Electric vehicles (EVs) have been around for a long time, but their latest resurgence looks here to stay. They save drivers money on gasoline and maintenance, support the environment and deliver a quiet, smooth, fun ride. But the benefits to EV owners are only one part of the picture. The technology has much to offer electric co-ops as well, which are quickly becoming new vehicle fuel providers as people trade the gas pump for an electrical outlet.
Why Co-ops Should Support Electric Vehicles
For electric co-ops, which provide reliable, safe and affordable energy services to more than 42 million people across the U.S., EVs represent an opportunity to support their members and their local community, a core focus of their business model.
Below are several specific ways that EVs benefit co-ops and align with co-op principles.
At a time when electricity demand is leveling off due to improvements in technology and energy efficiency, EVs represent a new load that can benefit co-ops and their members. Even though members may commute to work outside of co-op territories, studies show that the majority of charging occurs at home. Increasing kilowatt-hour (kWh) sales can assist with more cost-effective management of co-ops, which can spread revenue to support members.
Increased Member Engagement
EVs provide a new opportunity for co-ops to engage with members through programs and educational outreach. Electric co-ops can take a lead role in educating their members and become a go-to resource for information on the technology. As more EVs enter the market, co-ops will benefit from strategically shaping the message around driving electric and providing resources and programs to show their support to members.
EV charging offers flexibility that is not typically available with other loads. Managing when charging occurs – through rate structures, incentives or driver education – can help increase load without needing to add capacity or upgrade infrastructure. For example, time-of-use rates and similar variants use higher costs for electricity during peak periods to encourage off-peak charging, such as overnight, which can engage underutilized capacity, help flatten demand and reduce rates for members. Furthermore, charging can be matched to the variability in renewable generation, taking advantage of wind resources overnight when charging at home or solar resources during the day when charging at work.
EV owners save money on fuel and maintenance, which means they have more to spend elsewhere and can invest back into the local community – a critical part of the co-op value system. Areas that install charging stations can attract more customers and employees, which can produce indirect job growth on top of the direct job growth from the expanding automotive, battery and charging industries.
Another way EVs support the community is through the cleaner air they provide. Battery electric vehicles, which are fully electric EVs, produce zero tailpipe emissions, as do plug-in hybrids when driving in all-electric mode. (Plug-in hybrid vehicles have an electric motor, but can also use a gasoline engine for backup.) Even considering the emissions associated with generating electricity for charging, EVs frequently come out ahead of gasoline-fueled vehicles.
Five EV Strategies for Electric Co-ops
To fully take advantage of the benefits of EVs, it is important for co-ops to plan for what’s to come. However, no one-size-fits-all approach exists. Preparing for the arrival of EVs often requires aligning several different strategies and developing a plan that lays out steps to achieve them all successfully.
Strategy 1 – Market Assessment
Evaluating the EV market and readiness of your territory – along with the goals and operational considerations unique to your co-op – provides valuable insight. Knowing where charging stations are located can help determine whether infrastructure upgrades are needed and what popular areas could benefit from a charger. Identifying dealerships selling EV models gives you places to refer members and offers an opportunity to build partnerships for EV events and programs. Tracking how many members have EVs helps detail where they are being charged, how much energy they are using and whether a member program would be beneficial.
Invest in Data Tracking
Tracking EV data is vital to managing load in the future, and a number of approaches can be used to gather the relevant information. Establish a system to keep track of EV purchases, charging times and electricity being used to charge. This data will help you better understand potential grid and financial impacts.
Co-op Spotlight: Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association
Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association in Minnesota is running a year-long residential charging pilot program to evaluate usage patterns, how charging is affecting the co-op’s system, and how it could affect the system in the future as EV adoption rises. The information gleaned from the pilot will help Wright-Hennepin navigate future EV initiatives to better serve member and system needs.
Strategy 2 – Employee Education
Members look to their co-ops to provide trusted and valuable information. Therefore, having informed employees is critical to delivering accurate and up-to-date insight into electric transportation. Employees should be able to answer questions they receive and know of plans and programs that the co-op is pursuing to support EV drivers.
Deliver an EV Training, Workshop or Presentation
To educate employees, host an educational training to discuss information about EVs, share current and planned EV programs and address frequently asked questions. If possible, include an EV ride-and-drive as part of the event.
