that the price is predictable,” McDougall says. “A lot of industries – like Netflix and cell phones – are moving toward that model. It is a win-win for the customer and the utility.”

The report is available here.

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