Electric vehicles offer many electric cooperatives the chance to dramatically boost sales after more than a decade of stagnant or declining growth, but EVs can hurt co-ops that aren’t prepared for the increased demand, says a new NRECA report.

“The load associated with EVs can be beneficial to co-ops since it is highly flexible; it can be shifted away from peak hours or other periods when grid supply is low and/or expensive to periods of excess or low-cost electricity,” the 82-page report says.

“However, EVs have the potential to negatively impact co-ops if they are not prepared to accept and manage the charging load. Unmitigated charging load may increase peak demand, electricity costs, and exceed the limits of co-op infrastructure.”

To benefit from increasing EV adoption by consumers, the report says, co-ops need to be proactive. They can do this by monitoring rapidly evolving EV market and technology trends in their service territories, developing business structures that increase EV adoption and manage EV load, upgrading infrastructure to support the additional load and advocating for beneficial EV policies.

Here's a look at some other key takeaways from the report:

Accelerating EV Adoption

The biggest barriers to consumers buying EVs are concerns about the availability of charging stations, the number of miles that EVs can go before needing to be charged and the initial purchase price. Most Americans have not had any experience driving or riding in EVs, adding to their uncertainty.

“Co-ops have taken steps to help members experience EVs through a variety of creative activities,” the report says. “Many co-ops hold ‘ride and drive’ events, where members can experience EVs.”

Corn Belt Energy, a distribution co-op in Illinois, takes a family-friendly approach with its EV Drive-In event. Members, non-members, and dealers display and discuss their EVs, and food trucks and entertainment round out the evening. Gunnison County Electric Association, a distribution co-op in Colorado, allows its members to borrow its Chevy Bolt for up to a week to fully appreciate the EV experience.”

Reducing Range Anxiety

It could be especially useful for co-ops to survey members to determine their level of knowledge about EVs, what concerns they may have, their driving behaviors and where new charging infrastructure may be needed most.

“Co-ops may choose to install charging stations themselves, or partner with building managers, businesses, tourism boards, or municipalities to do so,” the report says. “Co-ops may consider visibility, ease of access, and traffic in deciding where to site stations.”

Drivers’ needs should also be taken into account, the report says.

“Are drivers passing through the area on long trips and in need of (Direct Current Fast Chargers)? Do drivers tend to park for several hours in one location—like a restaurant, shopping center, or hotel —and, therefore, can use Level 2 charging?”

Level 2 chargers typically take several hours to fully charge an EV battery, while costlier DC fast chargers can power a battery to 80% in less than half an hour.

“These considerations depend on the co-op’s geography and may differ for distribution co-ops versus their (generation and transmission co-ops),” the report says. “Collaboration between distribution and G&T co-ops, however, can help develop a regional strategy of charging corridors and destination charging that covers the needs of EV drivers.”

Offering Special EV Rates

Many co-ops that want to encourage members to drive EVs are offering them special time-of-use rates to charge vehicles during non-peak hours.

“Key to implementing a successful EV rate program is setting the right rate: one that will send proper price signals to allow members to determine whether they want to modify their behavior to charge at off-peak times and, ultimately, reduce costs to the co-op and, in turn, the co-op’s membership as a whole,” the report says. “The difference between on- and off-peak rates must be large enough for members to see value in altering their behavior to off-peak charging.”

It's crucial that co-ops publicize any special EV rates that they adopt.

“It is important that new EV buyers learn about these incentives upon purchase, if not sooner, when they are still exploring their options,” the report says.