- Nov 20, 2020 3:35 pm GMT
Over the last two years, the electric vehicle (EV) market has accelerated significantly. By tracking auto sales in its service territories, Xcel Energy has observed growing customer interest in EVs. Xcel Energy’s conversations with large fleet operators also point to an approaching EV wave. Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD), the public transit agency in Colorado’s capital city, already has 36 electric buses, with plans to add many more. “Denver RTD may eventually need a garage filled with electric buses, and that could have a meaningful impact on grid operations,” said Kevin Schwain, Xcel Energy’s director of electric transportation..
Growing customer interest was one of the motivators of Xcel Energy’s recent announcement about a suite of EV programs and a goal to have 1.5 million EVs in its service territories by 2030—30 times the current number. According to EPRI, as of August there were nearly 1.6 million plug-in EVs on U.S. roads.
Expanding Utility Investments
Xcel Energy is one of many utilities making investments to expand EV charging infrastructure. EPRI estimates that as of the end of 2019 North American utilities had proposed about $3 billion in EV charging investments.
In August, for example, the California Public Utilities Commission approved a budget of $436 million for Southern California Edison to install 38,000 new EV chargers at workplaces, public parking lots, schools, and hospitals, and to fund rebates that encourage charging infrastructure at apartment and condominium complexes. In July, the New York Public Service Commission approved $701 million to support installations of charging infrastructure in the state.
Growing EV demand and expanding EV options are driving these investments. “In 2023, there will be about 125 EV models available and about 40% of those are SUVs and crossovers, which are among the most popular models in the U.S.,” said Daniel Bowermaster, senior program manager for EPRI’s Electric Transportation program.
Also significant is the fact that EV sales are growing even in states without mandates requiring the sale of a certain percentage of zero emission vehicles. Currently, 13 states follow California’s zero emission vehicle requirement that 25% of new passenger vehicles and medium-duty trucks sold be emissions-free by 2024.
“On a county level, we are seeing growth in Rocky Mountain states like Idaho, Colorado, and even Wyoming,” said Bowermaster. “We are seeing sales in counties that are middle to low-income, so EVs are moving beyond just the tech hubs, college towns, and wealthier areas.”
“A Balanced, Yet Aggressive Approach”
Xcel Energy’s EV programs for residential, business, and large fleet customers include:
- A subscription program in Minnesota for unlimited charging on nights and weekends for a flat monthly fee
- Residential and business rebates for charging equipment
- Rate structures that encourage charging during off-peak times
- Education and outreach to help fleet operators transition to EVs
- Expansion of both utility- and third party-owned public charging stations to eliminate range anxiety
“Xcel Energy is taking a balanced, yet aggressive approach to support electric transportation in the short, medium, and long term. It is one of a handful of utilities that approaches EV charging in a comprehensive way with a cohesive package of programs supporting a common goal—1.5 million EVs by 2030,” said Bowermaster. “The programs include infrastructure for big and small vehicles. They also incorporate accessibility and fairness across incomes and customer classes, with support for rideshare and public transportation electrification targeted at low-income communities.”
The results of pilot projects have heavily informed the design of Xcel Energy’s programs. For example, a pilot project in Minnesota offered 100 residential customers installation of low-cost chargers along with time-of-use rates to encourage off-peak charging. Both strategies were proven effective and have subsequently been incorporated into programs.
Schwain says that expanding Xcel Energy’s programs has required collaboration with many stakeholders, such as auto manufacturers, policymakers and regulators, fleet operators, non-profit organizations, universities, technology companies, and many others. For example, Xcel Energy is working with Ford, General Motors, BMW, Honda, and EPRI to test the effectiveness of the Open Vehicle-Grid Integration Platform, a communications software developed by EPRI, 9 EV manufacturers, and 15 utilities that eliminates the need for expensive, proprietary charging networks. The platform enables Xcel Energy to communicate with EV drivers and offer a rebate for participating in a program that encourages off-peak charging.
Xcel Energy is helping potential commercial and public fleet customers to build a business case for electrification. “Total cost of ownership is very important to fleet operators,” said Schwain. “We want to help them quantify total costs by identifying which vehicles in their fleets are most appropriate for electrification and by estimating charging infrastructure costs and fuel savings.”
Xcel Energy built and paid for the charging infrastructure that Metro Transit (a public transportation agency serving the Twin Cities in Minnesota) needed for its first 8 electric buses, which travel to and from downtown Minneapolis. By providing this infrastructure, Xcel Energy helped give the transit agency confidence in the reliability of EV technology. The infrastructure also yielded important data and experience to help Metro Transit develop a business case for the expansion of electric public transport.
Xcel Energy has engaged with auto dealerships and electricians to solicit feedback on EV-related resources for customers. In addition to promoting dealers that sell EVs on social media and other digital platforms, the utility is hosting events at dealerships to give people opportunities to drive EVs. Xcel Energy’s website enables consumers to sign up to have an electrician install charging infrastructure at their homes and to select from various pricing plans for charging.
To address range anxiety, Xcel Energy first launched programs to make it easier for private developers to build new public charging stations. The utility has since proposed plans in Minnesota, Colorado, and New Mexico to build and own enough additional charging stations to create a viable network.
In support of EV fleets, EPRI also recently launched the Fleet Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Initiative to help develop the tools and resources needed for utilities for the rapid expansion of charging infrastructure. The Initiative has three focus areas: utility customer planning tools, interoperability, and resiliency.
This article appeared in an issue of EPRI's Efficient Electrification newsletter. To sign up to receive future issues, visit: https://www.electrificationcommunity.com/contact-form.
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