In the coming weeks, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is expected to release its Order approving two of several electric vehicle pilot programs from Xcel Energy. As many of you know, electric vehicle (EV) adoption is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years. These two pilots take on several challenges that have been identified to electric vehicle growth. CUB participated in stakeholder workshops with Xcel and submitted formal comments to the PUC on these pilots.
CUB’s primary objective is to ensure that the new electricity load from electric vehicles is distributed as efficiently as possible in order to reduce costs for everyone – EV drivers and non-drivers alike. When done properly, through managed charging and customer pricing signals, the growth of load from transportation will be beneficial to all customers, because it lets us get more use out of the existing electric grid, and avoid having to build more utility infrastructure to keep up with EV charging loads. Renewable energy is typically abundant during low-cost periods, too. A careful approach that incorporates appropriate price signals will translate to customer savings and reduced carbon emissions. This is especially important when considering utility programs to encourage electric vehicles. These programs are funded by customers’ dollars and so must benefit all customers.
The first pilot from Xcel in this round, a Fleet EV Service Pilot, will study the company’s investment in installing and maintaining electric vehicle infrastructure for fleet operators. The $14 million program will combine investment, advisory services, and time-of-use rates to encourage customers to charge their vehicles during off-peak periods. When they enroll, fleet customers will get an assessment from Xcel to understand which vehicles would be best suited for transition to electricity. The customers will then be evaluated for suitability of charging infrastructure and equipment. Once a customer is deemed a good candidate, Xcel will provide support for service connection and infrastructure and charging equipment. This pilot intends to help the utility, the PUC, and parties like CUB understand non-residential customer behavior and how converting fleets to electric vehicles will impact the utility system.
The second pilot is focused on public charging. The purpose of this pilot is to encourage the purchase of electric vehicles by helping customers overcome “range anxiety.” It also looks to support longer-distance driving and provide charging solutions for those who are not able to charge at home. This pilot will provide $9 million to run electricity to chargers owned by third parties: increasing access to charging, lowering barriers to investment in charging infrastructure, leveraging public and private funding, and providing charging options for customers.
Both pilots will employ time-of-use rates and demand charges for customers – making electricity more expensive during peak hours and much cheaper when overall electricity demand is low, and charging customers for their usage during a month.
Time-of-use rates are absolutely necessary to see overall consumer benefits. Increasing electricity use for transportation can reduce costs overall – but only if the bulk of the new usage happens off peak. More sophisticated programs also employ “managed charging,” allowing a utility to have a hand in scheduling vehicle charging to smooth out local electric demand peaks while guaranteeing the vehicles are charged and ready to go when customers need them. CUB will be looking for more use of managed charging in future EV programs.
In the coming months, the PUC will hear another Xcel pilot: a pilot that looks to reduce the high upfront costs for charging and metering equipment for residential customers. Again, CUB encourages electric vehicle programs that benefit the public through managed charging and price signals that modify customer behavior. As with all of these programs, it is important that customers who do not benefit through participation are gaining the system benefits of these programs.