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Xcel Energy Debuts its Transformational EV Charging Station Solution for Multi-Unit Dwellings

The Denver Metro Clean Cities Coalition produced a webinar
on Multi-Unit Dwellings in late April and Xcel Energy disclosed
details about its groundbreaking plan to offer turnkey
EV charging services to property management companies
and others. (Source: DMCCC) 

Xcel Energy reveals the ambitious plan for multi-unit dwellings, also known as MUDs, to solve the issue of how to plan and serve EV charging stations to condo owners. The secret to the utility's success? Listen to your customers' needs. 

Many city dwellers are finding roadblocks to owning electric vehicles (EV) at multi-unit dwellings, also known as MUDs, due to the lack of charging stations nearby or on-premise parking. You can buy a new Chevy Bolt (260 mile battery pack) or Tesla Model 3 while living at a MUD, but with no charging stations on the premises, it can be a substantial hurdle in buying an electric vehicle. Homeowner association (HOA) boards can also be obstacle due to their lack of experience or education in procurring EV charging stations.

Recently, Inside EVs reported that Chris Nelder of the Rocky Mountain Institute told the New York Times that about 40% of Americans “don’t live in single-family homes where you could have a personal charger. Unless there’s a charger at work or your apartment, or damn close to it, it’s not practical to buy an EV.”

“When I started this process, a typical utility program is designed to think about the utility problem first, then solve that problem and then find customers. We're trying to change that (approach),” says Colby.

However, cities are implementing EV building ordinances in zero-emission vehicle states, such as San Francisco, Denver and San Jose. Recently, Chicago and the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) created a 2020 EV building ordinance that requires any new residential construction consisting of at least five residential units to reserve no less than 20% of parking spaces for EVs. The pre-planning helps defray operational costs in creating conduit tunnels to house wiring before a parking lot is designed and constructed. Trenching for charging stations after a parking lot is finished can be cost prohibitive for MUDs. 

Xcel Energy’s Customer-First Solution

Offering charging stations at MUDs requires a lot of disparate elements, including billing services, specifying chargers, maintenance, service, installation and more. This new business proposal — to be submitted to regulators in Colorado— from Xcel Energy, based in Minnesota, provides a turnkey solution to a range of property owners with multiple units.  

Michael Colby, product developer at Xcel Energy, recently appeared on a Denver Metro Clean Cities Coaltion webinar in late April and discussed this new approach for multi-unit family offerings — Xcel calls it the Multi-Unit Family — which falls under Xcel’s transportation electrification plan initiatives.

“When I started this process, a typical utility program is designed to think about the utility problem first, then solve that problem and then find customers. We're trying to change that (approach),” says Colby.

The initial research for the multi-family plan had Colby identifying end-users, such as homeowners associations, property management companies and developers, to understand what their objectives are for MUD charging and, of course, the challenges.

Michael Colby Xcel Energy
Michael Colby, product developer at Xcel Energy
for the Multi-Family Unit charging initiative.
(Source: LinkedIN)

MUD charging challenges can be overwhelming if you ask EV enthusiasts or experts. Challenges include high upfront capital costs for the charging stations, the lack of awareness about EV technology, siting issues, installation costs related to these units and billing challenges as you begin to scale at residential buildings.

Xcel Energy and Colby identified two key customer segments for the MUD program, assigned one parking space — like a single-family home — and the shared parking model. For the shared parking, Colby said this includes professional property management companies that will want “flexibility to be able to provide this as an amenity for tenants, potentially charge the public, and automatic management processes for billing and collect payments for the use of charging stations.”

As Colby revealed the program design details, you begin to understand the unique approach by Xcel Energy and how it could be the template for years to come for smart utilities that want to untangle this thorny problem, facilitate and create demand.

Below are some of Colby's key points from the webinar presentation:

Infrastructure needed to bring power up to the charger: This is the service connection and something utilities are quite comfortable in doing. Colby says, “One of the first challenges that we've heard about is buildings at electrical capacity that don't have enough capacity with the old electrical equipment to bring charging in. We're going to bypass that, we're going to bring our own dedicated new line in, right up to a new meter.”

Supply Infrastructure: The conduit, wiring and service panels. The Xcel program is looking to use its own third party contractors to install, own and maintain that equipment on behalf of the customer. “We're going to cover 100% of those costs. So that's a really significant investment on our part that really gets to alleviating those high upfront costs as well,” says Colby. Charging units: “We're going to offer a bring your own option, where customers can buy or install and maintain their own chargers,” says Colby.

“We are going to require those charges to be chosen from a pre-approved list. Xcel has a special EV rate, a new rate, that just came out this year specific for electric vehicle charging. If you choose that utility provided option, there will be an additional customer charge where the MUD actually pays for the cost of that charger over time on the bill.” The one caveat from Xcel the insistence on ‘connected charging stations” to take advantage of off-peak electricity rates -- lower rates and excess energy during the late night hours.

Also presented in this Denver Metro Clean Cities webinar is a full-service option, which would include Xcel Energy acquiring, installing, owning and maintaining the chargers through a service agreement. You can think of it as charging as a service (CaaS) in this case. Colby also emphasized the personal assigned parking model. “Our personal assigned parking model is an innovative model that honestly nobody in the country has done,” says Colby. “

We can use the chargers as a sub-meter and bill back to the individual EV driver on their utility bill. So we don’t need to install any additional sub-metering equipment.” Xcel has already piloted this format in its Minnesota territory through a couple of small residential pilots, taking those lessons learned and bringing it forward in Colorado.

“The idea around this was to really bring forward the solution for those HOAs that don't want to be in the middle of this billing arrangement,” says Colby.

This comprehensive plan, including both options, is being submitted to Colorado Public Utility Commission regulators in mid-May and Colby expects the program to be ready for the residential market by Spring of 2021 -- one caveat to this timeline is the effects of COVID-19.

Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 20, 2020

Interesting developments, thanks for sharing Grant! For those in urban environments and multi-unit dwellings, is there also an opportunity for a sort of EV-sharing program instead? I know many people who live in city center areas with robust public transportation end up giving up their cars rather than pay for parking and all the other fees-- so in these very urban environments, maybe some of the focus should also be in introducing EV sharing programs for those occasional trips (much like exist with ICE cars). Obviously it's not practical for every family to not own a car, but it adds another dimension to the equation I think!

Grant Gerke's picture
Grant Gerke on May 21, 2020

EV sharing is out there, such as Steer in Washington DC and its monthly subscriptions to higher-end electric cars (Teslas) and a car club called, Zipcar, in London. Zipcar is affliated with VW eGolf, I believe and has been quite successful.  https://www.electrive.com/2019/01/24/london-electric-car-club-zipcar-delivers-e-golf-data/

However, EV charging stations for MUDs, urban and suburban, are needed to convert buyers to electric cars and move toward larger adoption. Plus, the Xcel Energy initiative factors in scale for property managers as more owners/renters will want this amenity. No gas station, yes, please.  

This program is big, as the MUD challenge has not been met by any utility and it clearly needs a utility solution. 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 21, 2020

Thanks for the additional info, Grant. Glad to hear there are a myriad of solutions, and I agree the goal needs to be to convert more buyers to EVs as the larger adoption is needed for scale to make sense for infrastructure, grid tie-ins, etc.

Grant Gerke's picture

Thank Grant for the Post!

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