Category Archives: Electric Vehicles

Why Are We Trying to Replicate the Gas Station Experience for EVs?

Your grandma’s rotary phone had advantages over a cell phone: it didn’t need to be recharged and the voice quality was superior. Yet, rotary phones can now only be found in museums. And it didn’t stop at cell phones: Apple came along and showed us how a smartphone has potential to be so much more. Our smartphones are now considered essential for running our day-to-day lives beyond communication — we shop, we look for directions, we take pictures; it’s now more of a personal assistant then a phone. But we need to charge them.

The same transformation is happening with EVs. EVs can do more than a combustion vehicle, being batteries on wheels designed around a core computing architecture. We’re only beginning to scratch the surface of how EVs can change our lives, with greater resiliency at home and helping integrate renewable energy sources without contributing as much to climate change.

Yet, non-EV drivers seem to assume that adoption of EVs will be limited until they can be recharged in a time comparable to fueling a combustion vehicle at a gas station. It’s like saying that cell phones and smartphones can’t reach mass adoption until they don’t need to be charged. 

Combustion vehicle drivers might be shocked (warning!) to learn that EV driver behavior is closer to charging a smartphone than fueling a car. EV drivers tend to charge overnight at home or opportunistically during the day, but not necessarily expecting a full charge every time. They prefer to charge at their destination using less expensive, more convenient and more reliable (but slower) level 2 chargers or slow DCFC rather than faster chargers at a “gas station” where they would have to wait and pay more for charging. Do you often “fast charge” your smartphone? I don’t.

“Gas station” charging is the most expensive way to charge in an ecosystem that is very price sensitive (like gasoline). It’s also the most time-consuming way to charge while we all need more time to do our things. Nevertheless, “gas station” charging is crucial in some situations, like along corridors during a road trip. But it’s also a last resort, used as infrequently as possible. Like a payphone in remote locations without cell coverage. But this doesn’t stop us from loving our smartphones.

Fast chargers: over-rated?

Many assume that adoption of light-duty electrical vehicles (EV) will be limited until EVs recharge as fast as combustion vehicles refuel at a gas station. That’s not quite true. The truth will not surprise many EV drivers, but (warning!) some combustion vehicle drivers might be shocked.

For EV drivers to experience a gas station-like experience, charging needs to be complete within minutes, i.e. fast charging, the faster the better, it seems. The need largely arises from the possibility of cross-country road trips, leading to an accent on fast charging along highway corridors. Who doesn’t dream of cruising top-down in a roadster on highway 66 or the Trans-Canada highway?

What’s the real need? The share of energy provided by public fast charging is around 10% to 15%, depending on where you are, and most of this is in cities, not along highway corridors. This breakdown is not surprising, as most EV drivers charge at home, which is also the least expensive place to charge. After home, workplace is the second least expensive place to charge, with some employers providing free charging. For public charging, level 2 chargers are much more economical than fast chargers to install and operate, cost less than half as expensive for drivers to use, are easier to handle (having lighter cables) and may often be more convenient (no need to wait, just park, plug and come back some hours later or the next morning). Given this, plus the fact that the range of modern EVs is more than most people usually need in a day, level 2 chargers at destinations (as well as “slow” fast chargers, like 25 kW or 50 kW) are likely to retain a higher share of charging energy than public super fast charging. Note that 25 kW or 50 kW chargers at commercial destinations like grocery stores are very convenient: you may get a week worth of veggies, milk, meat and driving in one visit, all without waiting.

Corridor fast charging is a last resort, used if other alternatives (home, workplace, and destination charging) are not suitable. This means that fast corridor chargers have relatively low time utilization, but the pattern is peaky, resulting in congestion at certain times, such as Friday afternoon as people leave town for the weekend. The low market share of fast chargers will clearly be a challenge for operators of gas stations, as 100% of fuel is now sold at gas stations. And, with high peaks, congestion will occur even with low average utilization. Operators of fast corridor chargers will have no choice but to increase prices further for captive drivers who have no other alternatives.

However, a good fast charging infrastructure along highway corridors is nevertheless essential, as EV drivers sometimes need it, when they go on road trips. Furthermore, the fast charging infrastructure is also a major showcase for people considering buying an EV. Without it, as infrequently it might be used, few combustion drivers would consider an EV.

NRCan Report: Biennial Snapshot of Canada’s Electric Charging Network

I was the principal author for this just-released primary research report on public EV charging, sponsored by Natural Resource Canada and done in collaboration with Mogile technologies, editor of the ChargeHub database. You may find a summary below and how to get the full report is at the end of this post.

As of 28 January 2022, there were 19,502 charging ports in 7,967 locations in Canada. These include 15,718 level 2 (240 V) ports and 3,784 level 3 (DCFC) ports operated by 28 charging networks. There are also six hydrogen fuelling stations for fuel-cell electrical vehicles. 

ChargePoint, Electric Circuit, Flo and Tesla are the largest charging network operators, accounting for almost 70% of the ports. However, most of the chargers are owned by the site hosts where they are located. In addition to charging network operators and site owners, major stakeholders in the public charging infrastructure include automakers, utilities, charger manufacturers, governments, and regulatory agencies. The public EV charging ecosystem is nascent, and a few competing or complementary business models have emerged to link the various stakeholders. These business models are still evolving, and stakeholders are adapting to the evolution in the market. 

Most chargers are owned by businesses. However, there are significant differences amongst Canadian regions, with comparatively more chargers owned by different levels of governments and utilities in Québec. By contrast, the governments, the not-for-profit organizations, and the utilities own relatively few chargers in the Prairies, with ownership types in British Columbian and Ontario falling somewhere in between. About 48 charging sites are on or near Indigenous lands. 

Depending on the business model used, either the charging network operator or the site owner earns revenues from charging. About half of level 2 ports are free or partially free to use. Another quarter is at $1 per hour or less. Excluding Tesla, most level 3 ports are in the $10 to $15 per hour range, often around $12 per hour.

About 60% of the charging sites are in large cities, and these sites tend to be larger and equipped with more level 2 ports (and relatively fewer level 3 ports) than rural sites. For rural sites, charger mix varies with the distance from a highway. Sites closer to a highway have relatively more level 3 chargers than any other category — they are on-the-go corridor chargers. Further out, they are destination chargers generally installed at commercial or public sites.

Food stores, restaurants, and bars, as well as health care, finance and insurance companies, are the most common amenities found within 100 m of charging sites. Automotive repair places and gasoline stations are more commonly found around level 3 sites than around level 2 sites.

With the many EV charging stakeholders having their own objectives and priorities, and often competing amongst them, interoperability is increasingly important. The ecosystem is working toward improved interoperability between the EVs and the chargers, between the chargers and the E-Mobility systems of a network operator, and between E-Mobility systems of various network operators. However, the full interoperability is clearly not achieved yet, with multiple incompatibilities present at various levels in the infrastructure. 

Usage of the charging infrastructure was estimated using data provided by some Canadian operators. Overall, Mogile assembled a dataset with nearly 2 million charging sessions in four thousand locations with level 2 or level 3 chargers (over 20% of the ports in Canada). The dataset has usage data from 2019, 2020 and 2021. Unsurprisingly, utilization of public chargers has decreased with the COVID-19 pandemic. The average duration of charging sessions has remained relatively constant, while the number of ports available to the public continued to increase. Level 3 charging sessions in the datasets lasted on average 28 minutes, and level 2 charging sessions lasted on average 2 hours and 44 minutes. There has been a slight increase in energy and power delivered from 2019 to 2021.

