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Question

What are the current hurdles to EV adoption? Are customers' concerns evolving?

Brian Lindamood's picture
Vice President, Marketing & Content Strategy Questline Inc.

Brian Lindamood is AVP of Marketing and Content Strategy at Questline, a content marketing agency dedicated to the energy utility industry. He leads the team that delivers engaging content...

  • Member since 2020
  • 24 items added with 5,041 views
  • Jun 11, 2021
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We're all familiar with the "classic" hurdles to residential EV adoption: range anxiety, public charging infrastructure, higher upfront purchase price. As the electric vehicle market matures, and with EVs in the headlines more than ever this year, do you find that customers' concerns are changing or expanding beyond the usual objections? What are the EV questions you are hearing from customers now?

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Do you find that customers' concerns are changing or expanding beyond the usual objections?

I don't hear any concerns from customers. Every EV owner with whom I've communicated is ecstatic.

Here are what I believe are two more complex questions that both consumers and utilities should think about concerning EVs.  Does buying and using an EV really provide a net benefit to the environment / CO2 reduction today? I believe many consumers who choose full plug EVs considers this as helping with CO2 emissions, but does it really?  I'd argue it depends on what type of generation sources ultimately play a part in generating the power used for charging and the emissions associated with that generation.   If a utility has installed enough green/renewable sources overall then at some point the answer would be yes, but currently is that really the case? Analytics can be used to analyze this situation and reports could be generated that should be able to inform the utility and the public the net impact, positive or negative, of adopting a plug in EV.   Analytics can/should also be used in planning for the necessary additional renewable/green resources that would allow for a positive impact to result from such an adoption.  In addition, analytics should be used by a utility to better understand the overall impact of someone within their service area buying a full plug in EV and the impact it may have on the overall demand/grid in order to better plan for demand and equipment to help maintain the balance necessary to allow for a robust and reliable power grid for all of their customers.

When Henry Ford decided to attempt to build a car that the workers who built cars could afford, he had two problems. One was solved by the assembly line. The other was solved by Rockefeller and Standard Oil. Ford needed gas stations all across America if he wanted to sell cars for people all across America. The modern EV equivalent is fast charging EV stations. That is one of the biggest impediments to EV adoption and it cannot be solved by all of the EV owners showing up at the Whole Foods together while on a road trip to see Auntie M in Kansas.

Not only is that a consumer impediment, it is also a utility impediment. What happens when millions of cars demand fas charge stations across the US, when temps are approaching 100, air conditioners are blasting and at the same time, we want reduce the use of carbon based fuels in generation. 

Well, what we estimate is that 30% of sales of personal vehicles in Canada are expected to be EVs by 2030. That is a fairly high penetration level. Of course, the assumption is that adequate charging infrastructure will be in place by then for long range travel, and at homes for overnight charging. My understanding of home charging requirements is that it is not that expensive. That is a 240V single phase 30 A (or 50 A for fast chargers for longer range) feeder from the distribution panel at home should do a good for an overnight charge. The panel should have adequate amperage.  The residential 120/240 V panels have long been sized at around 200 A ampacity, so adequate spare capacity should be available to handle an EV charger. An average home takes in, at its peak demand, around 50 amps from the panel for lighting, washers, etc.. Yes it has to be done by a certified electrician but should be affordable especially with government refunds and subsidies that are part of the EV program launches. The chargers themselves mostly come on-board the vehicles so that cost is already born with the vehicle purchase.

Brian Lindamood's picture
Brian Lindamood on Jun 21, 2021

Thanks Afshin. The Canadian sales projections are interesting (and reassuring). There's no doubt the U.S. lags far behind the rest of the world in EV adoption. In fact, global sales considerations (not U.S.) are a huge factor driving GM and Ford to invest in EV. 

Full disclosure, I'm a petrol-head.  I like the gas based vehicles, and bring a healthy skepticism to fleet electrification, and I have historically not found much to like about the available EV models in the US.  But, I'm optimistic about changes to the available models, and much more aware now that customer concerns present far fewer obstacles to EV adoption than manufacturer and distribution challenges.

Customers have the typical range and price concerns, after we allow for new models to overcome the design issues.  In the US, at least, where consumers have flatly rejected small commuter cars, the typical EV didn't get traction because of their design.  Small light cars, even with decent commuter range, didn't excite anyone.  But, new trucks, sports cars and luxury models will erase all of the design concerns.

Range and price persist as issues.  Subsidies remain likely at state and federal level for the foreseeable future, so less a problem than range perception issues.  Range is a "chicken & egg" challenge: batteries have to be bigger or more efficient until more public charging infrastructure arrives, but if we had lots of public fast charging, the range issue goes away.  Industry will figure that part out.

The biggest obstacle I see in EV adoption involves manufacturers and distribution through the traditional dealer networks.  Dealers don't generally like EVs.  Their people aren't trained.  The vehicles don't sell well without subsidies.  EV's also don't require as many repairs (as far as we know), so service departments will struggle as EV penetration increases, and service is where the majority of local dealers earn their profits.  EV's really need charging stations, and oddly those are hard to get installed easily, which screws up the deal and can cost dealers money.  Charging stations in the home require permits, licensed installers, and a LOT more money than customers expect, which isn't part of the car deal, and often messes up the financing.  

Finally, manufacturers have to find a way to retool their massive industrial machines from petrol to EV and maintain the profitability and business returns that their shareholders expect.  That's a massive shift for an industry that still hasn't figure out how to make a profit on the electric vehicle.  

The latest models of EVs, especially the SUV and truck options, likely will solve customer concerns for the most part.  If manufacturers can solve the range and price issues, EV adoption will accelerate nicely, I'll bet.

 

Brian Lindamood's picture
Brian Lindamood on Jun 21, 2021

Thanks Mark, great points. Local car dealers are a big constraint, and I think one that we don't talk enough about in the utility industry. At Questline we have worked with one utility on a campaign to engage car dealers, and it required incentivizing dealers just to learn about EVs, much less actually sell them. There's a lot of work to be done. 

You point to another area where it might be easier for utilities to get involved -- installation of home charging. By offering installation services or bundles (taking care of permits, electricians, etc.) utilities could remove a big headache for residential customers. 

Residential EV adoption for single family dwellers is easy -- just install a level 2 charger (EVSE), or maybe just get by with a level 1 cordset if they don't drive much, which is certainly the case nowadays. Multi-Unit dwellers (apartment buildings, condominium complexes) have a more difficult time with parking space allocation for charging and other restriction. However, even there the hurdles are rapidly going away with friendly new charger technology, utility rebates, and local/state incentives. On the West Coast, residential customers can even benefit from Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) credits, either directly or as a rebate from the utility. This makes the EV charging infrastructure hurdle an easy one. Buying an EV is getting easier to justify every day not only for residential dwellers, but also for commercial and government fleet operators. The total cost of ownership for EVs has been lower than conventional vehicles for several years. With the dramatic fall in battery costs, the initial EV cost is now projected to be less than a conventional vehicle in 2-3 years, which will make buying an EV a no-brainer.

Brian Lindamood's picture
Brian Lindamood on Jun 21, 2021

Thanks Charles, great observation. Total cost of ownership is a compelling motivation for businesses and fleets. The upfront cost stills seems to be a hurdle for residential adoption, though you're right that the tipping point is coming soon.

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