US utilities turning to managed EV charging programmes

US utilities are increasingly viewing electric vehicles (EVs) as a critical building block of their distributed energy resource (DER) plans, helping to smooth electricity demand while lowering costs for customers, according to a new study released by market intelligence firm Northeast Group.

As such, utilities are expanding their ‘managed charging’ programme offerings that help shift EV power demand to lower-cost off-peak hours. 

Over one-third of the largest 100 utilities in the US now offer managed EV charging programmes for EV owners.

In the mid-2010s, only 18 of the 100 largest US utilities offered EV tariffs but managed charging had yet to take off.

To date, 21 of the top 100 utilities offer EV tariffs while 14 utilities offer active managed EV charging such as direct load control via the EV charger, automobile telematics, or both. 

The majority of utilities offering managed charging programmes are the largest utilities in the country–such as PG&E and SCE in California and Duke Energy Carolinas–reaching a large swath of the US’s EV owners.

Ben Gardner, president of Northeast Group, said: “Utilities have long offered EV customers time-of-use rates, but the recent shift to ‘active managed charging’ has really opened the door to using EVs for demand response and subsequently as distributed energy resources.

“Utilities can now directly control the charging of a customer’s EV to the time when prices and demand are lowest, saving customers money while smoothing load curves.”

Although customer participation in the programmes remains low, EV owners can save 37% more by participating in managed EV charging or Time-of-Use initiatives. [Nissan-EDF partnership simplifies EV ownership for businesses]

Northeast Group urges utilities, regulators and automobile companies and charging equipment vendors to collaborate to expand the importance of EVs as DERs.

One key element to boosting participation rates could be making ‘opt-out’ the standard rather than ‘opt-in’ for utility customers. [Siemens wins electric buses charging deal in Germany]

Many utilities have already begun the work in promoting these managed charging programmes by partnering with automakers such as BMW, GM, Honda, and Nissan, charger manufacturers such as ChargePoint, Clipper Creek, and Greenlots (Shell), and grid vendors such as Itron and Siemens. 

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