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Utilities and Cities: Three Best Practices for Public EV Charging

image credit: ChargeHub

 

A Data-Driven and Customer-Focused Approach to Public Charging

A historic shift towards electrifying transportation is underway: local utilities are powering up electric vehicle (EV) charging stations across the North American continent, combined with cities rolling out electric transportation systems. Yet, the efforts to expand the public charging infrastructure is getting snagged on technological and regulatory issues. To progress towards electrification, the public EV charging infrastructure needs reorganization; starting with a data-driven and customer-focused approach to public charging.

At ChargeHub, we maintain the only independent, curated, user-enriched and commercially available database of public charging stations in North America. For example, we know that as of August 2020, there were 87,762 public charging ports in the United States and 14,747 in Canada

This unique perspective on public EV charging serves our commercial and institutional customers—large utilities, automakers and governments—with the necessary driver insights and analytics solutions to apply a data-driven approach to public charging development. If your organization sees the immense potential in becoming more customer-focused data driven when it comes to EV public charging but is not moving quickly enough to make it a reality, our enterprise portal—ChargeHub Central—provides key information to:

  • Understand how EV charging is progressing geographically.
  • Streamline EV buying and EV charging processes.
  • Improve customer service and engagement. 
  • Promote programs and opportunities.

Although we do not manufacture nor operate EV charging stations or networks ourselves, ChargeHub works with major charging network operators and EV Supply Equipment (EVSE) manufacturers. This strategic collaboration helps increase the availability of their products and services to EV drivers, including a streamlined payment solution and white-label online stores. 

The Public Charging Ecosystem Is Complex

The public charging ecosystem is still in its infancy and spitting out a plethora of independent charging networks. In North America alone, there are more than two dozen charging networks, each with its own business model, pricing, technology and regional focus. 

Some EV charging operators have developed peering agreements—where EV drivers who are subscribed to one operator can still use a charging station operated by another without a distinct subscription. Although this is a step in the right direction, not all operators have peering agreements making the EV charging experience a bit of a hit or miss. 

Photographer: John Cameron

Then there are some operators who focus on slow destination charging stations (240 volts, Level 2) for EV drivers looking to charge overnight, while others specialize in deploying Direct Current Fast Chargers (DCFC) for those looking to charge during a coffee break. Alternatively, some operators assemble their own custom charging equipment or procure from EVSE manufacturers which can lead to interface compatibility issues with some vehicles. This level of inconsistency persists with the EVs themselves: each vehicle uses a specific type of connector to plug in the charging station, such as J1772, CCS, CHAdeMO and Tesla. 

Calculating the ROI of Public Charging 

Even after multiple generations of investments, charging revenue of public stations generally does not cover their costs due to low rates of usage. This holds especially true for the installation of DCFCs, where capital cost can reach over $100,000 per port. Tariffs where utilities apply “demand charges” also result in significant operating costs. Demand charges are tariffs based on the maximum power drawn from the grid on a monthly basis, and often constitutes the larger share of electricity costs for DCFC stations.  

Therefore, the business case of charging operators greatly depends on support from: 

  1. Site owners: who deploy chargers to attract new customers or meet current client needs. For example, restaurants, boutiques, apartment buildings and shopping malls are installing Level 2 charging stations. Conversely, DCFC stations follow a more traditional model—paralleling the ease and accessibility gas stations offer—and are often installed at convenience stores located to serve drivers for intercity travel and urban drivers needing a quick charge.  
     
  2. Governments: aiming to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. Many policies and support programs exist—through rebates or utility rates—and vary greatly from one region to another. One of the most significant levers is when a state or province issues a Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate. Under such mandates, automakers are required to supply EVs which creates a direct impact on the amount of ZEV available in North America. Currently, 25 automakers sell 39 brands of light-duty vehicles and prioritize the delivery of EVs to ZEV jurisdictions (12 states and two provinces), with varying progress toward marketing EVs. Where such mandates are nonexistent, drivers may be unable to purchase EV due to supply constraints.
     
  3. Utility regulators: who understand that EVs exert a downward pressure on rates for all ratepayers. Among the ±3500 utility companies in North America, some offer EV programs and others are considering EV-specific rates to reduce demand charges at public stations. Such practices make sense but are not yet common practice. 

As a result, charging operators focus their efforts on where the market is. When analyzing the charging stations in North America, our comprehensive database confirms that many more public charging stations are in ZEV states than in non-ZEV states. 

Photographer: Catarina Jansson

Regulations also vary depending on where stations are. For example, states can require charging to be sold based on kilowatt-hours (kWh) supplied, as kWh is the energy unit of electricity. Others can forbid charging to be sold on the basis of kWh, as selling electricity is monopolized by local utilities. 

Not surprisingly, this complexity and inconsistency are cause for frustration among EV drivers. Surveys show that EV drivers are nearly unanimous in praising their vehicles, yet agree that public charging is utterly inadequate. For drivers who are considering purchasing their first EV, this confusion increases range anxiety and slows adoption. 

Dissatisfaction with public charging has become a policy issue and even a political one. The weaknesses and limitations with public charging infrastructure can reflect poor leadership and management among governments and utilities. 

Public Charging is Rapidly Evolving

In addition to this level of complexity within the public charging ecosystem, the technology itself is changing. Traditionally, there have been more Level 2 charging stations installed in the United States and in Canada. Today the situation is changing. Our database confirms that the installation of Level 2 charging stations has grown 1.5 times over a period of two years. Yet, DCFC ports are growing 3 times as fast: there are now 4.5 times more DCFCs than 2 years ago.  

