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Case Study:
EV Charging

WE HAVE UTILITY EXPERIENCE

Our Client

Public Utility

Our client is a public utility providing electricity and natural gas to its customers.

Our client services both urban and rural customers across several markets, meaning that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for their brand.

Any changes to service delivery must meet the needs of their customers, while also moving the brand towards it goal of carbon-free power production.

EVS PLACE STRAIN ON ELECTRIC GRID

Background

Background

They, along with their regulatory board, have expressed their intent to become increasingly less dependent on carbon-based fuel sources over the next three decades, with the ultimate goal of becoming carbon-free.

While our client was making large-scale investments into new technologies and moving to more wind and solar production, leadership also wanted to find less resource-intensive ways to reduce impact on the grid which was seeing a large increase in its customers’ use to power their new electric vehicles (EVs).

Because most drivers plug in their EVs when they arrive home from work, the grid was experiencing a significant spike in usage between 5 and 7 PM, an already high-demand period.

In an effort to reduce peak demand, our client enrolled a small set of EV drivers into a pilot program which employed Level 2 Smart Chargers to schedule charging during off-peak hours. In exchange, EV owners received lower kWh pricing without the expense of installing a separate time-of-use meter.

“THERE WHEN I NEED IT”

Challenges

Key Challenge

Energy customers believe their utilities should be “there when I need them” and find any disruption unacceptable, making it difficult to drive changes in customers’ usage patterns. Customers often do not trust their utility’s motives and may not want to change their behavior for the benefit of what they see as a large, profitable corporation.

The key challenge for any energy provider is to effect change in consumer behavior without impacting the experience or creating disruptions in energy delivery. For customers who own electric vehicles, this means delaying the charging window past the traditional peak demand hours into the overnight period.

The key question in this research was how to convince new EV owners—who may not fully understand charging and may not trust their utility—to participate in a delayed charging program. With looming demands for carbon neutrality, customer adoption of programs like this is critical to ensure that our client meets its goals.

WHAT WE DID

Approach

Qualitative Focus Groups

Our client came to us as it was beginning regulatory filings to expand the pilot program. While they had received positive anecdotal reviews from pilot participants, our client wanted a more formal understanding of the impact of the pilot on participants to share with the regulatory agency.

Additionally, they wanted to understand how to improve their scheduled charging program to expand its appeal beyond early adopters, as more and more drivers are expected to choose EVs in the coming years.

Our service offering was a set of qualitative focus groups aimed at understanding the impact of the smart charging pilot on its users and finding ways to improve the program to meet the needs of all EV drivers, today and in the future.

Here is what we found…

Participation in the program did not require a change in participants’ behavior

Charging behavior is habitual, with EV owners plugging in as soon as they arrive home to ensure a full charge the next morning.

Going in, there was significant concern from pilot participants that their EVs would not be sufficiently charged in the morning with the reduced charging window. This was especially true among participants who had no experience with a Level 2 (240v) charger.

Participants were pleasantly surprised that they could still plug in upon arrival at home but automatically delay charging until the less-expensive charging window.

"

When it’s in our garage, it’s charging. The difference now is when we get home and plug it in and it’s not charging. If I had to wait to plug it in at night, I wouldn’t bother with this program, no matter how much money I saved.

—2019 Tesla Model 3 Owner

"

I plug it in once I think I’m done driving for the day. I don’t have to think about it. If I had to think about when to charge it or if it required more work from me, I probably wouldn’t do the program because I don’t want to make my life more complex.

—2018 Nissan Leaf Owner

"

Before they installed the charger, I was really worried my car wouldn’t be fully charged for me in the morning. Now, I see it only takes a couple of hours to charge, so I don’t care when they schedule it so long as it’s ready for me to go to work in the morning.

—2017 VW e-Golf Owner

Here is what we found…

Installation assistance drove adoption

Homeowners find the installation of 240v power to their garage a daunting process, both in terms of cost and effort, but welcome the assistance from their electric utility, who they view as an expert in electricity and wiring.

Many homeowners report they would not consider the installation of a 240v charger in their homes without the assistance of the utility, not trusting an independent electrician to do the work properly.

Similarly, a charger rental program, which reduced the upfront cost, allowed participation from homeowners who could not afford to purchase a charger on their own.

"

To have a fast charger, you have to have more power in your garage. I wouldn’t trust my regular electrician to do that. I don’t want my garage to burn down.

—2019 Nissan Leaf Owner

"

We just bought this really expensive new car and now I have to shell out 800 bucks for a charger? Renting the charger makes it an easier pill to swallow for me.

—2017 BMW i3 Owner

"

I really thought it would be impossible for them to get the extra power for a Level 2 charger to the garage because there’s a patio between the house and garage. But they figured it out for me. I wouldn’t have done it if they hadn’t held my hand.

—2018 Fiat 500e

Here is what we found…

Key Take Away

Most Impactful Message
is Environmental Impact

While pilot participants are excited to see a savings on their electric bill, they are most interested in how their time-of-use charging impacts their utility’s carbon footprint:

"

The reason I bought a Tesla was to move away from fossil fuels, but that doesn’t really work unless the energy I use to charge it is from renewable energy.

—2019 Tesla Model S Owner

"

Charging in the middle of the night puts less demand on the grid, which means I can charge my EV with wind power or solar power, not coal. The savings are nice, but I really care about my impact on the environment.

—2017 Nissan Leaf Owner

Recommendation

Our Recommendation

Use Carrots, Not Sticks
To Reduce Energy Consumption

Our client, along with all public utilities, is under tremendous pressure to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and lower its carbon footprint.

In addition to large investments in technology and infrastructure, our client needs cooperation from its customers to help drive reductions in pollution and fuel usage.

This research found that using a carrot rather than a stick approach is effective in changing behaviors to lessens the impact of EV charging on the grid.

Providing assistance to help customers avoid large one-time costs and reduce installation-related anxiety were key to adoption and should be considered as similar programs are rolled out.

While cost savings were originally thought to be a primary motivation for customers, we found that most were more interested in reducing their environmental impact rather than saving money on their electric bill.

To motivate future adoption of this and similar time-of-use programs, we recommended that our client publicize the impact of these programs on its carbon footprint in a “Save the Planet and Money” campaign.