EV Charging Offers Opportunities to Energy Providers

EV charging is a growth opportunity for the energy industry.

There’s a lot of chatter about electric vehicles (EV) and what they mean for energy providers. Predictions are that they will make up 7 percent of the vehicles on the road and 20 percent of new vehicle sales by 2030, but building the EV charging network will cost billions and require between 118 and 733 terawatt-hours.

Shortage of Charging Facilities

To support EVs, the country will need a network of 9.6 million Level 2 charge ports, although it’s estimated that the lion’s share – 78 percent – will be in private homes. Even so, EV charging infrastructure will have to grow by 20 percent annually to reach that goal. The U.S. will need at least 900,000 public Level 2 and DC fast charging ports that provide convenient overnight charging to meet the needs of residents who don’t have access to garages or driveways and those travelling long distances.

One of the largest obstacles to wide adoption of EVs is the absence of a strong, nationwide network. Automakers have invested in providing public charging sites, and Tesla is in the front of the pack, having provided more than 700 stations – that are explicitly made for Tesla cars and don’t accommodate other makes.

However, other automakers have formed strategic partnerships to provide additional stations their customers can use. Ford recently announced its FordPass Charging Network in partnership with Greenlots, a Shell company, and Electrify America. The partnership will unveil an ambitious network of 12,000 charging stations with 35,000 ports and should accommodate most makes. In a similar partnership, GM and Bechtel will form a corporation to build investor-funded charging stations in larger cities, targeting apartment dwellers.

Corporate Buy-In

BP and Shell also are moving into the field, purchasing Chargemaster and Newmotion, respectively. Perceiving the potential threat to their bottom line, oil companies are hedging their bets by entering into the EV charging market themselves. In addition, retailers and restaurants are looking at charging ports as loss leaders – by providing a free place for customers to charge EVs, they are encouraging them to patronize their businesses.

States are allowed to set aside funding from the Volkswagen emissions settlement for EV charging stations, and 41 states have elected to earmark $265 million toward such stations. In fact, Electrify America, a Volkswagen subsidiary formed as part of the settlement, will invest $2 billion in charging infrastructure by 2026.

In June, Michigan lawmakers decided to install EV charging stations at park-and-ride lot and state parks. Pennsylvania also is looking at encouraging EV use by prompting utilities to enter into the charging infrastructure space. Several states – California, Minnesota, Oregon and New York included – are also including utilities in their vision of an EV future.

There is a much higher adoption of EVs in many cities by drivers eager to reduce their carbon footprint, and those communities have taken note. The number of cities with 200 or more public charging points nearly doubled between 2017 and 2018, from 34 to 64. Additionally, communities with the greatest success in adapting EVs, especially those with municipal EV fleets, had strong partnerships with utilities. 

Not Just Personal Vehicles

Dominion Energy recently announced its goal of 100 percent EV school buses in its Virginia territory by 2030, and pledged to cover the difference between the cost of diesel and electric models. Dominion envisions the school bus fleet as a vehicle to grid (V2G) resource in the latter stages, sending power back during high-demand and charging during low-demand.

Duke Energy recently awarded Asheville, N.C., a $200,000 grant to cover the costs of five EV bus charging systems as part of its program to expand EV charging systems in North Carolina. The program has funded nearly 200 public charging stations and EV bus charging stations in Greensboro, N.C. The company also is expanding charging stations in South Carolina and Florida. Duke officials touted these programs as helping them determine where to invest in grid infrastructure.

Energy providers are stepping up to the plate to the tune of millions in supply and service connection upgrades and customer rebate incentives. They see the financial benefits of a shift to EVs, irrespective of how the charging infrastructure is built up – it can provide a buffer against falling load growth and the V2G model can make the grid more flexible. Since disruptors are moving into the industry, energy providers are carving out a piece of the market, so they don’t finding themselves wanting later.

Utilities are looking for opportunities to connect more deeply with customers. HomeServe helps to improve customer engagement for our utility partners through the integration of complementary home repair programs with utility initiatives such as energy efficiency and safety, offering customers greater access and choice. Partnership allows the utility to leverage HomeServe’s marketing and communications expertise to educate their customers through a variety of channels. For more information, contact us.

Utility Regulators Face a New Reality

With the energy industry in the midst of an evolution, utilities are more clearly understanding the need for transformation from a role of commodity supplier to “ratepayers” to a trusted advisor on a range of energy issues to a more and more sophisticated and demanding population of energy consumers. Utility regulators must also adapt to keep up with these new developments.

Glen Thomas discusses the new reality for utility regulators.
Glen Thomas, President of GT Power Group

So what needs to change on the side of the regulators of utilities? Public utility commissions are now contending with a range of new realities and challenges from renewables becoming more affordable to a growing need for electric vehicle charging infrastructure and utility business model reforms. We sat down with Glen Thomas, President of GT Power Group and former Chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, to discuss his perspective as a regulator on the changes throughout the industry.

How has the retail energy landscape changed over the past ten years?

Utilities are slowly waking up to the fact that consumers have options and those options increasingly include not getting their service from their utilities. Phone utilities learned this lesson the hard way and energy utilities are increasingly trying to avoid similar mistakes. Technology does not stop advancing and consumers are always in the driver’s seat. For example, as Millennials are making up a greater percentage of the utility customer base each year, utilities are increasingly looking to enhance features that are of importance to this group such as digital experiences and environment-friendly products and services. Utilities have to recognize these realities and adapt. Fortunately, many utilities are – albeit at their own pace.

How can utilities solidify their customer relationships in the face of changes such as deregulation and competition from a number of non-traditional players?

