Learn more about How to Use Data to Drive Your EV Investment Plans, watch the on demand webinar and download the report What Utilities Know (And Don’t Know) About EV Drivers and How Better Customer Insights Can Maximize Utility Investments in Electric Vehicles

Kathy Knoop, formerly of Salt River Project and now at Arizona Public Service, shared her building blocks for a successful EV program in this 2019 Bidgely Engage Video.

According to a June 2021 Utility Dive Pulse Report entitled What Utilities Know (And Don’t Know) About EV Drivers and How Better Customer Insights Can Maximize Utility Investments in Electric Vehicles, nine out of 10 utility executives surveyed reported their companies plan to increase investments in customer programs and infrastructure to support EV ownership over the next two to three years by up to 88 percent. 

The report is based on surveys with ~150 executives from leading utilities, and it underscores the EV momentum underway within utility organizations, and examines what is driving utility investments, how utilities are focusing their existing investments, and what they see as the greatest challenges standing in the way of broader EV adoption. The report also highlights the critical role improved EV customer insights must play in guiding EV utility incentives, outreach, resource planning, education and ratemaking. 

Utility respondents addressed the quality of EV data they currently have about their customers, especially in connection with current EV owner charging behavior and the likelihood for non-EV owners to purchase an electric vehicle. Utilities regard customer charging behavior and buyer propensity insights as essential inputs in resource planning, managed charging, load forecasts, ratemaking and the development and promotion of new products and services.

Utility Dive and Bidgely dove into the survey results and their implications as part of a How to Use Data to Drive Your EV Investment Plans webinar that is now available on demand. The discussion examined the important role that customer insights informed by accurate and timely data play in the success of utility programs aimed at supporting electric transportation. The discussion between Utility Dive contributing writer Chris Warren and Bidgely Director of Strategy and Growth Heather Williams includes:

Advancing EVs Requires Progress on Parallel Paths

Widespread EV adoption requires a utility market transformation, and as such, utilities must make progress on multiple fronts simultaneously and on an expedited timeline in order to meaningfully move the needle on their strategic utility EV objectives. 

Consumer Education  

Surveys and consumer reports confirm that interest in EVs continues to grow, but at the same time, heightened interest hasn’t yet translated into increased comfort with the availability of charging stations or improved understanding of what EV ownership is really like. It’s not unlike the progression of smartphone adoption in which a great deal of education was necessary to expand the customer base beyond innovators and early adopters all the way to the late majority and laggards. Education centers upon making that leap. 

To facilitate education, utilities are putting partnerships in place to develop straightforward consumer messaging that demystifies how EVs work, including working collaboratively with car dealerships and fleet operators to amplify messaging reach. 

Utility Awareness

In order to advance EV goals, utilities need to know exactly what EVs are currently on the grid within their service territory, where they are located, when they are charging, where they are driving, and what neighborhoods are adding the most EVs. 

Customer Engagement

Education and awareness do not present transformative business requirements for utilities. They’ve successfully educated customers about energy efficiency programs and a wide-range of other topics for many years, and have introduced disruptive technologies like solar and wind power onto the grid and worked through the related awareness requirements. But EV-related customer engagement represents an entirely different challenge and calls for new ways of doing business. 

Today, drivers rely on gas stations to fuel their vehicles. In our EV future, powering vehicles will fundamentally change the way that consumers connect with their utility. Rather than thinking about the utility only when a bill arrives or the power goes out, drivers will think about their utility every time they charge their vehicle. 

Making that shift requires utilities to be both thoughtful and proactive — designing communication that fosters a mutually beneficial relationship in which drivers are given the most choice and flexibility to power their vehicles, while utilities are able to manage the grid in a way that continues to provide reliability and resiliency. 

Expanding Grid Edge Capabilities 

Utilities will be well served to support vehicle to grid technology, enabling the ability to tap into electric vehicle batteries as a distributed energy storage resource to support the grid. Visibility into EV adoption can also help with grid planning and forecasting as well as DERMS in the future. Prioritizing these grid edge capabilities is essential in order to maximize the benefits utilities can realize from increasing numbers of electric vehicles, and minimize any downside related to shifting demand or evolving consumer expectations.

