Electric Vehicles

Austin Energy sees third party EV charging as win-win

Austin Energy, the public power utility serving the Austin, Texas, area, has successfully petitioned Austin’s City Council to change the city’s code to allow third parties to own and operate EV stations and resell electric vehicle charging within their service territory.

“It is a win-win that allows market competition for EV charging in our territory that enables more chargers and choice for our drivers and new commercial accounts for the utility all while supporting the city’s climate protection goals,” said Karl Popham, who heads up the utility’s electric vehicles and emerging technologies team.

“We see the industry rolling out fast chargers, some to support national partnerships, some to sell their own electric vehicles, or others that are required to do so as part of a national settlement and we want to capture as many of these investments as possible for Austin,” Popham said.

“We don’t want [the city code] to be a barrier for them and their core business,” Popham said. “We want national programs that aim to electrify our nation’s roads to have a good experience in doing business in Austin and with Austin Energy.”

Austin Energy wants to accommodate people for whom a network of fast charging DC stations is fundamentally required to support their business model, such as electric taxis or ride sharing services and inter-city travel. (Popham discussed Austin Energy’s efforts in working with ridesharing services in a Public Power Daily article published in July).

Encouraging third party development of fast charging EV stations could aid in the adoption of electric vehicles. It is good for Austin Energy’s business, as well. “DC fast charging hubs make fantastic new commercial accounts,” Popham said. “We encourage every municipal utility to look at the value to their financial health as well as supporting community goals.”

Austin Energy is also an industry leader in fighting climate change. “Transportation is now the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States,” Popham said. “The most promising and scalable technology that exists today to reduce emissions is by switching fossil fuel vehicles to plug-in electric vehicles,” he said. “Our ultimate strategy is we want the future fuel of transportation to come from plugging into renewable energy sources.”

Austin Energy is still rolling out its own fleet of DC charging stations in addition to growing and supporting its existing 760 Level 2 public charging stations, so it is not outsourcing this function either. Over the next six months, the utility plans to roll out another 10 DC stations, in addition to its DC pilot on Electric Drive. Additionally, Austin Energy recently won a $1.6 million grant from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that will support the installation of another 24 DC charging stations bringing the total to 35 Austin Energy fast charging stations by the end of 2020.

Fast charging stations are only part of Austin Energy’s EV strategy. “If everyone had to rely on DC fast charging, it would quickly surpass the cost of gas,” Popham said. “DC charging is the most expensive form of electric fuel,” he said. “This is why we support and rebate customer Level 2 charging programs at homes, multifamily, and businesses. The most affordable and most utilized electric fuel today is from drivers that plug into regular 110v outlets and do an overnight ‘trickle-charge.’”

According to the utility’s annual EV report, Austin has seen a 50% increase in electric vehicles over the last three years, and Austin Energy now has about 6,000 electric plug-in vehicles in its service territory and about 85% of those vehicles’ owners charge their cars at home and mostly at night. That maximizes the value of “Texas’ amazing wind resource,” Popham said, where West Texas wind tends to blow at night.

Austin Energy is also looking to ensure programs scale and look into the future at ways to optimize the value of EVs on its system. By extrapolating data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) Long Term System Assessment, Austin could have “19,200 MWh of energy storage capacity driving around on our roads by 2031,” Popham said.

He said Austin Energy is looking at ways to leverage this new storage as a grid asset to include a current time of use residential EV pilot, Vehicle to Grid (V2G) integration as part of its SHINES project, and successfully completing a residential EV charging Demand Response pilot using open standards.   

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