North Carolina’s Electric Transportation Transition
In a recent webinar from our Exploring North Carolina’s Clean Energy Transition program, we heard the latest on electric transportation in North Carolina. The session featured Paula Hemmer, statewide initiatives senior engineer at the NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT); Cory Gordon, director of transportation electrification at Duke Energy; and Nikki Lynberg, innovation and business development analyst at North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives. The session was moderated by Stephen Lapp, project manager at Advanced Energy.
The presenters discussed electric vehicle (EV) initiatives happening across the state and utility programs that are making an impact.
NCDOT’s Clean Transportation Efforts
Hemmer began by highlighting three North Carolina executive orders (EOs) that deal with clean energy and clean transportation: EO 80 from 2018 and EOs 246 and 271 from 2022. The latest EV-related target from these EOs has our state reaching 1.25 million EVs by 2030 — we are currently home to about 66,000.
In support of the goals outlined in the various EOs, NCDOT developed the North Carolina Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Plan and, more recently, the Clean Transportation Plan. It is now working on a medium- and heavy-duty ZEV infrastructure needs assessment, due in September 2023, in conjunction with the NC Department of Environmental Quality’s Advanced Clean Trucks rulemaking process.
Focusing on the Clean Transportation Plan, which was released in April 2023, Hemmer emphasized how many people played a role in its development. More than 200 stakeholders, representing a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, participated in five stakeholder work groups — Light-Duty ZEVs, Medium- and Heavy-Duty ZEVs, Fleet Transition, Vehicle Miles Traveled Reduction and Clean Transportation Infrastructure — and developed over 3,000 recommendations. NCDOT also received survey input from more than 1,000 North Carolinians.
Moving beyond state-based initiatives, Hemmer next highlighted federal funding opportunities that are impacting our state. For example, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), signed into law in November 2021, has several funding streams related to clean transportation. These include the existing Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program, which seeks to improve air quality and reduce congestion; the Carbon Reduction Program, aiming to lower emissions from on-road highway sources; transit funding to support bus operators and operations; and the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program, which encourages the buildout of charging infrastructure along highway corridors and in communities. The IIJA also opened up competitive funding opportunities that North Carolina is applying for.
With $109 million coming to our state over five years, NEVI has been central to NCDOT’s current efforts. Broadly, the goals of North Carolina’s program are to build an easily accessible charging network with high reliability (NEVI requires 97 percent uptime on a charging port basis) that ensures equitable distribution of benefits and expands access to economic and workforce development opportunities, such as STEPs4GROWTH and NCDOT’s own upcoming workforce development program.
Hemmer explained that the first phase of NEVI will construct charging infrastructure along highway corridors, requiring DC fast charging stations to be located no more than one mile from Alternative Fuel Corridors and no more than 50 miles apart from each other. Stations must contain at least four charging ports each capable of delivering 150 kilowatts simultaneously. NCDOT has proposed, to the Federal Highway Administration, 39 stations that meet NEVI requirements (these complement 10 existing stations that already satisfy them). After the corridor infrastructure is developed, the NEVI funds can be used to support community charging.
Recent industry announcements are affecting NEVI’s rollout and the charging landscape more broadly, according to Hemmer. Specifically, multiple automakers and charging station providers will be adopting Tesla’s North American Charging Standard (NACS), and the Society for Automotive Engineers is fast-tracking NACS standardization so it can be used in NEVI deployment. Additionally, seven automakers announced plans to build 30,000 DC fast charging ports by 2030.
In the medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sector, NCDOT is now conducting a needs assessment for charging infrastructure. This industry tends to be risk averse, and many distributors support just-in-time delivery that transporters must meet. In other words, they would need guaranteed charging at specific times and places, suggesting that larger-scale depot charging would likely be preferred over public charging.
Under the Advanced Clean Trucks program currently in the rulemaking process, manufacturers of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles would need to sell a growing percentage of electric models over time. The rule is proposed to be in effect from 2027 through 2035, and to meet its requirements, NCDOT anticipates needing 25,000 Level 2 and 30,000 DC fast chargers by 2030, and 100,000 Level 2 and 60,000 DC fast chargers by 2035. For electricity demand, one preliminary NCDOT estimate found that vehicle charging, most of which could take place overnight, would call for 3.5 million megawatt-hours per year by 2035.
