Switching lanes: How utilities can encourage EV adoption through customer-centric programs April 4, 2019 | By Medha Surampudy We’ve all heard it – electric vehicles (EVs) are coming. But, in order for EVs to be adopted, customers need to be educated. Acquiring an electric vehicle, as it currently stands, is complicated. From locating dealerships, to identifying EV rates, incentives, and charging options, customers have to navigate a maze of information in order to make informed decisions. Utilities are in a unique position to help these customers. Proactive utilities can engage with customers to better understand their needs, increase EV penetration, influence load charging times, improve customer satisfaction, and meet regulatory goals. For the proactive utility, a number of customer-engagement options, with ranging costs and outcomes, are available. $ – Low-cost options, such as EV information on utility websites, educate the customer and enable the utility to establish itself as a trusted energy advisor. These options require little marketing and promotion, and equip customers with the information they need to make informed decisions. $$ – The next level of engagement ranges from online education to in-person support. “Ride and Drive” events and dealership education efforts build on customer education to help put customers behind the wheel, and can help move initial interest to actual EV sales. $$$ – More expensive engagement options support the charging behavior of EV owners. Incentives, rebates, rates, and infrastructure development fall into this category. These programs support EV owners and enable the utility to manage charging behavior. During a recent SEPA webinar, Electrifying Transportation: Customer-Centric Utility Strategies, Olivier Pincon, from ZappyRide, discussed the importance of utilities understanding and calculating how to get the most bang for their buck. In other words, utilities need to calculate the effectiveness of their customer engagement strategy. The impact of their engagement (measured by EV sales attributable to utility engagement), as related to the cost of the engagement, can help a utility determine what options to pursue. $ One of the most cost-effective approaches to engage customers is through websites. Utilities can establish themselves as a source for EV education by leveraging existing customer interaction through their online presence. By including information about electric vehicles on a utility website, utilities can: Consolidate information and reduce the amount of online searching needed for the customer to make informed EV-related decisions Personalize information to their unique customers, factoring in specific rate and incentive options Analyze website traffic to better understand customers that are interested in EVs Salt River Project (SRP) in Arizona engages with customers by providing electric vehicle information online through its WattPlan Price Calculator. Through this portal, customers can calculate how much EVs will save them and are presented with EV rates and incentives options. Thousands of customers visit the calculator, and SRP is able to analyze website traffic to better understand potential customers. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) also built a customer education platform. This platform was developed for less than 50% of its initial budget and saw success with very little marketing. The online platform saw about 10,000 unique visitors during its first two months online and resulted in over 400 new rebate applications in the first week after its launch. Advertising and marketing through social media, radio, and car websites may also spread the utility’s image as a trusted source for EV education. Utilities can also direct customers to utility aggregators or nonprofits that provide general information about electric vehicles. However, utilities should ensure that customized information is still available to their customers, as the specifics of their service territory and customer groups may demand additional details. $$ Along with website outreach and education, a utility can engage with customers by ensuring that customers’ in-person support and EV experience is enhanced. Ride and Drive events marketed to likely EV customers expose them to different cars and charging options. By partnering with Electric Car Guest Drive, Salt River Project was able to provide a two-day event for employees and customers to test drive and learn about EVs. This event provided the community with the opportunity to learn from different vendors and actually experience what it is like to drive an EV. Additionally, dealership education can ensure that customers interact and engage with informed EV representatives. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) worked with Plug In America’s PlugStar Program to develop an end-to-end customer and dealer engagement effort. The effort trained 13 dealerships and resulted in 2,535 website visitors and 255 vehicles sold in six months. By increasing the amount spent on customer engagement efforts, utilities can expose customers to the next level of EV education and transform EV interest to EV sales. $$$ Beyond the educational opportunities, utilities also have the option to engage with customers through incentives, rate plans, and infrastructure deployments. These programs reinforce the image of the utility as a trusted energy advisor, but also show that the utility is willing to meet the needs of EV owners. By establishing EV rates, utilities can support EV charging while managing the load on their grid. SRP currently has a charging program and estimates that about 70% of EV owners use a time-of-use (TOU) rate plan. The utility also recruited customers on the plan and put FleetCarma data loggers on select vehicles. This allowed SRP to discreetly log when customers were charging and if EV TOU plans were actually being used. Additional utility options include workplace charging programs and Commercial Level 2 charging rebates. According to Kathy Knoop at SRP, “workplace charging shows a huge increase in EV adoption”. By providing charging access to over 140 SRP employees, and enabling local businesses to install chargers, SRP is encouraging EV penetration, addressing range anxiety, and strengthening relationships with its commercial customers. Helping customers make the switch starts with the first step When preparing for increased EV penetration, it is necessary for utilities to engage with customers. Customer-centric utility strategies will help the utility strengthen its relationship with customers and better understand potential increases in load. It doesn’t take a multi-million dollar marketing budget to make a big impact in your community. Modest approaches to EV education could go a long way to increase the electric vehicle literacy of your customers. Resources to help start the journey: SEPA – Electrifying Transportation: Customer-Centric Utility Strategies On-Demand Webinar Smart Electric Consumer Collaborative – Electric Vehicle Toolkit SEPA – Utilities and Electric Vehicles: Evolving to Unlock Grid Value Share Share on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedIn About the Author Medha Surampudy Senior Analyst, Research Medha joined SEPA in 2017. Her research areas include clean energy deployment, policy, utility customer programs, state and local incentives, and overall grid security. She regularly administers and conducts research data collection and audits. Medha also supports a range of research reports, SEPA working groups, and member research requests. Prior to SEPA, Medha worked as a Research Assistant at Bloomberg BNA and the University of Chicago. She holds a master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Chicago, and a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from North Carolina State University.