The weekly pattern varies greatly depending on where a charging site is located. Sites in rural areas have more charging events during the weekend, starting Friday. In general, level 2 ports are the busiest toward noon and level 3 ports are busiest in late afternoon.

Accessibility, hardware and charging issues occasionally afflict drivers attempting to charge their EVs. Most level 3 chargers are communicating to enable remote diagnostics, but some level 2 chargers are not. Cable management systems are being installed to limit potential of damage to cables and connectors. Excluding external issues such as blocked access, the typical average unavailability of communicating level 3 chargers stated by some interviewed operators is around 1%. The stated average unavailability of communicating level 2 ports is higher, around 8% or 9%. Together, these issues contribute toward the overall satisfaction of EV drivers for public charging, and drivers are more satisfied with level 2 charging than with level 3 charging based on a natural language analysis of comments left by drivers in the ChargeHub mobile app. 

The full report can be obtained at https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy-efficiency/transportation-alternative-fuels/resource-library/3489, under the title “Biennial Snapshot of Canada’s Electric Charging Network and Hydrogen Refuelling Stations for Light-duty Vehicles”. Alternatively, you can obtain it at https://chargehub.com/en/industry/nrcan-report.html, or contact me directly. 

NRCan Report: Public EV Charging Infrastructure Gaps

I was the principal author for this just-released primary research report on public EV charging, sponsored by Natural Resource Canada and done in collaboration with Mogile Technologies, editor of the ChargeHub database.

This report identifies three categories in the Canadian electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure in which gaps occur: cities, highways, and customer experience. It is based on data in the ChargeHub database, an independent, curated, user-enriched and commercially available database of public EV charging stations in North America, augmented by data from stakeholder interviews and demographic census data and geographic data. 

Generally, cities in British Columbia and Quebec have more public charging ports relative to their population than cities in other provinces, and city EV drivers use them more than drivers outside cities. As for major highways, coverage is at 61%, with most of the gaps in the Prairies. For customer experience, EV drivers consider range anxiety (a vehicle issue: “Will I be able to get where I am going?”) a less serious concern than charging anxiety (an infrastructure issue: “Will I be able to charge at this site?”).

Although the geographic coverage of the EV charging infrastructure is relatively good, the charging capacity is stretched in many areas, resulting in a suboptimal customer experience. Fast charging sites tend to be larger in cities, and Tesla fast charging sites are, on average, four times larger than non-Tesla sites. Meeting the increasing charging needs of EV drivers and promoting adoption of EVs will need to account for existing capacity utilization in the immediate area where new sites are considered, especially at peak driving times such as Fridays before a long weekend. 

Interviewees stated that public charging sites generally have a challenging intrinsic economic case for their operators and site owners, which is constraining expansion. A large portion of charging sites is currently only financially undertaken when subsidized in some way, whether by governments, by utilities, by automakers or by site owners. Business owners likely justify supporting public charging sites based on the possible indirect benefits they may bring, such as attracting drivers and customers or improving public image. In this context, stakeholders see the financial support from NRCan’s infrastructure deployment programs as essential. 

Optimizing future EV charging infrastructure deployment will need to account for not only coverage but also capacity needs. For example, adding ports to an existing site, or adding a new site in the vicinity, may be highly beneficial for EV drivers if there is regular congestion and if the new capacity can be demonstrated to relieve current or upcoming congestion. Furthermore, due to the low levels of satisfaction with customer experience for public charging, we recommend that NRCan make the driver experience a key measure in assessing the performance of the EV charging infrastructure. 

The full report can be obtained at https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy-efficiency/transportation-alternative-fuels/resource-library/3489, under the title “Identification of Current and Future Infrastructure Deployment Gaps”, or contact me directly. 

EV Charging Use Cases

Charging EVs can be done at many places with various complementary use cases. This is quite different than fueling combustion vehicles, where the only option is to go to a service station. I am providing here the breakdown of the common EV charging use cases that I use for analysis when reporting on the industry.

  1. Home Charging.
    • Detached homes with their own parking spaces (and access to electricity).
    • Multi-unit residential buildings (using the shared electrical infrastructure).
  2. Public Charging. 
    • At a destination (when parked for hours).
      • Commercial or public sites (such as food stores and restaurants).
      • Curbside (using public on-street parking spaces).
    • On-the-go charging (when stopping for minutes).
      • Community charging (for commuting in a city, such has at a convenience store).
      • Corridor charging (along highways for intercity travel, such as at a rest area).
        • Light duty vehicles (LDV)
        • Medium and heavy duty vehicles (MHV)
  3. Workplace Charging (while employees are at work).
  4. Fleet Charging (at a depot).
    • Light-Duty Vehicles (LDV)
    • Medium and Heavy Vehicle (MHV)

Based on energy supplied, roughly 70% of LDV charging occurs at home, with level 2 charging accounting for about 80% of home charging[i]. The rest is mostly in public places, and some charging is at workplaces. 

For detached homes with their own parking spaces installing a dedicated EVSE is generally feasible at a reasonable cost, often wall-mounted in a garage or on an external wall. EVs may also be charged at level 1, from a 120 V plug. While level 1 charging is slower, it is generally sufficient for typical daily commuting when the EV is charged overnight. 

For multi-unit residential buildings, installing chargers and their electric distribution cabling may be highly problematic. For example, the electrical service entrance may not be suitable for the additional load from large-scale EV charging. Furthermore, cost allocation amongst owners or renters may need to be negotiated. Homeowner associations may provide a forum for discussions, but their rules may also hinder installation of chargers. Therefore, EV drivers living in a condo, a strata or an apartment building may have to rely on public or workplace charging sites. 

Destination charging refers to charging when one can expect to be parked for a few hours, elsewhere than at home. For example, food stores and restaurants are commonly found around destination charging sites. These are typically level 2 chargers. 

With on-the-go charging sites, drivers expect to stay only a few minutes while charging, such as at a convenience store or at a highway rest area. These are much like legacy gas stations, and normally level 3 chargers. Many of these charging locations may serve the local community for drivers not having access to home or workplace charging. Others are for corridor charging, serving intercity travellers (like service areas for LDV) and commercial vehicles (like truck stops for MHV). 

Many workplaces are starting to offer EV charging for their employees, either at level 1 or level 2. This charging may or may not be free to the employees, and it may or may not be available to visitors. For large installations, workplace EVSEs may coordinate with the building management systems to avoid excessive demand charges. 

In addition to charging of light-duty passenger vehicles (use cases 1 to 3 above), fleet charging is an important segment. Fleet charging might include light-duty commercial vehicles, such as taxis, as well as local delivery trucks, long-haul trucks, school buses, and public transit buses. Fleet charging is a combination of level 2, such as for overnight charging of light-duty vehicles at a depot, and level 3, especially for medium-duty and heavy-duty vehicles. For large fleet depots, power requirements may reach megawatts, which may have a significant impact on the local distribution grid.


[i]        The Geography of EV Charging, Understanding how regional climates impact charging and driving behavior, FleetCarma, 2020, p. 13.

Managing Residential Light-Duty EV Charging – An Overview

Big Idea

Through behavioral or direct control approaches, managed charging encourages customers to charge at times when grid and generation capacity is available. Likewise, it discourages charging during peak demand or low renewable generation periods. In doing so, it reduces the need to build additional grid and expensive or greenhouse gas emitting generators to meet the electric system load. Managed EV charging makes optimal use of existing infrastructure, lowers costs that would otherwise be incurred, and benefits ratepayers.

