It’s not hard to find hype about electric vehicles today – from reports forecasting wide-scale adoption to others indicating the its demise due to a lack of early adoption. Yet utilities need a more concrete means to assess EV adoption and determine if and when a long-term strategy is required for their particular service territories.
Rather than relying on national trends and the flavor of the week, power providers need to take a close look at local drivers for EV adoption, and create a plan to monitor and support customers who buy them.
Assessing the Need for EV Load Management Programs
The first step in getting a handle on EVs is to map realistic adoption scenarios (low, med, high) to identify if and where substantial adoption is likely to occur. The simplest way to start this process is to open lines of communication with customers, car dealers, retailers, the DMV and other key parties. How many EVs have been sold in the last 6 months in each distribution network? Where are public stations needed? What do customers think?
What are the weak infrastructure points and maximum demand thresholds in the distribution network? The key question is: How many EVs can be adopted in each area before it requires proactive management of charging loads?
Finally, a plan for monitoring EV adoption should be defined before problems arise. A portion of the EV charging stations installed in a particular service territory should be mapped according to the typical charging profile for each area. Focus can then be centered on hot spots as they occur — which is far more cost effective and manageable than implementing programs and infrastructure across an entire service territory.
Identify and Monitor Uptake
Creating and implementing adoption analytics is an easy way to identify hot spots and monitor uptake. Once adoption trends indicate a need for proactive charging management, move forward with developing an EV Load Management (EVLM) Business Case. As part of this process, consider creating special EV rates and/or incentives that will help consumers (and an operation) make a smooth transition.
The next step is defining the people, process and technology requirements needed to monitor and manage EV loads. For the latter, it’s important to select future-proof solutions based on utility-side interoperability as well as flexibility for customers. Power providers don’t have control over which stations and technologies customers adopt, so they will need solutions that have the ability to monitor and control a broad variety of charging systems.
A prudent strategy is to deploy and test these EVLM technologies with a subset of target customers, which will help gather feedback and make refinements before going live. At this step, the utility will also be able to solidify the value of selected technologies and confirm the most attractive charging programs for various customer classes. Capturing and disseminating this information as success stories and securing stakeholder support is critical for effectively engaging additional customers.
Engage Customers Early and Often
A well-executed customer engagement strategy will help drive success. As part of any EV program implementation, utilities should begin to engage customers early — before technologies have been selected or implemented — and communicate often to update on progress and gather feedback as the program rolls out.
Proactively engage dealers, retail establishments, residential and commercial customers with compelling, bundled EVLM programs to address the unique needs of each segment. Where possible, use insight gleaned during the trial to identify particular incentives that motivate each customer group to take action.
Participating in committees that establish public charging infrastructure programs is another way to engage customers. This will not only allow a utility to shape some of the large-scale EV charging decisions, but demonstrate a long-term commitment to the future of EVs in its area.
End Goal: EVLM as a Revenue Source
As EV adoption rises and utilities solidify their charging programs, operators will be on their way to utilizing EVs as a revenue source through either TOU rates or discounted off-peak charging incentives. The overall revenue opportunity for operators has been predicted to exceed $200 million by 2015.
Power providers deploying EV load management as part of a broader Demand Side Management platform will also be able to provide zero-emissions charging for environmentally minded customers by tapping off-peak renewable power programs utilizing “reverse DR” to charge vehicles when the wind blows (at night) and utilizing solar for commercial/daily charging. And utilities can even drive uptake by working with dealers to incent customer EV adoption.
Regardless of what stage a utility is at in the process of monitoring and managing EV adoption, it’s critical to keep tabs on customer trends by communicating frequently with stakeholders and tracking EV sales and registration. This continued investment in EV assessment is insurance for grid stability, revenue opportunity, and service availability, quality and reliability.
Image: EV parking lot via Shutterstock