Deep into the pandemic, when—like many of you, I’m sure—it felt like all the TV and movies had been watched, I stumbled upon the Long Way series with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. If you’re not familiar, they’re both actors and friends who love motorcycles and they invite viewers to join them as they “travel the globe on two wheels.”
I loved the escapism the series provides, especially at a time when travel was no longer a possibility, and how they showed the realities of international travel in remote areas. The most recent installment, Long Way Up, chronicles their “warts and all” experience driving electric Harley-Davidson LiveWire prototypes, supported by electric Rivian pickup truck prototypes, from Argentina to Los Angeles. We were knee deep in the development of our EV Solution at the time I was watching, and I convinced myself that an episode each night was another element of the user research we’d been conducting throughout the day.
A passion for EVs is being stirred throughout pop culture right now, be it from a zany wannabe spaceman billionaire, the president, or a couple actors travelling around the world the hard way. In large part because of this surge in popularity, BloombergNEF forecasts more than half of US car sales will be electric by 2030. To support that, McKinsey and others estimate we’ll need approximately 20 times more EV chargers than we have now by then. But when those same people begin thinking about the logistics of owning an EV, the reality of navigating how and where to charge it quickly becomes overwhelming.
Charging is a concern felt by all types of consumers. Whether it’s city folks living in multi-unit dwellings (MUD) with no dedicated parking, renters not wanting to invest in their temporary home or office, country folks facing long drives to do pretty much everything, middle-class people without $85K to spend on a new car, those with older homes fearing the cost of upgrading their wiring, my mountain-living-stuck-in-her-ways mom, and yes, people who like road trips to remote places. All of them see hurdles to EV adoption that simply don’t exist when they’re considering a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle.
The questions and concerns consumers experience when considering an EV purchase make EV education, expert support, and simple participation pathways vital to the success of utility make-ready and charger incentive programs. Consumers are interested in EVs but, as an industry, we need to help make participation easy and affordable, while ensuring all consumers, even those living in historically marginalized communities, can benefit from the financial and environmental benefits EV’s offer.
Increase Adoption with Education and Support
Education is critical to helping consumers plan for the purchase of an EV and related charging equipment, which makes this a key element of any successful program design. Research shows that today, consumers spend more than seven hours on average researching vehicles before making a purchase. By providing vehicle comparison tools (including battery range details), find a dealer tools for those that sell EVs, maps of public charger locations, and information about why and how to install faster chargers for home use, utilities can support this important purchase decision to build trust, shorten the decision-making process, and increase the number of EVs sold. At present, according to SECC estimates, only four percent of consumers go to their electricity provider to get information about EVs, but those that do tend to trust the information they receive, more so than information from manufacturers, government sources or dealers. By providing education and support, utilities can improve customer satisfaction while growing their electricity load.
Customer Experience Should Be Prioritized
The customer experience should be simple; designed to effortlessly guide and support the consumer as they advance in their EV and EV charging journey. It should help consumers understand EVs and EV chargers, while providing a transparent view of total estimated project costs, information on all available rebates, incentives and financing offers, and expectations regarding project timelines. Consumers shouldn’t have to make a lot of phone calls to various trades, coordinate multiple site visits, and oversee a project plan to keep track of all the moving pieces. From the customer’s perspective, it should be as simple as providing basic information, scheduling an appointment, having a professional reach out in a convenient manner to answer any clarifying questions, and having the work completed in a reasonable time frame. Whether we’re talking residential or commercial customers, we need to design solutions that help realize this vision if we expect participation rates in our programs to increase substantially.
Underserved Communities and MUD are Critical
Most approved EV programs have some focus or prioritization on underserved communities and approximately one-third have specific investments for MUDs. In addition, of the 36 states on ACEEE’s Scorecard, six have a law or commission order directing utilities to incorporate equity into their transportation electrification or EV charging investment plans. In general, incentives are scaled to provide higher value rebates to these communities.
This investment requires an ability to identify, and therefore target, eligible customers in these markets. For example, a custom propensity model—based on past participation data and other indicators such as state, regional or local mandates for EV charging; indicators of where EV drivers are already parking; the location of relevant local corporations where consumers tend to park with an emphasis on those with sustainability and/or GHG reduction commitments (e.g., Dollar Tree, Walmart); and the location of low-to-moderate income households, communities of color, and communities with high pollution burdens—can help identify eligible properties with a high likelihood of conversion. This investment also requires a solution design that supports non-dedicated parking spots for “at home” charging in MUDs, without solely relying on DC fast chargers that charge rapidly, but typically do so at a higher commercial rate. For example, designing a solution that includes dedicated EV parking spots, including handicap accessible spots, with L2 chargers that include clear signage regarding use and time limits, plus card readers for payment, can help. The design should also be conducive to multiple modes of transportation, including mass transit, ride-hailing, and yes, even electric motorcycles, bikes, and scooters. Larger charging incentives for municipal fleet vehicles and ride-sharing drivers in targeted communities can help increase the rate of conversion to EVs in these areas, as can incentives to encourage centralized electric scooter and electric bike rental hubs. Community engagement is critical at the local level to ensure EV chargers are sited where they provide the most benefit to these communities.
According to SEPA research, EVs represent the most significant new electric load since the rise of air conditioning in the 1950s, and according to ACEEE, transportation electrification is widely recognized as one of the best strategies for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Win-win if we can prioritize the customer experience in solution development, and a triple win if we can cross-promote long-standing energy efficiency, demand response and solar programs, especially to underserved communities, in the process.
But we still have a long way to go.
When the Long Way Up series ended, I wanted a Harley-Davidson Livewire. Never mind that I’m not even a motorcycle person, but instead, a suburban football mom with three dogs who has absolutely no use for one. What’s interesting is that I was mentally able to gloss over all that drama around range anxiety that I witnessed first-hand while watching, and the impact of weather on trip timing. I still walked away wanting a LiveWire and a Rivian. It’ll be challenging, but if the utility industry can hold onto that excitement around EVs, educate customers in a meaningful way, make delivery of transportation electrification solutions easy for them, and do so in an equitable way, we can change our world.
A tall order for sure, but with a little forethought the jump doesn’t need to be a long way up.