As often as battery-electric vehicles are in the news these days, it’s easy to forget that only about 2% of Americans own a BEV, according to Kelley Blue Book.
But, with 36% “seriously considering” buying or leasing one, a lot of car owners are about to jump into this brand-new driving and charging experience. By 2033, EY predicts BEV sales will dominate new-vehicle sales – five years sooner than experts previously anticipated.
Although this is excellent news for drivers interested in reducing their emissions and saving money on gas, BEVs produce a new challenge for utility providers: managing the grid when more vehicles than ever will be charging up.
Armed with ad spends in the billions of dollars annually, automakers have created strong brands and engagement with their customers. But with their focus on the vehicle itself, most first-time BEV purchasers do not think about charging their vehicles or contacting their utility before their purchase, according to interviews conducted by Uplight. Further, most BEV buyers do not realize that discussing their purchase with their energy provider can help them charge more efficiently, maximize their “green” investment’s positive impact and ultimately save money through various programs.
Utilities need to reach their market in new, innovative ways to ensure BEV buyers are getting the most out of their purchases. So, how will this all work?
Plugging Into Consumer Trust
Uplight and the See Change Institute conducted research that gathered input from 2,400 U.S. utility customers, showing how companies in the clean-energy space rank in terms of trust, competence, innovation and willingness to allow brands to connect their homes and help manage energy decisions.
Most consumers have a relatively strong sense of trust in their utility: They scored sixth out of 16. Utilities ranked higher for trust compared to Ford or Tesla, the two automakers Uplight and the See Change Institute looked at as representative auto brands, which scored last and third to last, respectively, among the brands measured. Utilities also scored high on their ability to connect and manage a home’s clean-energy ecosystem, presenting a great opportunity for utility providers to help BEV owners manage their vehicles and the grid.
Despite receiving favorable marks for trust, utilities scored low on customer engagement, unlike Ford or Tesla, which have high engagement with consumers excited about their new-car purchase. Because automakers such as Tesla are seen as innovative and engaging effectively with customers, this is an ideal time for collaboration between car companies, charger manufacturers and utilities.
The high engagement of the BEV purchaser, combined with the trust customers place in utilities, can help all parties involved succeed. Without one another, the proposition to the consumer is significantly weaker, and may not succeed at all.
Customers who wish to take advantage of these programs will have to entrust both utilities and BEV manufacturers with control over some of their energy decisions.
Managing More EVs on the Grid
Successful partnerships between BEV manufacturers and utilities strengthen the ability to manage more BEVs on the grid. To accomplish this, energy providers first need to know where those vehicles are in order to simplify the managed charging process and get ahead of an increased load on the grid.
Managed charging can make certain BEVs are properly powered when needed, ensuring customer comfort, while supporting a more reliable, resilient grid. Managed BEV charging can operate automatically, adjusting power levels and shifting charging sessions in line with behavioral changes, such as when drivers opt to charge when there is less strain on the grid and energy rates are lower.
Utilities can use an array of hardware and software technologies to support these managed charging programs and decrease grid load. Uplight and the See Change Institute see a huge opportunity to combine the natural high engagement the BEV purchaser has with the BEV manufacturer with the natural willingness customers place in utilities to help them manage energy decisions. Taken together, BEV consumers will be more aware of these programs that benefit all sides and see the benefits of enrolling in them.
Erin D’Amato (pictured, above left) is director of innovative solutions and Dan Burak (pictured, left) is senior director of brand marketing at Uplight, a provider of software solutions connecting energy customers to the decarbonization goals of power providers.