Better Data Makes it Possible

Utilities will achieve greater returns from their existing technology investments by harnessing more accurate and up-to-date EV insights from the energy use data they are already collecting. 

Historically, utilities have relied on motor vehicle agencies to help them quantify EV ownership at the zip code or zip-code-plus-four level. Unfortunately, such data is often out-of-date by the time it is received, and it doesn’t keep pace with how quickly EV sales are accelerating. Plus, a zip-code view of EV ownership is not sufficiently granular to inform large infrastructure decisions, such as where to install charging infrastructure or how to forecast load. 

Motor vehicle registration data also doesn’t provide any insight into charging behaviors, which has led utilities to rely upon customer surveys or third party market research. While these methods have some value, they are also limited by how quickly the data becomes outdated and the fact that a limited sample size doesn’t extrapolate well to a broad population. 

Utility data scientists and modeling experts are forced to make decisions based on limited input that only provides a small window into what’s actually happening with EVs on a grid.

The good news is that by leveraging the existing investments that utilities have already made in AMI infrastructure, utilities are able to introduce more advanced EV data-driven decision making. According to Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables Energy Research, 1.3 billion smart meters will be installed globally by 2025. These meters are producing massive amounts of data about how customers use energy. Bidgely’s patented AI technology disaggregates household consumption data to the granular appliance level — including electric vehicles. Our patented algorithms reveal not only which homes have an electric vehicle, but when those homes have the vehicle plugged in and when they’re charging.

This appliance-level information allows utilities to then engage with the customer in a highly personalized way without requiring any surveys or site audits. 

And because the insights are derived from existing AMI infrastructure, customer-energy-use-driven EV initiatives can quickly be deployed at scale at a relatively low cost. Such an approach better serves customers and helps utilities achieve customer engagement, electrification, decarbonization and other strategic objectives.

The Value of EV Appliance-Level Knowledge and Insights

Household energy consumption data about EVs, chargers and charging behaviors enables hyper-targeted EV-related communications that offer real value to EV owners as a foundation for a long-term mutually beneficial relationship between drivers and utilities in their role as vehicle power providers. 

For example, many utilities are either implementing or considering TOU rates or real-time pricing to shift charging outside of peak demand periods. EV-specific rates help influence customer behaviors to enable the utility to balance supply and demand while saving the customer money based on when they charge. 

However, this approach will only be successful if customers understand the rates, opt in to use them, and then change their behavior accordingly. With household energy consumption data, utilities are able to target communications to EV owners on a one-to-one basis, and personalize the messaging to quantify what each EV driver would save by adopting a new rate. Explaining how each individual will benefit financially and in other ways is far more effective than mass marketing “spray and pray” EV outreach efforts. 

In addition, EV drivers will often purchase vehicles without realizing that they are eligible for additional  incentives. Auto manufacturers and car dealers typically focus on federal- and state-level incentives, but sometimes other incentives aren’t included in the purchase transaction. Utilities have an opportunity to coordinate a positive energy advisor touchpoint by alerting customers that they are eligible for additional rebates or incentives, or to validate that they have received them. The ability to pinpoint EV households allows utilities to position themselves between the auto manufacturers and the consumer by regularly delivering valuable, helpful, hyper-personalized recommendations based on everyday usage.  

Operationally, grid planners and forecasters are also seeking more data about where and when EVs are coming onto the grid to improve the accuracy of their forecasts and planning for infrastructure upgrades. Because household energy use data is continuously updated, it can be analyzed on an ongoing basis as conditions change so that additional load can always be accommodated gracefully.

To learn more about How to Use Data to Drive Your EV Investment Plans, watch the on demand webinar and download the report What Utilities Know (And Don’t Know) About EV Drivers and How Better Customer Insights Can Maximize Utility Investments in Electric Vehicles

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