Two use cases accelerate DCFC deployment, the first being intercity travel. The second concerns drivers who don’t have access to home or work charging. Cities consider the latter to be especially important: without access to a robust DCFC infrastructure, EV penetration could be limited to suburbs dominated by single-family homes. One solution would be to issue policies that promote curbside destination chargers, workplace charging and charging in multi-dwelling units, reducing pressure on the urban DCFC infrastructure.

Regulators are also considering the reduction or the elimination of demand charges, which are effectively a legacy of the limitations of the electromechanical meters that were used to measure electricity in businesses. This change would greatly benefit the deployment of a public charging infrastructure.

Establish a Successful Public EV Charging Program with These Three Best Practices

At ChargeHub, we’ve observed and worked to define a framework that includes three best practices for utilities, automakers and governments so they can measure, address and implement successful public EV charging programs.

1. Put Drivers First

Utilities, like governments, are foremost, in the people’s business. When getting into electromobility, the “product” that people buy isn’t a luxury, but rather an essential tool to complete daily activities: getting to work, going grocery shopping, visiting friends and traveling to go see family. All of these are potential touch points for utilities and governments to connect with EV drivers and engage with them in new ways that have yet to be leveraged. 

Due to the low level of satisfaction regarding the current public charging infrastructure, we recommend putting EV drivers first by simplifying their lives and bringing value, such as: 

  • Allowing them to easily discover where they can charge. 
  • Streamlining the EV charging buying process to help them save time and money.
  • Helping them engage with local EV communities and creating feedback loops on their EV charging experience. 
  • Communicating what utility or city programs are available to them.

 

2. Get Session-Level Data From Charging Operators

Photo credit: Science in HD

The next focus should be to leverage access to city-owned properties. This is one of the industry’s best kept secrets and incredibly valuable to charging operators. Finding a location to put charging stations in a city core is challenging, especially for DCFCs. Therefore, having access to city-owned properties brings new opportunities that help diversity local economies.  

Another key insight to consider: EV charging puts a downward pressure on electricity rates—that’s good for utilities and their ratepayers. However, public charging operators don’t make money unless the utility (or other stakeholders) support them, and regulators often approve of this. But utilities and cities should get something in return. 

Last, session-level charging data is valuable to utilities and cities for planning the infrastructure and for managing services to drivers. Therefore, as a best practice, prioritize getting  access to session-level charging data from charging operators in return for access to city-owned properties or support from the utility. Cities and utilities may also require operators to meet certain performance metrics in order to continue benefiting from access or support. 

3. Shield Yourself From Complexity and Changes

Utilities and cities can leave the technology and business complexities of the public charging infrastructure to the many network operators. All they need is to stay informed on key trends and forecasts within the market in order to better care for their citizens who are EV drivers, to streamline the EV charging buying and paying process, and to promote their EV (and non-EV) programs. 

This post was initially published on chargehub.com at https://bit.ly/32wBluA.    

  

Benoit Marcoux's picture

Thank Benoit for the Post!

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 21, 2020 4:26 pm GMT

Do you think there's value in pushing the city fleets to go electric to create a demand for these EVs, or does that not apply as directly since we're talking about public charging and those city fleets are more likely to be charging in non-public garages? 

Benoit Marcoux's picture
Benoit Marcoux on Sep 21, 2020 8:10 pm GMT

Fleet charging and public charging of light duty vehicles do not intersect much, although they both are part of the overall electrification trend. 

From a utility perspective, the impact is also quite different.

On one hand, charging of light-duty vehicles generally is a great opportunity to develop customer engagement (see https://energycentral.com/c/um/ev-charging-enables-stronger-customer-engagement) and exerts a downward pressure on utility rates (see https://energycentral.com/c/um/ev-charging-puts-downward-pressure-electricity-rates-chargehub-blog)

On the other hand, fleet charging can reach power in the MW range, which may require upgrades to the local distribution system. Depending on who pays for such upgrades, there may or may not be a downward pressure on rates from fleet electrification. 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 21, 2020 9:05 pm GMT

That makes a lot of sense-- so both worthwhile endeavors for utilities, but for different reasons and not for ones that have much natural synergy for each other. I guess I was just wondering if at least the infrastructure or economies of scale for larger charger installations could be leveraged for a benefit, but it seems that there's not much there. Both projects worth pursuing, though!

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Sep 23, 2020 2:04 pm GMT

I feel all DCFC site should have Battery Storage to help reduce the huge spikes in power use . Duck curve hours can be critical. 

Benoit Marcoux's picture
Benoit Marcoux on Sep 23, 2020 6:28 pm GMT

Hello Jim.

Adding storage to DCFC sites make sense in order to reduce demand charges. In most cases, demand charges are higher than the energy component of the electricity bill for a DCFC site. 

In the long term, rate redesign may bring dynamic pricing to DCFC sites and to drivers who use them. Drivers are extremely price sensitive, and a large price differential during actual peaks would cause most drivers to charge off-peak. Since electricity pricing may be predicted days in advance, it would allow drivers to plan around peaks and recharge their vehicles cheaply. Also, dynamic pricing could be localizerd, i.e., not only reflecting spot energy prices but also local constraints. 

Economically, dynamic pricing may be more interesting given its low capital cost. 

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