Americans’ use of electric vehicles isn’t going to explode overnight, but EV purchases will continue to grow and electric cooperatives should be ready for the risks and rewards.
“This isn’t going to be a tide that hits all at once,” said Tom Binet, an economist with CoBank. “This is going to be gradual.”
Binet and other experts discussed the burgeoning EV market during a recent daylong Cooperative Electric Vehicle Summit in Denver.
Binet told attendees a typical co-op could see its consumer-members acquiring about 30 new electric vehicles a year by 2025 and more than 70 per year by 2030.
But some utilities have a long way to go before they’re seen by customers as trusted EV partners. New research by E Source found that only 18% of utility customers believe their utility supports the use of electric vehicles.
Adam Maxwell, E Source senior director of strategy and new product development, told the conference that now is the time for co-ops to start educating their members about EVs, offering information like the cost of charging EVs at home, the cost of the cars, and tax incentives that could help offset the purchase price.
Another finding of the E Source survey showed that 40% of consumers would view their utility more favorably if it provided discounted rates and other incentives for EV use.
“If you don’t have an EV incentive program, I encourage you to do so,” Maxwell said. “The potential revenue benefits of this are huge.”
Multiple co-ops encourage electric vehicle use by offering cash rebates for the purchase of EVs and chargers and special time-of-use rates that give discounts when members charge their cars during off-peak hours.
Wendy Youngren, chief operating officer at Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association in Rockford, Minnesota, encouraged co-ops to try new ideas and learn what works. She said her co-op initially thought it would be a good idea to install public fast-chargers.
“We found out that no one used them,” she said.
The co-op now has a pilot project to provide Level 2 smart-chargers to 11 members with EVs to install in their home garages. More than 70% of EV users nationwide charge their cars at home, she said.
Some conference attendees questioned whether co-ops should be providing special benefits to members with electric vehicles when most members don’t own them. Advocates of EV incentives said that electric vehicles—which can increase demand during non-peak hours—have the potential to help all members by keeping rates down.
“We constantly talk about how it benefits everyone,” said Peter Heintzelman, president and CEO of Cobb Electric Membership Corp. in Marietta, Georgia.
The EV marketplace is changing rapidly, and co-ops must be adaptable, said Lynn Daniels, manager of mobility transformation at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Boulder, Colorado-based think tank that promotes clean energy.
“Challenge your assumptions, and be ready to change them,” he said.
Brent Behn, vice president for electric distribution banking at CoBank, which sponsored the conference, said only one thing is certain amid the uncertainty about EVs.
“You can’t sit still.”