Analysis

Analysts show steep forecasts of the number of light-duty EVs, in parallel with increasing space and water heating electrification, adoption of electrified industrial processes and expansion of intermittent renewable generation. It’s a perfect storm of the less-know new EV loads, the highly coordinated new heating loads, and the unpredictability of new renewable supply. 

Many electric utilities are rightly concerned by the impact EV charging may have on their resource plans, both in terms of energy and capacity, but are also starting to see that managed — or “smart” — EV charging may be part of the solution to the disruption brought about by the electrification of the economy and the intermittency of renewables. So, although the grid impact of unmanaged light-duty EV charging may, by itself, be relatively modest or even beneficial, managed EV charging may become a new tool for utilities to provide grid services (such as peak shifting or even frequency regulations) or to help optimize customer charges. 

Light-duty managed charging aims to shift EV charging to times when generation and grid capacity is available, considering the load that needs to be served, the demand on the electrical system and its markets. To effect managed charging, utilities may rely on multiple approaches, sometimes simultaneously:

  • Residential unmetered incentives.
  • Residential dynamic rates.
  • Direct residential load control (V1G).
  • Residential Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G).

Rates and incentives are behavioral approaches, attempting to nudge customer conduct, while load control systems and V2G take action on the electrical equipment itself, without customers intervening. Managed charging programs often rely on more than one option. For instance, a utility can use unmetered incentives to get customers to opt in to time-of-use rates. 

However, utilities are not the only ones vying to influence the charging patterns of EV drivers. There are indeed many stakeholders vying for attention in the EV charging ecosystem: utilities, cities, charging operators, local businesses, real-estate developers, state/provincial governments, federal government, regulators, automakers, charger manufacturers, etc. For example, installation of chargers at commercial sites and the price charged to drivers (if any) is primarily driven by business considerations, such as attracting customers (a business owner objective), and not to benefit the grid (a utility objective) or to ensure sufficient charging coverage or capacity (which may be government objectives). Another example: utilities and their regulators may set electricity rates charged to public charging station owners but charging operators (which may not own the station) usually control end-user pricing and service conditions. 

Because EV charging market signals are still relatively weak and could even be in opposition, greater collaboration and alignment among EV stakeholders, with better understanding of driver behavior, will be important for the EV charging infrastructure to develop harmoniously over at least the next few years. 

Residential Light-Duty EV V2G

There’s an increasing level of interest in the industry to use the energy stored in EVs to manage demand and supply peaks, drawing on the EV batteries to support the grid, referred to as Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G). In concept, V2G is similar to using stationary batteries in people’s home as a distributed energy resource, a concept that has been growing in interest, with Green Mountain Power being the first utility with tariffed home energy storage programs[i] for customers. However, in some ways, V2G has more potential than stationary batteries, but also more challenges.

With V2G, EVs may be used as distributed grid-resource batteries. Then, a plugged-in EV with a sufficiently charged battery and a bidirectional charger may get a signal to discharge the battery when called upon to support the grid (demand response) or to optimize a customer’s electricity rates (tariff optimization). 

When associated with a home energy management system, V2G may be used as a standby power source during outages, a feature referred to as Vehicle-to-Home (V2H). V2G is also related to Vehicle-to-Load (V2L), where the vehicle acts as a portable generator. Collectively, these functions are often referred to as V2X, although they all have their own characteristics, as described below.

The Case for Residential Light-Duty EV V2G

The case for residential light-duty EVs is compelling because the batteries in modern light-duty EVs are large in comparison to their daily use, being sized for intercity travel (like going to the cottage on the weekend, or an occasional trip to visit friends and family), leaving significant excess capacity for use during peaks. For example, modern long-range EVs have batteries of 60 kWh to 100 kWh, for a range of 400 km (250 mi.) to 600 km (400 mi.) — significantly more than what is required for daily commute by most drivers. This means that light-duty passenger vehicles can leave home after the morning peak with less than a full battery and still come back at the end of the day with a high remaining state of charge for use during the evening peak. 

In terms of capacity, residential V2G compares favorably to home energy storage systems and commercial EV fleets. Indeed, home energy storage systems (like the Tesla Wall, with 13,5 kWh of usable energy[ii]) have far less capacity than modern EVs. As for medium or heavy-duty fleet EVs, they have a high duty cycle, with their batteries size usually optimized for their daily routes, leaving little excess capacity for use by a V2G system during peaks, with some exceptions, such as school buses[iii].

Extracting value from residential light-duty EV V2G can be achieved at the consumer level or at the utility level, but depending on the local regulatory framework and the energy, capacity or ancillary market structure:

  • Consumers may use V2G to leverage utility dynamic rates and net metering tariffs (or other bidirectional tariffs), charging the EV when rates are low and feeding back to the grid when rates are high. Typically, the consumer would own the V2G system. The consumer (or a third-party service company hired by the consumer) controls when the EV is charged and when it is discharged, following rules to ensure that the consumer driving needs and cost objectives are met.
  • A customer’s utility may also control the V2G system to optimize grid supply, charging the EV when wholesale prices are low or when generating capacity is aplenty, and feeding back to the grid when market prices are high or capacity constrained, therefore benefitting all ratepayers. As enticement for the consumers to participate, the utility would need to subsidize the V2G system or to have a recurring payment to the consumer.
  • In some jurisdictions, third-party aggregators may act as an intermediary between consumers and the energy, capacity or ancillary markets. Consumers are compensated by a subsidy, a recurring payment, or a guaranteed rate outcome. 

However, the potential of V2G also depends on automakers. Automakers are announcing V2X features, such as Volkswagen[iv] and Hyundai[v]. Aware of the economic potential of V2G and their gatekeeper position, automakers will want to extract some value from it, especially as V2X would increase the number of charging and discharging cycles of the battery, possibly affecting its service life, the warranty costs and civil liability. Automakers could extract value from V2G a few ways, including with an ordering-time option, a one-time software option, or even as an annual or monthly software fee to enable to a V2G function.[vi] Here again, cooperation among automakers will be important as the V2G interfaces to the grid are being defined; there are some signs that such cooperation is starting to take place, as shown by the common position of the German Vehicle Association, the VDA.[vii]

V2G vs. V2H vs. V2L

V2G should be distinguished from Vehicle-to-Home (V2H) and Vehicle-to-Load (V2L) use cases, as V2H and V2L do not feedback power to the electrical grid to relieve grid constraints or optimize customer rates. 

  • V2H is analogous to using the EV battery as a standby generator for use during a power outage. A V2G vehicle, when coupled with a home energy management system, may also offer V2H. 
  • V2L is like using a portable generator to power tools at a construction site or a home refrigerator during a power outage. V2G vehicles may or may not have plugs for V2L, although this is an increasingly common EV feature. 

V2G and V2H or V2L have different power electronics and standards to meet. V2H and V2L are easier to implement as they do not have to meet grid connection standards, while V2G systems must meet DER interconnection standards. An example is Rule 21 in California which makes compliance with IEEE 2030.5 and SunSpec Common Smart Inverter Profile (CSIP) standard mandatory distributed energy resources.[viii] On the other hand, a V2H or V2L vehicle (or its supply equipment) needs to have a grid-forming inverter, while a V2G inverter acts as a grid-following power source.[ix] [x]

On-Board V2G (AC) vs. Off-Board V2G (DC)

Electrically, V2G (and V2H) may come in two varieties: on-board V2G (AC) and off-board V2G (DC).[xi]

On-Board V2G (AC)

With on-board V2G, the EV exports AC power to the grid, through a home EV supply equipment. For light-duty vehicles, the connector is SAE J1772; SAE J3072 defines the communication requirements with the supply equipment. The supply equipment needs to be bidirectional and to support the appropriate protocol with the vehicle and compatible with the local grid connection standards.

