Lessons learned from the 2023 CLEAResult Energy Forum EV adoption breakout session
Transportation Electrification took center stage during a breakout session at the 2023 CLEAResult Energy Forum this summer. Robin McAlester from Liberty Utilities joined our Senior Practice Consultants, James Russell and Peter Yeh to address the barriers utility customers face when entering Electric Vehicle (EV) programs. The panel discussed ways utilities could enhance participation, from improving charging station accessibility to considering the pricing of EVs.
Here are some of the key takeaways from this session:
Engage your customers to understand their concerns
In 2019, Liberty Utilities recognized that to increase participation in their EV programs, they needed to address their customers’ concerns and requirements about transitioning to electric vehicles. Their first step was to understand what was keeping their customer segments from readily adopting EVs. The utility went about gathering information from their customers directly which led them to summarize their findings that across the board, the availability and accessibility of charging locations emerged as a primary barrier. Liberty Utilities created EV programs for different customer groups to address this including public charging infrastructure, charging for school buses, commercial fleet, and workplaces, as well as and on-road charging infrastructure. All five programs gained approval from the Missouri utility commission and were fine-tuned to meet the needs of all stakeholders involved.
Currently, these programs undergo continuous refinement as Liberty Utilities and their partners see what’s working well, identify any pain points, and make necessary adjustments to promote widespread EV adoption.
Make the EV transition realistic through education
During the panel, Liberty Utilities emphasized the advantages of collaborating with us to swiftly address their customers’ educational challenges and realign programs to meet objectives. This process of partnering with the customer secures greater buy-in and enhances the customer experience by tailoring the benefits of EV adoption to the specific needs of a particular fleet and highlighting their potential savings.
Our electric transitions portfolio worked in conjunction with Liberty Utilities in assisting fleet owners in their community in understanding the benefits of electrification by providing tools and advisory service. ChooseEV, our tool that helps consumers make the switch to electric vehicles by comparing costs, emissions and identify incentives, allowed local fleet owners to input their fleet information and get a sense of what tangible benefits electrifying their fleet will bring. Through the platform, they could also create a transition plan that suited their needs. This resource not only offered education but also encouraged active engagement and exploration. Paired with Liberty Utilities' helped customers view the transition to electric fleets as a manageable reality.
Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Peter Yeh, CLEAResult’s Senior Practice Consultant, has personal insight into how costly daily life can be for households. Peter noted how residents in these areas could cut half of their fueling costs by engaging in lifestyle swaps such as purchasing an EV and embracing more environmentally friendly modes of public transportation. Achieving lifestyle changes such as these all comes down to educating people on the benefits.
We are helping to educate utility representatives, site owners, residential, and commercial tenants in understanding the cost of fueling with electricity and adopting EVs for both commercial and personal use. Although residents might support and be interested in decarbonization and sustainability, what matters most to people is how adopting any kind of change will impact their lives and financial well-being. Educating people about the benefits for their pocketbooks is a fantastic starting point.
Address customer segments with specific needs
Certain communities, such as high cost of living (HCOL), rural, and low-to-moderate income (LMI) areas, face unique obstacles when it comes to EV adoption.
In San Francisco, over 60% of residents live in multifamily housing, which understandably presents challenges for installing EV infrastructure in these buildings. The main challenge is convincing building owners to approve the installation of multiple charging stations. A primary barrier is the cost but getting the infrastructure in place doesn’t have to be expensive—adjusting the charging station types to Level 1 or Level 2 keeps the price low—but it’s still an investment that building owners need to make. Many have reservations about allocating parking spaces to EV charging and potentially implementing rent increases to offset costs.
Opportunities and interest are emerging from the agricultural industry, but there are significant hurdles to electrifying machinery and transportation in rural areas. Primarily, extending charging infrastructure to remote rural areas remains the main challenge. Overcoming this is a bit complicated given the logistics involved. Fortunately, there are already federal grant funding applications underway, specifically aimed at bolstering energy infrastructure in these hard-to-reach areas. Such programs include the Charging and Fueling Infrastructure (CFI) Discretionary Grant Program, established by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law which will bring EV charging and other alternative vehicle-fueling infrastructure projects in publicly accessible locations in urban and rural communities.
The primary barrier faced by those in LMI communities is the price of EVs. Leading EV models are averaging $7-14,000 more expensive than traditional internal combustion engine vehicles, but fortunately there are signs that more and more car dealerships will begin offering a wider selection of used EVs at a more affordable price. Another barrier that LMI communities are facing is the lack of awareness of new incentives introduced by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) such as rebates on residential home chargers or new EV vehicle purchase tax credits – for more information on available incentives, check out our IRA resources.
Partner with car dealerships to expand adoption and accessibility
Liberty Utilities’ Robin highlighted the important role car Dealerships have in supporting EV programs by recommending them to customers, “Dealerships can also help new EV owners find home charging options through local utility programs which can offer home install for chargers or knowledge about smart charging demand response programs that customers can enroll in and potentially receive participation incentives.”
The breakout session panel recognized dealerships as a key opportunity for expanding EV accessibility. Once dealerships start selling EVs, used EVs soon follow, naturally broadening access to a larger market base by making the price point more attractive.
As Robin McAlester from Liberty Utilities noted, “Customers want variety and accessibility to a car that’s going to make sense for them, both in car type and in price point. Used vehicles are the current option for consumers looking for affordability, and with used EVs becoming more commonplace on used dealer lots, we’ll be able to see a more widespread adoption across various income levels.”
The session painted a compelling picture of broader EV program participation. Utilities can improve transportation electrification by nurturing equity and education and by addressing distinct community needs. As we listen to communities, adjust strategies to meet their needs, and create adaptable programs, we continue to shape a future that is electric, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable.
Stay tuned for additional insights from this event, and thanks to all who joined us at the 2023 CLEAResult Energy Forum. We're already looking forward to doing it again in 2024, we hope you can join us!