Variable rate plans for plug-in EVs: Not such a hot idea?


By: SGN Staff


Electric utilities already know that more plug-in EVs (PEVs) on the road are both a challenge and an opportunity. But Pike Research warns that despite the hype variable rate plans aren't likely to be the jackpot many have described.


Why not? "Plug-in electric vehicles are especially promising for utilities considering the tendency of electric vehicle owners to charge at night during off-peak hours, thus using capacity that is currently underutilized," said John Gartner, research director for Pike Research. "But specific rates for charging electric vehicles are unlikely to greatly influence consumer charging habits, especially when variable time-of-use plans are already in place."


The report, Best Practices for Utilities to Prepare for Electric Vehicles, also brings up more challenges for utilities as the PEV market grows. Peak demand will spike if clusters of EVs are charged at the same time. If batteries are low on power, owners probably will charge them regardless of peak pricing in most areas as electricity "will always be cheaper than gasoline."


That market growth also means utilities will need to develop relationships with carmakers, dealers, fleet managers and EV owner groups - which utilities are not accustomed to working with. And more important, Pike says, PEVs represent unknowns about electricity consumption and how it will affect utility infrastructure, as well as an inclination to deal with anticipated problems that may not be real risks to the grid or utility business processes.


Based on its research in plug-in EV power use and lessons learned from utilities currently involved in EV charging, the report offers best practice recommendations for improving customer service for consumers and guidelines for working regional EV organizations, dealers and local officials.


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