An issue is that the standard Type 1 SAE J1772 plug used in North America is a single-phase plug and does not have a dedicated neutral wire for the split phase 120/240 V service used in homes. This means that the J1772 plug can be used for V2G (feeding back to the grid at 240 V) but can’t be used directly (without an adaptor or a transformer) for split phase 120/240 V V2H. This issue reduces the customer value of the system, as AC V2G can’t readily be used as a standby generator for the home. 

Many EVs come with additional plugs, in addition to J1772, for 120/240 V V2L applications. Examples included the NEMA 5-15 120 V plug (common residential plug) and the twist-lock L14-30 split phase 120/240 V plug (often seen on portable generators). The Hyundai IONIQ 5[xii] and the GMC Hummer EV[xiii] are examples of vehicles with additional plugs. 

As of this writing, commercially available EVs in North America do not support on-board V2G, but some have been modified to test the concept for pilot programs.[xiv] However, many automakers have announced vehicles with bidirectional chargers, and possibly AC V2G, although there are little publicly available specifications. 

Off-Board V2G (DC)

With off-board V2G, the EV exports DC power to a bidirectional DC charger. 

Bidirectional charging has been supported by the CHAdeMO DC fast-charging standard for quite some time, and the Nissan Leaf has offered the feature since 2013[xv]. Several light-duty DC V2G pilots therefore used these vehicles. However, with the new Nissan Ariya electric crossover using CCS instead of CHAdeMO, Nissan effectively made CHAdeMO a legacy standard in North America.[xvi]

CCS is an alternative for off-board V2G, but, unfortunately, CCS does not yet support bidirectional charging. CharIN[xvii], the global association dedicated to CCS, is developing the standards for V2G charging[xviii]. The upcoming ISO 15118-20 is expected for the fourth quarter of 2021 and will include bidirectional charging. This will mark the official start of interoperability testing. However, it will take time to reach mass-market adoption since the new standard needs to be implemented and tested beforehand to overcome potential malfunctions on software and hardware side.[xix] BMW, Ford, Honda, and Volkswagen have all announced plans to incorporate bidirectional charging and energy management, with an implementation target of 2025, but it is not clear if this is for V2G AC or V2G DC.[xx]

A critique of off-board V2G is the high cost of bidirectional DC chargers.[xxi] A solution may be to combine the bidirectional charger with a solar inverter, integrating power electronics for residences with both solar panels and EV charging. The dcbel r16 is an example of such an integrated approach[xxii], combining a Level 2 EV charger, a DC bidirectional EV charger, MPPT solar inverters, a stationary battery charger/inverter and a home energy manager in a package that costs less than those components purchased individually.[xxiii]


[i]        See https://greenmountainpower.com/rebates-programs/home-energy-storage/powerwall/ and https://greenmountainpower.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Battery-Storage-Tariffs-Approval.pdf, accessed 20210526

[ii]       See https://www.tesla.com/sites/default/files/pdfs/powerwall/Powerwall%202_AC_Datasheet_en_northamerica.pdf, accessed 20211008.

[iii]      While medium and heavy vehicles like trucks and transit buses generally have little excess battery capacity, school buses during summer are an exception, as many remain parked during school holidays. See, for example, https://nuvve.com/buses/, accessed 20211208.

[iv]       See https://www.electrive.com/2021/01/27/vw-calls-for-more-cooperation-for-v2g/, accessed 20211220.

[v]        See https://www.etnews.com/20211101000220 (in Korean), accessed 20211210.

[vi]       For example, Stellantis targets ~€20 billion in incremental annual revenues by 2030 driven by software-enabled vehicles. See https://www.stellantis.com/en/news/press-releases/2021/december/stellantis-targets-20-billion-in-incremental-annual-revenues-by-2030-driven-by-software-enabled-vehicles, accessed 20211207,

[vii]      See https://www.mobilityhouse.com/int_en/magazine/press-releases/vda-v2g-vision.html, accessed 20211210.

[viii]     See https://sunspec.org/2030-5-csip/, accessed 20211006.

[ix]       See https://efiling.energy.ca.gov/getdocument.aspx?tn=236554, on page 9, accessed 20211208.

[x]        “EV V2G-AC and V2G-DC, SAE – ISO – CHAdeMO Comparison for U.S.”, John Halliwell, EPRI, April 22, 2021.

[xi]       See http://www.pr-electronics.nl/en/news/88/on-board-v2g-versus-off-board-v2g-ac-versus-dc/, accessed 20211008, for an in-depth discussion of on-board and off-board V2G.

[xii]      See https://www.hyundai.com/worldwide/en/eco/ioniq5/highlights, accessed 20211006.

[xiii]     See https://media.gmc.com/media/us/en/gmc/home.detail.html/content/Pages/news/us/en/2021/apr/0405-hummer.html, accessed 20211008.

[xiv]     See https://www.energy.ca.gov/sites/default/files/2021-06/CEC-500-2019-027.pdf, accessed 202112108.

[xv]      See https://www.motortrend.com/news/gmc-hummer-ev-pickup-truck-suv-bi-directional-charger/, accessed 20211008.

[xvi]     See https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1128891_nissan-s-move-to-ccs-fast-charging-makes-chademo-a-legacy-standard, accessed 20211008.

[xvii]    See https://www.charin.global, accessed 20211008.

[xviii]   See https://www.charin.global/news/vehicle-to-grid-v2g-charin-bundles-200-companies-that-make-the-energy-system-and-electric-cars-co2-friendlier-and-cheaper/, accessed 20211008.

[xix]     Email received from Ricardo Schumann, Coordination Office, Charging Interface Initiative (CharIN) e.V., 20211015

[xx]      See https://www.motortrend.com/news/gmc-hummer-ev-pickup-truck-suv-bi-directional-charger/, accessed 20211008.

[xxi]     See, for example, https://thedriven.io/2020/10/27/first-vehicle-to-grid-electric-car-charger-goes-on-sale-in-australia/, accessed 20211012.,

[xxii]    See https://www.dcbel.energy/our-products/, accessed 20211012. 

[xxiii]   See https://comparesmarthomeenergy.com, accessed 20211210. 

IEEE Webinar: The Utility Business Case to Support Light Duty EV Charging

I presented this webinar on December 2nd. The link to the recording and the slides is here.

Let me know what you think!

A New Kind of Electrical Load: Charging of Long-Range Electric Vehicles

When adopting electric vehicles (EV), consumers are now favoring long-range light-duty EVs[1], with nearly all the growth coming from sales of long-range battery electric vehicles rather than short-range EVs or plug-in electric hybrids.[2] Given this development, I focus here on the unique characteristics of long-range light-duty EVs charging. Long-range EVs have three characteristics that differentiate them from other residential electrical loads:

  • EVs are large and mobile loads—they are not always connected to the grid, and not every day.
  • EV charging is highly price elastic—drivers seek the cheapest electrons.
  • Drivers easily control when to charge—charging is flexible with the large batteries and the telematics of modern long-range EVs. 

These characteristics—and especially customer behavior—mean that utilities can’t consider EVs like any other loads. Utilities need a new thinking to plan for EV charging and to assess how to best manage it to benefit ratepayers. These characteristics also have impact on public and workplace charging sites, their operators, and the businesses nearby.

Let’s see how different EV charging really is.