NCDOT also produced a map to show where medium- and heavy-duty vehicles travel and would likely need to charge. Heavily trafficked areas included in Charlotte, along the I-77 and I-85 interchange; Statesville, along the I-77 and I-40 interchange; Greensboro, along the I-40 and I-85 interchange; and Mount Airy, along the I-77 and I-74 interchange.
Duke Energy’s Transportation Electrification Program
Duke Energy has three goals that define its role in the electric transportation transition: simplify adoption with innovative customer programs (such as offering financial assistance or removing other barriers to pursuing electrification), deliver a variety of EV load management programs to meet customer needs, and proactively ready the grid for electric fleet load clusters and DC fast charging sites.
One program that Duke Energy’s Gordon highlighted is the Charger Prep Credit program, which helps customers fund behind-the-meter electrical infrastructure, such as panel upgrades and new conduit, to encourage EV charging.
The program went live a bit over a year ago and has already served more than 4,000 homes; just under 10 percent of those have taken advantage of an electrical contractor introduced to them by Duke Energy. The Charger Prep Credit has applicability beyond homes as well, though, and is able to support public, fleet, multifamily and workplace charging. This makes it a nice complement to other funding sources, such as NEVI and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean School Bus Program.
In the area of managed charging, Duke Energy has a variety of options. Although it is not yet available in North Carolina, the utility’s off-peak charging credit offers a fixed monthly credit to participating customers and asks them to avoid charging during peak windows. The program has proved both popular and successful, with Gordon noting one example in which about 80 percent of summer peak load was reduced pre-enrollment to post-enrollment.
Time-of-use rates represent another opportunity, relying on windows of time with cheaper and more expensive electricity pricing. With the flexibility of EV charging, EV drivers will likely be able to make the most of these rate structures.
Finally, Duke Energy’s Active Managed Charging Subscription acts as a type of demand-response program, in which the utility can manage a customer’s charging using vehicle telematics — Ford, General Motors and BMW are participating — based on system conditions to help avoid adding strain to the grid. (Duke Energy also asks participants to passively manage their charging by avoiding peak periods.) A version of this program will open for enrollment in North Carolina in September. In it, up to three curtailment or stop-charging events will be called per month, lasting no more than four hours and with 12 hours’ notice given to customers.
A Rural Perspective on North Carolina’s Electric Transportation Transition
North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives see EVs as the largest opportunity in the broader realm of beneficial electrification, which is the transitioning of technologies and processes from running on fossil fuels to electricity. They can save consumers money, benefit the environment, support the grid and improve quality of life.
They’re also quickly moving beyond urban centers to reach rural areas, said Lynberg. To aid this increasing number of drivers, the co-ops continue to expand their charging network. What began as 21 public chargers has grown to around 100 (70 percent Level 2 and 30 percent DC fast chargers), located in shopping centers, gas stations, co-op offices, tourism sites and state parks. The network has also provided insight into station utilization and pricing.
For particular programs and pilots, North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives seeks technologies that can benefit both its members (the 26 distribution co-ops in the state) and their member consumers. Initiatives usually begin in a concentrated setting — with one or two co-ops — and, if successful, are later rolled out to other members.
Like Duke Energy, the co-ops have their own managed charging pilot. Lynberg explained that this initiative also relies on vehicle telematics and is being explored — with slight variations — across two co-ops, Union Power Cooperative and Wake Electric. The pilot is launching next quarter to understand how the technology works and its potential to scale up.
Another pilot, in the commercial and industrial space, is examining electric transport refrigeration units. This is a hybrid technology, in which the refrigeration unit runs on diesel when on the road but on electricity, by plugging in, when stationed and idling at distribution centers. This electric application reduces emissions, noise and costs for operators.
North Carolina also recently received its first public school-deployed electric school bus, thanks to funding from the EPA and Volkswagen Settlement program. The bus, already transporting students in Randolph County, has been a hit so far and will inform future electric school bus implementation.
Lynberg ended by discussing an electric tractor pilot being pursued later this year in conjunction with the North Carolina Zoo and Randolph Electric Membership Corporation. There are numerous promising applications for electric tractors, especially for customers working in areas sensitive to emissions, so the co-ops are eager to see how the technology operates in the field.
It’s an exciting time for electric transportation in North Carolina. To learn more about this transition and other clean energy developments in our state, visit www.ncenergytransition.org, and stay tuned for future webinars.