Utilities using programs to speed EV adoption, boost customer goodwill
March 26, 2021
Two factors drive customer satisfaction for electric utilities — rates and reliability. Utilities that minimize the number of outages, restore power quickly when outages occur and keep their customers’ bills reasonable will have satisfied customers. Those that have what their customers perceive to be too frequent or overly long outages and/or wallop their customers in the wallet too many times will not.
That doesn’t mean, however, that utilities can’t — or shouldn’t — try to do things other than keeping their reliability and resiliency high and their rates low to win their customers’ hearts and minds. Outages will occur and rate increases will be necessary and when they do and are, utilities with high customer satisfaction will fare better than those without it.
One way that utilities can give their customers a positive impression of them is by striving to work with their customers to help them do everything from avoiding high bills to adapting to a changing world. And when doing so enables utilities to generate more revenue and get grid upgrades included in their rate base, then it makes even more sense for them. That’s why utilities are boosting their efforts to make owning and operating electric vehicles easier for their customers — from individual consumers to large fleet operators. It allows them to partner with their customers to improve their lives rather than just supply them with electricity.
Take, for example, CenterPoint Energy, which recently teamed with HomeServe to debut a product with its Texas customers that other utilities seem likely to offer in the months and years ahead.
For many residential electric customers, buying an EV and having a home charger installed are new experiences. As such, they can be stressful. That means utilities have an opportunity to generate good will with their customers by making those actions less stressful.
CenterPoint is taking advantage of that opportunity by teaming with HomeServe to offer coverage that provides up to $500 to fix or replace normal Level 2 EV chargers that stop working due to what the companies call “normal wear and tear.” The coverage starts at $8.99 per month and is available as an add-on to HomeServe’s plan covering problems with CenterPoint customers’ interior electric wiring, according to a press release by the companies.
Results from a HomeServe study show that offering the coverage gives CenterPoint a chance to provide its EV-owning customers with something they want. The HomeServe 2020 Electric Vehicle Charger Study found that 75 percent of EV owners use a Level 2 charger for charging at home and that 74 percent of prospective EV buyers are worried that their charger could break or malfunction. It also found that 29 percent of EV owners expect their utility to help them with their home charging needs, and that 97 percent of EV owners who use a Level 2 charger at home would be interested in an offer from their electric utility that included EV charger installation.
Although HomeServe didn’t say whether the topic was covered in its survey, the additional cost of the electricity needed to charge EVs probably worries some prospective EV buyers even though it’s offset by the savings they’ll realize from not having to buy gasoline. Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which needs all the goodwill it can get, and BMW Group recently announced the expansion of a pilot program that provides EV customers with some savings and helps PG&E learn how EVs can help renewable energy be integrated into its grid.
The third phase of the ChargeForward program will allow around 3,000 PG&E customers who drive a BMW electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle to voluntarily allow their vehicle to be “smart charged” when electricity demand is low and renewable energy availability is high, according to a TechCrunch article by Aria Alamalhodaei. Participants in the program, which was open to only 100 and 400 drivers in its first and second phases, respectively, earn $150 for signing up and $250 per year.
“Let’s assume someone plugs in at home on a Saturday morning at 9 a.m. and sets their departure time for 4 p.m. that day,” Adam Langton, BMW’s Energy Services manager who oversees the ChargeForward program, told Alamalhodaei. “The ChargeForward software system communicates with the vehicle and determines that the vehicle is more than half full, needing two hours of charging to fill up the battery. The system then evaluates the person’s home electricity rate, renewable energy availability and congestion on the grid in their neighborhood. On this day, there is no congestion on the grid and solar energy will be very high in the afternoon. The ChargeForward system directs the vehicle to start charging at 1 p.m. and complete charging by 3 p.m. This allows the driver to get a full battery prior to their departure time.”
Utilities in states less green and redder than California also are rolling out programs meant to both accelerate EV adoption and build goodwill with their customers. For example, The AES Corporation said in a press release earlier this month that its AES Indiana subsidiary is working with its Motor subsidiary to speed EV adoption, optimize the timing of EV charging and reduce rates for all AES Indiana customers.
Motor has been offering an EV subscription program in Indiana since last August — a Motor Chevy Bolt is pictured by the Indiana statehouse above this story — and also provides a digital EV buying platform meant to increase sales at central Indiana auto dealers and a car-sharing program for workplaces, apartments and campuses.
AES Indiana has asked the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to approve a new EV charging rate that AES said would boost EV adoption without requiring AES Indiana to build more infrastructure. AES Indiana also wants the IURC to enable EV owners to benefit from one-time rebates on chargers and annual incentives for participating in Motor’s EV subscription program.
"This partnership with Motor provides a broad array of grid, economic and environmental benefits and is an innovative approach toward electrifying transportation, while creating benefits for all customers, even if they do not drive an electric car," said AES President and CEO Kristina Lund.
Sounds like a good way to build goodwill.