EVs Are Large and Mobile Loads 

Most electrical loads are fixed, like water heaters and clothes driers. Mobile loads, like cell phones, are small. But EVs are unique because they are mobile and large electrical loads. They are indeed large—typically, 4 to 8 kW for a level 2 charger, and often 100 kW or more with a public direct current fast charger (DCFC). And they are mobile: we drive our cars around (obviously) and do not always keep them plugged in when parked. In fact, parked long-range EVs are more often unplugged than plugged.

Compare this to traditional household electrical loads of a comparable magnitude, which are wired in, like water heaters, or permanently plugged, like clothes driers. Industrial loads in the 100-kW range are usually fixed and wired in.

So What?

This means that the EV charging load is less predictable than traditional electrical loads, both in space and time. An EV driver may charge at home with a level 2 charger, on the way to the cottage with a public DCFC, and on a 120-volt wall plug (level 1 charging) once they get there. Over time and with large numbers of EVs on the road, we may learn where and when EVs are being charged, on average, bringing greater predictability to this load. But, until then, we will have to go with some uncertainty. However, understanding what drive EV customer behavior and what drivers can control helps reduce uncertainty.

EV Charging Is Highly Price Elastic

EV charging is highly price elastic—an economic term meaning that consumers are sensitive to charging price and adjust accordingly. If charging prices at a given time or location rises, the demand for charging then and there should fall. Conversely, lower prices spur usage. 

Many studies confirm the high price elasticity of EV charging:

  • Comparing the charging load profile in the Canadian provinces of Ontario (with time-of use electricity pricing) and Québec (without time-of-use) shows that time-of-use pricing is delaying peak charging by almost 2 hours, with a steep increase once off-peak pricing happens.[3]
  • PG&E customers who have enrolled in EV-only rates conduct 93% of EV charging off peak; on Southern California Edison’s EV-only rate, 88% of charging is off-peak.[4]
  • A small rate differential may induce a strong tendency for overnight charging. A study assessed the impact of the peak-to-super-off-peak price ratio going from small (2:1) to large (6:1). However, the share of super off-peak charging varied little, from 78% to 85% of EV charging taking place during super off-peak period (typically after 10 PM or midnight).[5]
  • EV customers exhibit learning behavior, increasing their share of super off-peak charging and decreased their share of on-peak over time.[6]
  • When free workplace charging is offered, it is used 3 times as much as when employees must pay for it.[7]

Drivers of gasoline or diesel cars are highly responsive to local petrol prices, shopping around or timing purchases when they can, as well as seeking coupons for cheaper gas.[8] When it comes to price, EV drivers seem to act like drivers of internal combustion vehicles.

So What?

The high price elasticity of EV charging is a strong indication that pricing and monetary incentives may be used to shape the EV charging load curve—at home, at work or in public. 

This is not ignored by utilities, as “60 percent of utilities consider activities that would enable them to develop effective rate structures—such as studying EV charging ownership, behavior and rate impacts—to be the most important activity in preparing for increased EV adoption”.[9] For residential charging, driver sensibility toward prices opens the door for gamification programs and is also the main value drivers being considered for vehicle-to-grid pilots. Regarding public charging, Tesla is quietly testing out ways to incentivize its customers to charge their cars when electricity demand isn’t so high or when sites are not congested[10]—I would expect that other charging operators and utilities will also assess time-varying or dynamic pricing for public charging. 

Drivers Easily Control When to Charge

Many forms of residential loads, such as air conditioning used when it is hot and ovens at dinner time, are predictable because consumers want or need to turn them on during specific situations or at regular times. EV charging is less predictable because drivers of long-range EVs have much more control on when (and therefore where) to charge. Drivers elect to use various charging patterns, depending on their needs:

  • Residential EV charging load is well suited to respond to price signals. Modern light-duty EVs be easily programmed to begin charging at a preset time using dashboard menus or a cellphone app. If a smart home charger is installed, it too can limit charging to specific times. Drivers can also start and stop charging remotely with a car or a home charger apps.
  • EV drivers pair charging with other activities, such as spending time in stores while waiting for their vehicles to charge.[11]
  • A Reddit user posted a message received from Tesla, encouraging them to stop at select California Superchargers before 9 a.m. and after 9 p.m. over a weekend, for a lower charging price.[12]
  • Drivers using an “empty battery” pattern tend to run the battery down to a very low state of charge (SOC) before recharging, like people fueling gasoline cars stopping at a gas station perhaps once a week.[13] In fact, not charging every day is recommended by automakers.[14]
  • Another common pattern is “scheduled charging”, where drivers charge the battery at periodic intervals, even every day, regardless of the state of charge of the vehicle’s batterie.
  • For many drivers, charging once or twice a week when the battery gets low is convenient. Others charge their EV at every opportunity[15], plugging into a charger if it’s available nearby, taking advantage of the fact that they do not need to remain beside the vehicle while it is charging.

In other words, drivers of long-range EVs are flexible and control when and where to charge so that it is best for them, either because it is convenient or less expensive. 

So What?

Utilities, charging operators and business owners can leverage this flexibility, knowing the mobility and the price sensibility of EV drivers. Through price signals or promotions, they can nudge drivers to charge where and when it best suits them—to minimize stress on the grid, to balance usage of high-traffic charging sites, or to increase in-store retail sales. 

Looking Forward

With steep forecasts of the number of light-duty EVs in some areas, many electric utilities are rightly concerned by the impact EV charging may have on their resource plans, both in terms of energy and capacity. Many see managed—or “smart”—charging as a solution to this disruption. Managed charging aims to shift EV charging to times when capacity is available in generation and in the grid. To effect managed charging, utilities may rely on metered rates, unmetered incentives, load control, or, very often, a combination of those approaches. Rates and incentives are behavioral approaches, attempting to nudge customer conduct, while load control works with the loads themselves. 

However, utilities are not the only ones trying to influence the charging patterns EV drivers. There are indeed many stakeholders in the EV charging ecosystem: utilities, cities, charging operators, local businesses, real-estate developers, state/provincial governments, federal government, regulators, automakers, charger manufacturers, etc. For example, installation of chargers at commercial sites and their charging rates is primarily driven by business considerations, such as attracting customers (a business owner objective), and not to benefit the grid (a utility objective) or to ensure sufficient coverage or capacity for EV drivers (which are government objectives). Another example: utilities and their regulators may set rates for public charging stations, but charging operators control end-user pricing and service conditions. 

Greater collaboration and alignment among these stakeholders, with better understanding of driver behavior, will be essential for the EV charging infrastructure to develop harmoniously. 


[1] Long-range electric vehicles (EV) typically have an EPA-rated range of around 250 miles (400 km) or more, with batteries of at least 60 kWh. Examples in 2021 include the Tesla Model 3 and the Kia Niro EV. Shorter range EVs also exist, like some Nissan Leafs, along with plug-in hybrids vehicles, like the Toyota RAV4 Prime.

[2] Long-Term Electric Vehicle Outlook 2020, BloombergNEF, May 19, 2020, page 65.

[3] Charge the North project, Presentation to the Infrastructure and Grid Readiness Working Group by Matt Stevens, FleetCarma, September 2019, page 14.

[4] Beneficial Electrification of Transportation, The Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP), January 2019, p. 66.

[5] Final Evaluation for San Diego Gas & Electric’s Plug?in Electric Vehicle TOU Pricing and Technology Study, Nexant, Inc., February 20, 2014.

[6] Final Evaluation for San Diego Gas & Electric’s Plug?in Electric Vehicle TOU Pricing and Technology Study, Nexant, 2014, p.44.

