Energy Efficiency
Electric Vehicles

Public power and electrification

The bad news (at least from a traditional utility perspective) — for the past few years, electricity loads of many public power utilities have been flat or even declining. The good news — the future looks a lot more electric. From all-electric homes to electrified transport, increased use of electricity is seen as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money. 

This transformation is already happening. In 2013, I purchased a plug-in hybrid that could go 14 miles on a charge. (That was on a good day — in the winter performance suffered!) I almost always charged at home, but if I did take the car to Reagan National Airport, I could always get one of the few free charging spaces. This year, I leased a new plug-in hybrid with an electric-only range of 26 miles. I visit our local Shell station once every two months or so, unless we take the car on a long-distance trip (and even then, we get great mileage!). And I don’t even bother to try and get a charging spot at the airport these days — they are always all taken by the Teslas and the LEAFs.   

The extent of the growth of electric end uses is hard to predict, and forecasts are wide-ranging. For example, different reports in the past two years project that in 30 years, anywhere from 8% to 80% of cars will be electric, and overall load will grow anywhere from 13% to 52%.

There are two things we as public power utilities can take away from these forecasts. First, even the most conservative estimates show that loads will likely grow above and beyond the efficiency gains we’ll see in the coming decades. Second, how much we choose to support electrification has the potential to make a big difference in the electric technologies our customers will choose.

As noted in the Q&A with Electric Power Research Institute’s Mark Duvall, the biggest gains in load are expected in the states that have policies and goals favorable to electrification, most of which support reduced carbon emissions. But policy isn’t the only factor that can encourage change.

This issue of Public Power magazine highlights how utilities in states across the U.S. are pushing the needle on electrification. From Arizona to Tennessee and Washington to Texas, utilities are educating their customers about electric vehicles. We’ve provided some material you can use to educate your community about the cost and means of charging EVs.

Some public power utilities are promoting electric heat pumps and electric stoves. They are rethinking their relationship with large commercial and industrial customers and how they can better support those customers’ operations.

Electrification isn’t just good for utilities’ bottom line, but the trends around it directly support the public power business model. Electrification means more energy use is kept local and more revenue stays in your communities. If done right, electrification reduces total energy use, keeping costs down for customers and minimizing environmental impacts.

As our customers large and small rethink where their energy comes from, we should be ready and able to explain to them which technologies and sources provide the best value for them — even when it isn’t electricity. Part of being a trusted energy provider for your customers is being straight with them. They should expect that from their public power utility — after all, we exist to serve them.