Electric Vehicle Strategies for Electric Co-ops
Electric vehicles (EVs) continue to grow in popularity, and for good reason: They save money on gasoline, benefit the environment, require less maintenance and offer a quiet, smooth, fun ride. There are about 1.6 million EVs in the U.S., and that number is only expected to increase, with interest coming from consumers as well as electric co-ops and other utilities.
Electric co-ops provide reliable, safe and affordable energy services to more than 42 million people in 47 states. Their concern for their community and members is a core principle of their business model. They are constantly exploring technologies that will benefit their membership, and EVs fit in perfectly.
As market penetration rises, co-ops throughout the country will see more and more EVs. Distribution co-ops in particular will take on a new role as vehicle fuel providers and become a trusted EV resource for their members.
Along with the more consumer-focused perks mentioned above, EVs offer advantages for co-ops as well. For example, they provide load growth that can support all parties and create opportunities for member engagement and satisfaction. Unfortunately, a lack of awareness and steeper purchase prices remain barriers to EV adoption, so co-ops are taking steps to stay ahead of the curve and help usher in this new wave of travel.
Managing the New Load
Although the load growth associated with EV charging is beneficial, it needs to be managed effectively to avoid potential issues. Fortunately, EV charging is flexible. Rate structures, charging station technologies and consumer awareness can guide when it occurs. For example, time-of-use (TOU) and discount power rates use higher costs for electricity consumed during peak times to encourage off-peak charging, such as overnight. Furthermore, EVs and charging units can often be programmed to charge during specific hours, like when electricity prices are lower.
Implementing TOU and related rates seems to work: Consumers do shift their charging patterns based on the cost of electricity. Co-ops may offer both a whole-house and EV-specific TOU rate; however, installing a separate meter for an EV rate can be costly. Other potential rate structures include fixed rates, which represent a fixed, separately metered monthly cost for charging, and tiered rates, in which the cost of electricity fluctuates depending on how much is consumed. Running a pilot program may be a good way to test which design is best for you.
A shift to off-peak charging is valuable because it can avoid the need for new generating capacity and engage underutilized equipment, which will flatten out the demand curve and can reduce rates for all co-op members, even non-EV drivers. Therefore, educating members about off-peak charging opportunities and schedules is important.
Together with promoting off-peak charging, co-ops should keep track of how many members are purchasing EVs. Tracking and forecasting EV data will ensure quality service and provide a better understanding of potential grid and financial impacts. A number of ways to gather data exist. For example, Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation asks members to inform them about an EV purchase to preempt any grid issues. Additional options include partnering with dealerships or noting TOU rate subscribers.
Another advantage of the load associated with EVs is that it is environmentally friendly, even when taking into account the electricity used to charge. For a truly emissions-free drive, charging can be powered or offset by renewable energy.
To help co-ops encourage and prepare for electric transportation, we partnered with the North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation to develop a strategic planning report. The report provides an overview of EVs and charging stations, details their impacts on co-op functioning and offers strategies for how co-ops can get involved and become their members’ go-to source of information. The strategies include both short- and longer-term ideas.
One critical part of any successful EV program is member education and outreach, which can combat EV myths and give interested drivers relevant information. There are numerous opportunities to increase awareness, from fact sheets to bill inserts, social media engagement, public events and test drives, and more. Discussing the technology on your website is an easy way to reach individuals who may not have otherwise searched for it. Likewise, highlighting an EV owner or advocacy group in your newsletter shares experiences and gets the word out.
Outreach does not have to be exclusive to residential members. It can be spread to commercial and industrial members as well as local governments to support charging station installation and development.
Because members often look to their co-op for guidance on EVs, it is also important to have knowledgeable employees. Co-ops can further set an example by having electric fleet vehicles, which can raise awareness and prompt curiosity about the technology. They can even consider lending these vehicles to members for an extended test drive. Often, getting people behind the wheel of an EV is the best way to drive interest.
Adding public charging stations is another undertaking to consider. Charging stations show a commitment to electric transportation, reduce concerns about range anxiety and can provide an economic boost by bringing more people to local businesses.
As they work to expand awareness, co-ops can also help address the cost obstacle to EVs. Despite dropping prices and money saved on gasoline and maintenance, EVs still tend to initially be more expensive than similar gas-powered cars, though federal and state incentives can ease the burden.
Many co-ops provide rebates to assist with purchasing an EV or installing a charging station. EnergyUnited, for example, offers a residential charging station rebate, and Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative has low-interest EV financing rates. These incentives have an added benefit of acting as a way to gather EV and charging station data.
The surge of EVs is exciting for consumers and co-ops alike, and a number of approaches exist to encourage adoption while effectively navigating potential grid and financial impacts to ensure electric service remains reliable, safe and affordable. It is clear that co-ops across the country are starting to take appropriate steps to welcome this form of transportation and drive the future.