[7] Employees with free workplace charging get 22% of their charging energy from work, while employees with paid workplace charging get 7% of their charging energy from work. Charge the North project, Presentation to the Infrastructure and Grid Readiness Working Group by Matt Stevens, FleetCarma, September 2019, page 13.

[8] See https://voxeu.org/article/gasoline-demand-more-price-responsive-you-might-have-thought, accessed 20191107.

[9] Black & Veatch 2018 Strategic Directions: Smart Cities & Utilities Report, Black & Veatch, 2018, pages 10. 

[10] See https://insideevs.com/features/454482/getting-best-deal-tesla-superchargers, accessed 20210416.

[11] See https://atlaspolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Public-EV-Charging-Business-Models-for-Retail-Site-Hosts.pdf. accessed 20210416.

[12] See https://www.reddit.com/r/teslamotors/comments/jkhdx8/supercharging_discount_this_weekend_in_california/, accessed 20210416.

[13] The Life of the EV: Some Car Stories, Laura McCarty and , Brian Grunkemeyer, FlexCharging, presented at the 33rd Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS33), Portland , Oregon June 14-17, 2020, page 6.

[14] See, for instance, the recommendations of Hyundai at https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1127732_hyundai-has-5-reminders-for-making-your-ev-battery-last-longer.

[15] Charging frequency of private owned e-cars in Germany 2019, Published by Evgenia Koptyug, Oct 21, 2020, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1180985/electric-cars-charging-frequency-germany/, accessed 20210305.

Presentation at the EV Charging Infrastructure Summit

Today, I presented at this conference.

This presentation provided real-life insights into developing a sound EV strategy for utilities and cities. Using from data ChargeHub, I shared best practices to keep in mind as public charging infrastructure is developed. These suggestions are inspired by the actions of forward-thinking utilities and governments, which ChargeHub has had the privilege of assisting with data and strategic advice over the last few years.

Done right, EVs prove to be good for utilities, their ratepayers, and all citizens.

You can download the presentation and the speaker notes here:

IEEE Webinar: “The Business Case for Utilities Supporting Public EV Charging”

Today, I gave a webinar for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) entitled “The Business Case for Utilities Supporting Public EV Charging”. I got quite a few good questions. For everyone to see, I am posting the slides here

Do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have any question. 

EV Charging Puts Downward Pressure on Electricity Rates

Real-world experience from utilities with a relatively high penetration of light-duty EVs shows that EV charging brings additional utility revenues that vastly exceed the costs to generate and deliver the additional energy. This may be surprising given the concerns expressed in some industry opinion pieces on the ability of the grid to support EVs. However, in California, with high EV penetration and otherwise relatively low average residential load, only 0.15% of EVs required a service line or distribution system upgrade.[1] At a system level, a Hydro-Quebec study shows that average home charging of an EV draws only 600 watts on peak – a small amount.[2] It is worth noting that these two examples do not even rely on EV load management, which would further lower contribution to peak load. 

In practice, many factors contribute to mitigating the impact of unmanaged EV charging on the grid. For instance, many owners of long-range EVs only charge at home once or twice a week, and not necessarily at peak system time. Also, many EV drivers are simply charging off a standard 120 V wall plug – slow but enough in most circumstances. More and more drivers charge at their workplace or at public stations, with diversified load curves. At the local level, distribution transformers used for residential customers are typically loaded at 25% to 30% of their rating; a few hours a year may be above the kVA rating of the transformer, but with little consequence.[3]

If anything, the advent of EVs may get electric utilities growing again: current year-over-year electricity consumption growth (kWh) averages below 1% in North America but was about 2.5% as recently in the 1990s.[4] Perhaps incredibly, yearly growth was about 8% to 10% in the 1950s and 1960s, as a wave of electrification propelled the economy. The ADN of electric utilities includes building the electricity grid and adding capacity.

Looking forward, various forecasts of the electricity use from EV adoption range from a fraction of a percent to perhaps 2% per year[5] – not negligible, but clearly manageable in view of past growth rates. 

Overall, grid impacts of light-duty EV load profile over at least the next decade should be relatively modest and net economic benefits from additional utility revenue vastly exceed costs. Those benefits will exert a downward pressure on rates for all utility customers – not just to those driving EVs. For example, Avista estimates that the net present value to ratepayers of a single EV on its system is $1,206 without managed charging.[6] Furthermore, shifting charging to off-peak or high renewable generation periods further improves benefits – up to $1,603 per EV for Avista. Furthermore, EV drivers also gain from lower maintenance and operating costs. And besides, the switch to EVs significantly reduce greenhouse gas and other harmful air pollutant emissions.
This post was initially published at https://chargehub.com/en/blog/index.php/2020/03/25/ev-charging-puts-downward-pressure-on-rates/.


[1] Joint IOU Electric Vehicle Load Research – 7th Report, June 19, 2019.

[2] Public Fast Charging Service for Electric Vehicles, Hydro-Québec, R-4060-2018, HQD-1, document 1.

[3] Electric Power Distribution Handbook, T.A. Short, chapter 5. Some winter-peaking utilities are even planning the overloading of distribution transformer, counting on the low ambient temperature to cool it down.

[4] https://data.nrel.gov/files/90/EFS_71500_figure_data%20(1).xlsx, figure 2.1, for US data. 

[5] For examples of forecast electricity use from EV adoption, see: 
– Mai et al., Electrification Futures Study, page 82. https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy18osti/71500.pdf.
– Canadian electric vehicle transition – the difference between evolution and revolution, EY Strategy, October 2019, page 9. https://assets.ey.com/content/dam/ey-sites/ey-com/en_ca/topics/oil-and-gas/canadian-electric-vehicle-transition-the-difference-between-revolution-or-evolution.pdf.

[6] Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment Pilot Final Report, Avista Corp., October 18, 2019.

The Electric Cars in the Future of Utilities

Yogi Berra famously said that “it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Electric vehicles do not escape this wisdom. Still, recent trends and forecasts suggest a sustained growth in adoption of light-duty electric vehicles in North America. 

There are many reasons to believe that there will be many electric cars in our future. 

First, most electric vehicle drivers think that their cars are the best cars they ever had – according to a AAA survey[1], 96% of electric vehicle owners say they would buy or lease one again the next time they are in the market for a new car. Anecdotally, we can confirm this: through the ChargeHub platforms, electric vehicle drivers express their enthusiasm daily toward their cars (but also, unfortunately, their frustrations toward public charging).

Second, more and more car manufacturers are committing to an electric future: global automakers are expected to invest $225 billion on the development of battery-electric vehicles from 2019 to 2023, according to an AlixPartners study[2] — roughly equal to the massive amount that all automakers globally combined spend on capital expenditures and research and development in a year. New electric car plants are being built and internal combustion ones are being converted. There’s no turning back.

Thirdly, many states, provincial and federal governments have policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to stave off climate change. The transportation sector is the largest contributors to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and light-duty vehicles contribute to 59% of transportation emissions[3]. Necessarily, reducing greenhouse gas emission will require us to drive electric light-duty vehicles. 

Yet, only about 2% of 2019 new passenger car sales in North America are plug-in electric vehicles.[4]

There are a number of factors to explain the dichotomy between actual and forecast sales of electric vehicles. The first is simply availability: buying a new electric vehicle usually implies waiting months and there are few model options. If you do not happen to live in the few states or provinces that have a zero-emission mandate[5] requiring a minimum percentage of electric light-duty vehicles, you may actually be out of luck: car manufacturers may simply not offer them to you. For example, Subaru stocks the Crosstrek plug-in hybrids in California, nine other states[6] and the Canadian province of Québec[7] that have adopted zero-emission vehicle regulations. 

