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Charging Ahead: Keeping Electric Vehicles En Route to Adoption

  |   Electric Vehicles

I was cruising the 101 into the heart of Silicon Valley with a caravan of electric vehicles (EVs) ahead of me and behind. I turned on news radio for some company and was lucky enough to catch a story about the plea for EV charging stations and the electric utility’s role in advancing the charging capacity. As an EV driver with 150,000 electric miles logged, I turned up the volume. The story echoed what I see as a smart transportation solution lead with Black & Veatch: EVs are an innovative technology that is both beneficial and challenging, underscored by continual talk about chickens and eggs. From my perspective, we can quell the “EV innovation frustration” through collaboration across sectors and working with the electric utilities to build-out EV infrastructure, scale-up EV adoption, and capture the many EV benefits.


Though EVs still only make up less than 1 percent (upwards of 10% in the San Francisco Bay Area) of global auto sales, they have become undeniable fixtures on roadways. EVs at multiple price points with extended ranges (200 miles or more) are here, prompting gas car drivers to consider a switch, which is driving up EV adoption projections. More EV cars on the road mean accelerated sustainability:


  • Slashed greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
  • Greater amounts of distributed energy resources (DER)
  • Stable electric system through utility Demand Response (DR) programs, which control EV charging patterns and shapes electricity demand
  • Lower ratepayer bills due to reduced firm generating capacity costs and electrical system asset investments with balanced electricity demand


If the benefits of EVs are as rewarding as clean, fast acceleration, then the challenges of EVs are like speedbumps. As an early market, EV business model development is ongoing, but needs more support to evolve beyond the chicken and egg debate. It is true that 90% of charging can occur at EV owners’ homes; however, multi-family unit and apartment residents cannot charge at home and may not be able to use public charging or connect vehicles during the day to produce grid benefit. To accelerate growth of the EV market, all charging scenarios require support. Beyond home charging demand, the energy requirements of medium and heavy-duty EV applications, such as goods movement, transit and large fleets, will require even more energy.


Electric utilities can become critical players to help scale EV, and it seems they are up to the task. Black & Veatch’s 2016 Strategic Directions: U.S. Electric Industry Report notes that more than 75 percent of electric utility respondents were “very interested” or “interested” in EVs as new revenue streams. In turn, electric utilities can support the necessary investments in EV infrastructure. In order to scale EVs, collaboration across the industry will be essential to establish a framework to support infrastructure build-out. Electric utilities can drive the EV market forward by collaborating with:


  • Customers: Utilities must increase customer engagement surrounding existing EVs and future adoption to ensure adequate electrical system infrastructure maintenance and investment scale.
  • State Agencies: State departments of motor vehicles and overseers of EV rate plans can help identify the rate of load growth from EVs.
  • Lawmakers: Examine tariffs and the state/local regulatory structures to support growth in EVs by being able to spread high demand fees across kilowatt-hours delivered.
  • Regulators: Adjust fee structures to encourage owners to charge during the best time for the utility.
  • Workplaces: Strengthen relationships with employers that offer charging to employees to capitalize on solar charging during daytime hours.
  • Charging Infrastructure Industry: Leverage and build on the experience of a growing market of hardware, software, and network providers.


With utilities at the pole-position, the EV market can advance is ways that benefit everyone, including the electric utility. EVs give utilities a way to get in front of their customers, while enhancing their brand. The 2016 Strategic Directions report shows that 50 percent of utilities feel EVs have positive environmental impacts. In turn, when the utility supports EVs, their customers view this favorably because the utility is facilitating community benefits such as reduced GHG emissions, health benefits the pollution reduction, and real regional economic growth through reduced fuel imports and increased local jobs. As States introduce more ambitious GHG targets, encouraging utility investments in the EV market can amplify societal benefits.


The integration of energy and transportation—two of the most extensive, complicated, and valuable economic sectors in the United States—is a massive challenge that requires cross-disciplinary coordination and public support. The combination of gradual adoption and both regulatory and public support for investments in a more reliable, flexible grid/charging network has created a scenario in which electric utilities are prepared to play a major role in facilitating broader adoption. All parties are beginning to see that the combination of vehicle technology, market forces and changing cultural standards is creating a perfect storm that will propel EVs forward.


Paul Stith is Solution Lead for Smart Transportation in Black & Veatch’s Smart Integrated Infrastructure business. He builds solution sets and expands the business’ ecosystem with established and emerging technology partners. He lives in California and is a proud EV owner.


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