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Karl Popham, Interim CIO, Manager of Emerging Technologies & Electric Vehicles, Austin Energy
Plug-In Electric Vehicle (PEV) adoption has been growing at a rapid pace in the U.S. from a few thousand in 2011 to over 400,000 PEVs on U.S. roads today and 1 million globally. In Austin we have seen a steady 200-300 percent annual growth curve year over year during this timeframe.
PEVs are a tremendous revenue and growth opportunity for utilities. Here in Austin if every driver chose a PEV, that would basically double the load and potential revenue from our residential sector. Unlike our top residential load today, air conditioning, there is a lot more flexibility from PEVs for off-peak and smart charging innovations.
In addition to the obvious revenue stream for utilities, it is important to capture other community benefits to include zero tail-pipe emissions for cleaner air, quieter cars for reduced noise pollution, fewer overall CO2 emissions especially when paired with renewable energy, and fuel independence from petroleum imports.
Over the last five years of our program, here are some of the actions we have taken and that other utilities can act on today to increase PEV value and adoption:
1. Identify and Engage Policy Innovators – A key resource for implementing our PEV programs has been working closely with policy innovators. The Austin City Council has passed several ordinances over the years in support of maximizing the community benefit and demonstrating leadership for transportation electrification. These have included everything from tariffs for flat fee public charging, protecting EV charging stations from gas vehicles, setting city fleet goals, and a community vision to a zero emissions future.
2. Launch an Effective Marketing Outreach Campaign – Some of the early PEV commercials from leading auto manufacturers was frankly terrible.
Utilities play a critical role in supporting PEV adoption and achieving the community benefits of this transformative technology
My two favorite “PEV Fails” included an ad where an individual badly needed to use a gas station bathroom (but at least I don’t need to fill up on gas!) and another with a PEV driver getting a ticket from highway patrol (at least he saved money on gas!). Austin Energy launched the “ChargeForth” campaign in 2012 to first focus on the general idea of PEVs then evolved into supporting the top 3 reasons, in order of importance, our focus groups were interested in PEVs; 1. Fun and cool 2. Economics 3. Environment.
3. Engage Area Auto Dealers – The simple fact is utilities do not sell cars, auto dealers do (and in some cases auto manufacturers like Tesla). These folks are the front line for individuals purchasing a new vehicle, and utilities can leverage this space where people will already be going to educate them about PEVs and their benefits. Nationally, there are many dealers that will work to get someone in a gas car even if that person comes in asking about PEVs, for a variety of reasons. Austin Energy has a program to train car sales staff on our programs and general PEV information. We also sell directly to dealers a one-year unlimited public charging card for $50 that they distribute with every new purchase or lease of a PEV.
4. Have a Show-Case – Many people want to physically see something when it comes to a new idea. Austin Energy launched “Electric Drive” as a showcase in our downtown Seaholm Eco district to market several transportation sustainability initiatives to include DCFast charging, solar powered information kiosks, bike share, and car share locations.
5. Keep it Simple & Affordable (The $4.17 Plan) – The default utility business model is volumetric pricing even though the majority of our cost of service is fixed. PEVs are a new opportunity to break into innovative and sustainable business models. For our Plug-in Everywhere™ network, we charge a flat rate of $4.17/month for unlimited public station fill-ups.. For those not wanting to join the program there is an hourly rate accessible via a credit card. This model not only makes it easy and consistent with PEV drivers, but allows us to easily partner with local businesses that want to install PEV charging stations at their property.
We also recently launched our EV360 program that allows residential time of use pricing to include a flat monthly off-peak rate coupled with unlimited access to public charging.
6. Leverage External Funding Sources – Austin Energy launched its public infrastructure with a federal grant that paid for our first 113 stations.
7. Don’t Forget Multi-family Residences - Over 40 percent of Austin’s population lives in Multi-Family properties, as such, Austin Energy has launched a unique pilot to understand the needs of PEV charging at over twenty multifamily properties. Multi-Family presents unique challenges including charging station sitting, occupant turnover, security, safety, billing, and parking protocols.
8. More than Just Cars - Austin Energy and Austin Bergstrom International Airport are actively working to reduce its carbon footprint and improve operational efficiency at the airport. The two entities have partnered together to install twenty fast chargers for ground service equipment vehicles that are used on the airfield. The new charging stations are used to power luggage tugs and belt loaders operated by airlines. These 20 fast electric charging stations for support vehicles will reduce gas and diesel consumption by an estimated 40,000 gallons per year. Austin Energy also has a program to promote electric bike adoption by consumers and now bike fleets.
9. Maximize Benefits to the Grid and Climate Protection Goals - Austin Energy is a founder of the Pecan Street Project. This initiative includes Austin’s Mueller neighborhood which represents the largest non-fleet concentration of PEVs in the country. Trials included a PEV time of use pricing pilot as well as distribution grid impact analysis of concentrated, residential adoption. Austin Energy is also integrating electric vehicle charging into their demand response programs and has recently conducted a pilot to successfully show that PEV charging can be centrally managed, further improving grid reliability
10. Learn from those in your Community - Whether brand new to supporting PEVs or continuing to grow a program, community feedback and input will consistently be a good barometer for utilities to gauge their success. In Austin, we have a formalized PEV driver group that meets throughout the year to discuss new PEV industry trends and talk about their experiences as PEV owners.
In summary, PEVs are arguable the largest single growth opportunity for utilities since the invention of the grid itself. Utilities play a critical role in supporting PEV adoption and achieving the community benefits of this transformative technology.