Even in jurisdictions with zero-emission mandates, availability is often limited to regulatory obligations: internal combustion vehicles are currently far more profitable than electric ones, and automakers don’t have enough incentive to move away from internal combustion engine vehicles, especially at current low-volume. However, analysts, like the McKinsey strategic consultancy, expect that EVs have the potential to reach initial cost parity with and become equally—or even more—profitable as internal combustion vehicles around 2025[8]. Combined with already lower operating costs for drivers, this will make building electric vehicles a compelling proposition for automakers and drivers alike. 

If investments being made in manufacturing will cure current availability and cost issues, there are still a few more obstacles that need to be removed to hasten the advent of electrical cars. A survey by KSV lists top worries about batteries running out, convenient home charging and how to charge, operate, and maintain electric vehicles. These other concerns primarily point to insufficient consumer knowledge and incomplete public charging infrastructure. While home charging remains the principal means to recharge electric vehicles, charging at workplaces and public stations plays an important role for drivers who cannot charge at home or when traveling away from home. Utilities have a central role in enabling public and workplace charging, through policy-induced subsidies and tariffs. Utilities are also the second-most trusted source of information on EVs, after Consumer Reports – car dealers are last[9]. To succeed, electric utilities need to work with site owners (for public charging) and automakers (for education) – two types of stakeholders with which utilities do not have relevant business relationships. 

This was initially published at https://chargehub.com/en/blog/index.php/2020/03/05/the-electric-cars-in-the-future-of-utilities/.


[1]       https://www.oregon.aaa.com/content/uploads/2020/01/True-Cost-of-EV-Ownership-Fact-Sheet-FINAL-1-9-20.pdf, accessed 2020-03-05.

[2]       https://www.alixpartners.com/media-center/press-releases/alixpartners-global-automotive-industry-outlook-2019/, accessed 2020-03-05.

[3]       https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/fast-facts-transportation-greenhouse-gas-emissions, accessed 2020-03-05.

[4]       https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_car_use_by_country, accessed 2020-03-05.

[5]       https://electricautonomy.ca/2020/02/04/industry-divided-on-the-merits-of-a-national-zev-mandate-as-federal-budget-nears/, accessed 2020-03-05.

[6]       https://www.autonews.com/article/20181124/RETAIL01/181129954/subaru-goes-greener-plugs-in-the-crosstrek, accessed 2020-03-05. 

[7]       https://plus.lapresse.ca/screens/1ee08d4e-e711-4ece-ba8d-8599239ff27a__7C___0.html.

[8]       https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/automotive-and-assembly/our-insights/making-electric-vehicles-profitable, accessed 2020-03-05. 

[9]       https://www.eei.org/issuesandpolicy/electrictransportation/FleetVehicles/Documents/EEI_UtilityFleetsLeadingTheCharge.pdf, accessed 2020-03-05. 

How Not-to-Succeed in the Next Decade of Energy Transition

The 2020s promise to be a momentous time for the electricity industry, and I wanted to take some time to reflect on what businesses might need to succeed through the energy industry transition. I might have a privileged perspective on this, having worked with utilities, vendors and investors, first in the IT and telecom industries as they went through their transitions, and then mostly in the electricity industry for the last 20 years. This does not mean that I can’t be wrong (I know – I’ve been wrong many times), but perhaps my views will help others be right. 

I’ve structured this post as a series of “don’ts”, based in part on actual IT and telecom examples that I’ve lived through – I’ve put these examples in italic, but I left the names out to protect the innocents. I found that many businesses have short-term views that lead them down dead-end paths, and I might be more useful in showing known pitfalls than trying to predict the future. 

Don’t Fight a Declining Cost Curve

The IT, telecom and, now, electricity industries are all seeing declining cost curves. The best known one is Moore’s Law, the observation that the density of integrated circuits (and hence the cost of computing) halves every 2 years. Moore’s Law is nearly 60 years old and still strong. It gave us iPhones more powerful now than supercomputers of a generation ago, even though my iPhone ends up in my pocket most of the time, doing nothing. These days, the electricity industry sees the cost of wind and solar energy as well as that of electricity storage dropping at a rate of 10% to 20% per year, with no end in sight.[i]

In IT, telecom and, now, electricity, this also leads toward zero marginal cost, the situation where producing an additional unit (a Google search, a FaceTime call or a kWh) costs nothing (or almost nothing). 

During the IT and telecom transitions, many startups proposed solutions to optimize the use of (still) expensive information processing assets. Some sought to extend the life of previous generations of equipment (like a PBX) by adding some intelligence to it (a virtual attendant), while others were dependent on a price point (like dollars per minutes for overseas calls) that simply collapsed (calls are essentially free now). 

If your business case depends on the cost of energy or the cost of storage remaining where they are, ask yourself, what if the cost goes down 50%? That’s only 3 years of decline at 20%/year. After 10 years, costs will be only 10% of what they are now. Can you survive with near-zero marginal costs? If your solution aims to optimize capital costs, will it matter in a few years? Or, will people just do as they do now, with a do-nothing iPhone supercomputer in their pocket?

Don’t Think That Transition Will Go 2% a Year Over 50 Years

Phone companies were depreciating their copper wires and switches over decades. Phone utilities were highly regarded companies, imbued with a duty for public service and providing lifelong employment to their loyal employees. Service was considered inflexible, but everyone could afford a local line, which was cross subsidized by expensive long-distance calls and business lines. Things were simple and predictable.

In 1980, McKinsey & Company was commissioned by AT&T (whose Bell Labs had invented cellular telephony) to forecast cell phone penetration in the U.S. by 2000. The consultant predicted 900,000 cell phone subscribers in 2000 – the actual figure is 109,000,000. Based on this legendary mistake, AT&T decided there was not much future to these toys. A decade later, AT&T had to acquire McCaw Cellular for $12.6 Billion.[ii]

In 1998, I was operating the largest international IP telephony network in the world, although it was bleeding edge and tiny in comparison to AT&T and other large traditional carriers. Traditional carriers were waiting for IP telephony to fail, as the sound quality was poor, it was not efficiently using the available bandwidth, it was illegal in many countries, etc. The history did not play out as expected. In 2003, Skype was launched, the iPhone, in 2006. Today, you can’t make a phone call anymore that is not IP somewhere along its path. 

I’m seeing the same lack of vision in energy industry. For example, the International Energy Agency (IEA) is famous for being wrong, year after year, in lowballing the rise of solar and wind energy in its scenarios.[iii]

Another example is the rise of electric vehicles. There are about 77 million light-duty vehicles sold in the world, and this number is flat or slightly declining.[iv] Of these, about 2 million electric vehicles were sold in 2019, but the number of EVs sold in increasing 50% every year.[v] In other words, the number of internal combustion vehicles is clearly decreasing and the growth is only coming from EVs. Looking at their dashboards, car manufacturers are quickly reducing their investment in developing internal combustion vehicles, especially engines.[vi] Disinvestment in upstream activity means that internal combustion vehicles will fall behind newer EVs and become less and less appealing. It won’t take 50 years for most light-duty vehicles to be electric – a decade, perhaps.

Don’t Count on Regulatory Barriers for Protection

Telecom carriers fought deregulation and competition, teeth and nails. Back in the 1950s, AT&T went to the US supreme court to prevent customer from using a plastic attachment on the mouthpiece of telephones to increase call privacy – it was called Hush-A-Phone. AT&T owned the telephones and forbid customers from using Hush-A-Phone. However, AT&T lost the court battle, and Hush-A-Phone was sold legally from then on. This landmark decision is seen as the start of telecom deregulation in North America.