Add an EV to Your Fleet
To take it one step further, add an EV to your vehicle fleet. Being able to most effectively promote EVs requires first-hand knowledge of and experience with them. Adding an EV to your fleet is an excellent way for employees to learn about the technology. It can also provide insight into the driving and charging demands of your community.
Co-op Spotlight: North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives
North Carolina’s electric cooperatives have delivered EV presentations at staff events, held EV ride-and-drives for employees and members, added EVs and charging stations to their fleets and facilities, and provided EV information on their website and in their newsletters.
Strategy 3 – Member Engagement
Because members see their co-ops as a source of guidance and training, co-ops are in a perfect position to educate their members and dispel EV myths. The more members understand about EVs, the more informed they will be when deciding whether one is right for them. Education is also an ongoing activity as the technology continues to develop and new options become available. As noted above, having knowledgeable employees is key to promoting member education, but many other approaches exist as well.
Share EV Information on Your Website
Including information about EVs on your website will help members further their understanding of the technology and find answers to frequently asked questions. Including details about the types of EVs, how charging works and the benefits of driving electric can help you become a trusted source of EV knowledge.
Host EV Workshops and Events
One of the best ways to spread awareness about EVs is to give people an opportunity to drive them. EV workshops and events, particularly when accompanied by a ride-and-drive component, provide a place to develop knowledge and understanding of the technology. Consider hosting an event for National Drive Electric Week, an annual celebration to encourage EV support, which is a great opportunity for prospective buyers to speak with current owners and test-drive a vehicle.
Provide Targeted Member Education
With the wide-ranging benefits of electric transportation, each member has unique motivations for purchasing an EV or installing a charging station. Create strategies to reach out to specific member groups and assist them with their EV plans. For example, you can connect with workplaces, tourist destinations or shopping centers and talk with them about installing charging stations.
Co-op Spotlight: South River Electric Membership Corporation
South River Electric Membership in North Carolina has a webpage that provides a brief history of EVs followed by descriptions of the technology. Links to other pages and external websites offer additional resources about charging and more. The co-op has also held EV workshops and has an EV informational display at its annual meetings.
Strategy 4 – Member Programs
EVs represent a unique opportunity for offering new programs around rebates, demand management, time-of-use scheduling and more. These programs can encourage EV adoption, help build new relationships with members and show your support for EVs.
Incentive and Rebate Programs
Incentive and rebate programs make EV and charging technology more affordable for members and can also support data tracking.
Time-of-use and similar rate structures can be a winning situation for both members and their co-ops. Members receive discounted electricity prices and can save money when charging during off-peak periods, while co-ops are better able to manage load and level off demand.
Co-op Spotlight: Cobb Electric Membership Corporation
Cobb Electric Membership Corporation in Georgia offers NiteFlex, a time-of-use rate that provides consumers with free overnight home charging (up to 400 kWh) between midnight and 6 a.m., as well as cheaper rates during other times of day when electricity demand is low.
Strategy 5 – Deployment Initiatives
A great way to encourage EV adoption – while also learning about the technology – is to set an example yourself and show your commitment to electric transportation. When members see charging infrastructure and EVs around their communities, the idea of purchasing a vehicle becomes more realistic.
Install Public Charging Stations
Installing public charging stations can be a big motivator for increasing EV adoption and makes owning an EV seem more manageable. Charging stations also help reduce range anxiety, or the fear of being stranded far from a place to charge, and attract business and boost economic development.
Invest in an Electric Fleet Vehicle
Adding an EV to your fleet was mentioned earlier concerning employee education, but it is also an excellent opportunity for showing your support of EVs. These vehicles can be branded with your co-op logo and brought to community events, driven around town and even loaned out to members to increase engagement. Electric work vehicles, such as pickup trucks, forklifts, low-speed utility vehicles and bucket trucks, are also becoming readily available.
Co-op Spotlight: Gunnison County Electric Association
Gunnison County Electric Association in Colorado has a Chevrolet Spark electric fleet vehicle – named Spark-e – that it brings to events and lets members borrow for a week. This program represents an effective way for Gunnison to educate its members while allowing them to experience life with an EV. The co-op has also worked with local towns to install public charging stations.
The growth of EVs is exciting. These vehicles offer many significant benefits to both co-ops and their members while aligning with the principles that co-ops value. Taking steps to encourage adoption while navigating potential grid and financial impacts will ensure that co-ops continue to provide reliable, safe and affordable electric services to their communities.