The IP telephony network that I mentioned earlier was indeed illegal in some of the countries we operated in. It didn’t matter. We had plenty of partners willing to bypass local monopolies, even if illegal in their countries, and customers willing to make cheaper international calls, even if the quality was not always so great. 

Regulatory barriers are only as strong as policy-makers make them. When constituents see an opportunity to save money or simply have choice, they pressure the policy-makers to change the rules – or elect new ones more attuned to moods of consumers. It’s just a matter of time. 

Don’t Take Customers Nor Suppliers for Granted

In 1997, at a time when cellular phones were still a luxury and the Internet was still a novelty, an Angus-Reid survey of the Canadian public put Bell Canada #2 among most admired corporations in Canada[vii], and it had been among the most trusted companies in Canada for decades. Yet, in 2017, Bell Canada ranked #291 in a University of Victoria brand trust survey[viii]. People love their Apple or Samsung phones, are addicted to Facebook to stay in touch with friends, naturally turn to Google for any question, and use Microsoft Skype to see remote family members, but they now mostly hate their phone company. 

Obviously, Bell is still around and making money, but one can only wonder how things could have been if Bell had played its hand differently. (In 1997, none of iPhones, Facebook, Google and Skype existed).

Suppliers to electric utilities should also listen to this lesson. Northern Telecom (Nortel), AT&T Bell Labs and Alcatel were among the large traditional equipment vendors to telephone utilities. However, a startup was founded in 1984, designing routing equipment for IT networks used in university networks. Over the years, it expanded into all sorts of datacom and telecom equipment – all telecom companies eventually standardized on this new vendor. Northern Telecom and the others went bankrupt or were merged and acquired to the point they could not be recognized. In the process, some telephone companies were left with unserviceable hardware. 

This startup company is called Cisco Systems and is now the largest telecom vendor in the world. 

The same pattern is playing out in electricity. On one hand, you have many utilities that do not understand that many customers want choice. On the other hand, you have vendors, like GE and ABB, that are in turmoil. 

Will you be the future Google or Cisco of electricity? Or the next Nortel?

Don’t Follow the Herd

Full disclosure: I’m a career business consultant. Caveat Emptor. 

The reason for this disclosure is that consultants are great at announcing bold trends that often do not pan out. There is a great herd mentality among consultants, and it carries over to their customers. 

Twenty years ago, one of my clients was one of the early Application Service Providers, a business concept where small businesses could access shared personal computer applications over the Internet. The idea was to reduce the cost of maintaining software installed in PCs and to reduce the hardware requirements of PCs. This client was unknowingly fighting the declining cost curve of computers. It went bankrupt (and my last invoices were not paid). 

The concept of application service providers was heavily promoted by consultancies like Gartner, who presented it as the future of business computing. I guess that Microsoft disagreed. 

I see similar fast-fashion concepts going through the electricity industry. Walking the floor at the Distributech Conference in 2018, it was all about microgrids. In 2019, it was distributed energy resources. We will see what will be fashionable in January 2020. 

My recommendation when you hear the same concept over and over again is asking yourself: is this a real trend or am I in an echo chamber? With many new consultants flocking to the electric utility industry – I call them tourists – , you can hear many concepts that are taken for truth but really too complex to be implemented or unlikely in the fragmented regulatory environment that we have. 

Closing Thoughts

In the end, keep cool: sound engineering, good economics and great customer service will always win.

Which leads me to offer you this quote:

If I’ve heard correctly, all of you can see ahead to what the future holds but your knowledge of the present is not clear.
—DANTE, Inferno, Canto X

All this being said, have a great Holiday season and see you soon in 2020!


[i]                 See this previous blog posts, http://benoit.marcoux.ca/blog/lower-and-lower-energy-prices-from-wind-and-solar-pv/, for an in-depth discussion of cost decline in wind and solar energy, accessed 20191220. 

[ii]                See https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/38716/did-mckinsey-co-tell-att-there-was-no-market-for-mobile-phones, accessed 20191220. 

[iii]               See this previous blog post, http://benoit.marcoux.ca/blog/wind-and-solar-pv-defied-expectations/, for a chart of how wrong the IEA has been, accessed 20191220. 

[iv]                See https://www.statista.com/statistics/200002/international-car-sales-since-1990/, accessed 20191220. 

[v]                 See https://www.iea.org/reports/global-ev-outlook-2019 and http://www.ev-volumes.com/country/total-world-plug-in-vehicle-volumes/, accessed 20191220. 

[vi]                See https://www.linkedin.com/posts/bmarcoux_daimler-stops-developing-internal-combustion-activity-6580481304071065600-vRK8, accessed 20191220. 

[vii]               The Fourth Annual “Canada’s Most Respected Corporations” Survey, Angus Reid Group, Inc., 1998, page 5.

[viii]              The Gustavson Brand Trust Index, Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria, 2017. 

EV Charging: an Enabler for Utility Customer Engagement

EV charging is a new type of load for electric utilities – probably the first new type of large electrical load since air conditioning over 50 years ago. A lot is being written about the perils that charging a large number of EV batteries could bring to the grid, but also how shifting EV charging off peak could offset decline in utility revenues. 

However, filling up a car with energy is not new for utility customers. In fact, they are already quite passionate about it. They’ll drive out of their ways to pay less, fueling up on days when price is lower, or driving some distance to get to a cheaper gas station. Multiple apps allow motorists to share tips. Gas station chains offer loyalty program and grocery coupons. Gas stations have become minimarts. Clearly, motorists are deeply engaged with those providers. 

Electric utilities are trying really hard to get their customers to be more engaged. They rightfully see customer engagement as the key to entice customers to participate in energy efficiency and demand management (or response) programs. The problem is that customers generally have no idea how much electricity they use for lighting, entertaining, cooling, heating, cooking, showering, cleaning dishes… This makes customers little responsive and unengaged, especially since these activities have very low emotional appeal for electricity (unless there is an outage during a hockey game). To tell you how bad the situation is, utilities regularly go to conferences presenting EE or DM/DR programs considered to be highly successful with only single-digit percentage of the customer base participating… 

With EV charging, utilities have the opportunity to reset customer engagement – especially as owning and driving a car has much more emotional appeal than, say, cleaning dishes. This is especially true since drivers are used to see how much fuel they use at the pump – there is a direct feedback every few days. We also know that drivers are responding strongly to fuel price signals. 

While much of the discussion on EV charging has revolved around grid-centric issues like peak management and electricity sales, EV charging is also a time-limited opportunity to get their customer more engaged. If electricity distributors are not seizing the opportunity, other players will, and they will fall back to being what they have traditionally been – utility service providers serving passive subscribers. 

I think that electricity distributors can be much, much more, especially in the context of the energy industry transition that we are going through.

The Sun for a Penny

I recently presented at the Canadian Electricity Association (CEA) on the future of the industry. What would happen to the power industry if the cost to generate solar electricity reached 1¢/kWh? What could be the impact of a carbon tax? What are the business opportunities arising from the need for reliable power? While electric utilities have seen tremendous transitions during the 125-year history of the CEA, the current rate of development is unprecedented. To paraphrase a famous quote by Wayne Gretzky, utilities need to “skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” This presentation tried to provide power utilities with some insights into the future direction of the puck! See the presentation here: The Sun for a Penny 20170225a

Les véhicules électriques: une revolution? (Electric Vehicles : a revolution?)

Here is a presentation I did at the Projet Ecosphère conference on October 25, 2010. It outline problems and solution for the introduction of electric vehicles on our roads. This one is in French.