The utility brand needs to be a trusted brand. That starts with strong customer relations. Having customers associate the utility name with good things such as reliability, friendly employees, a community presence, easy-to-understand bills, value-added services and helpful communications to assist consumers in their daily lives. Utilities are taking more customer-centric approaches that create value for the consumer and make the experience more personalized. Customers should not be taken for granted, but rather cherished and treated with respect. Customers who feel like their utility cares for them will be unlikely to seek other options. It really is fairly straight forward in concept, but challenging in execution – especially for utilities that are not used to thinking that way.

Do regulators recognize that the utilities they regulate need to change in the face of changing consumer expectations?

Fortunately, yes. There are many examples that come to mind such as Ohio’s Power Forward Initiative or New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision in which regulators are taking a couple of steps back from the day-to-day decisions that they make to ask the broad questions about where things are going and how best to get there. The traditional utility model was a fairly linear one – convince regulators that expenditures are prudent and acquire a rate of return on rate base. Now, regulators need to be convinced that this utility reinvention movement is real and necessary and may require non-traditional thinking and approvals from regulators. Regulators may need to go beyond their traditional comfort zones in order to find the best solutions for their regulated utilities and the customers they serve. The NARUC Summer Meeting in Indianapolis this week is exploring many of these issues showing that regulators are open to the conversation even if they may find challenges in the implementation.

Can regulators and utilities be effective partners in this quest to redefine the role of the utility? I do not think either regulators or utilities have much of a choice. In my mind, they have to be partners. Regulators are rightly concerned about the financial viability of the utilities they regulate and inherently understand that if the utility loses its customers to other options, the pool of resources available to pay for the utility’s infrastructure shrinks. The shrinking customer base puts greater burdens on those who remain on the system and more likely than not will increase the proportionate share of those with the least ability to pay. Regulators want to avoid this utility “death spiral” just as much as the utilities do. So, regulators have every incentive to be that willing partner to help the utility meet the needs of its modern consumer.

So what does that mean to regulators?

It means stepping outside of your comfort zone and being open to new ideas. It means looking at non-traditional approaches to improving the relationship between the customer and the utility not with an auditor’s skepticism but with a visionary’s creativity. The advance of technology and the evolving nature of consumer expectations should be viewed as an opportunity, not an obstacle. Generations of ratepayers have invested in utility infrastructure that can be embraced as the foundation for further improvements. It’s incumbent upon both the regulator and the regulated to guide that investment to a place where it can continue to provide value for consumers.

Smart Home Devices Adoption Increases – HomeServe Research

Smart home devices are being used in more households than ever.

HomeServe’s Biannual State of the Home Survey examines the financial impact of home repairs and other factors related to the state of the American home. The most recent survey examined the adoption of smart home devices. The majority of respondents – 56 percent – reported having at least one smart home device. Voice-controlled assistants (e.g., Amazon Alexa, Google Home) topped the list at 35 percent, while 20 percent report using smart light bulbs. Video monitoring (e.g., Amazon Cloud Cam, Nest Cam, Ring, Arlo) came in at 17 percent and smart heating/cooling technology is used by 16 percent of homeowners. The findings make it clear that Americans are turning toward devices that can make life easier.

The survey also examined the adoption of mobile device apps to manage the home. Thirty-six percent of homeowners report using at least one mobile app, with apps that manage smart devices and appliances/electronics (e.g., Alexa, Sonos, Nest, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings) topping the list at 27 percent. Nine percent reported using home repair apps (e.g., Centriq, WikiHow, DIY Tip Genius, BrightNest) and eight percent use a mobile app to track house cleaning schedules and chores (e.g., Tody, OurHome, HabitHub). The winter edition of the online survey was conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of HomeServe from Feb. 27-March 1, 2019, among 2,031 U.S. adults age 18 and older, including 1,429 who identified themselves as homeowners.

Utilities Strive to Improve Energy Efficiency for Future

Energy efficiency combines a variety of methods.

As more states commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions – and some, like California, have ambitious goals – to improve energy efficiency will be an important tool in meeting those goals. Additionally, as efficiency-as-a-service pioneers have demonstrated, energy efficiency can represent an added revenue stream. The technology continues to evolve, and, with it, how it’s perceived and utilized both on the supply side and behind the meter.

Here are five articles on the rapidly changing technology and role of energy efficiency:

Energy World: Committing to an Energy Efficient Future by Mohandas Mekanapurath

In India, energy demand is soaring – the energy-hungry market has become the third largest user of solar energy. Providers face a balancing act between the government’s commitment to lowering emission and meeting growing demand reliably. There’s no one magic bullet, but complimentary approaches, including renewables, improved storage, incorporating technology and increased efficiencies, will be key to meeting both needs.

“Comprehensive energy reduction requires implementation of energy-efficient measures that cut across all aspects of energy – generation, distribution and utilization within a facility. Such measures are typically complex to design and implement, especially if the regular operations cannot be disrupted during the implementation.”

Energy Manager Today: 11 Experts Predict the Future of Energy Management in 2019

As energy efficiency continues to realize potential as an energy management tool, demand for real-time information and automated management will soar. Likewise, the interest in investment will only increase as tools become available, making the results of such investments clearer.

The future of energy efficiency can include solar, wind turbines, and more.

“As energy becomes increasingly on-demand, energy data management needs to do the same. ‘With more and more of our partners and customers, waiting for a monthly invoice to take action on energy management is too late,’ says Tim Porter, Director of Partner & OEM Sales at Urjanet. ‘As energy management moves into 2019, we expect to see more energy managers taking advantage of whole building interval data and submeter data to make real-time decisions and get proactive with their strategy.’”

Stanford University: Future of Energy: Efficiency by Amy Adams

The brightest engineering minds of the next generation are exploring ways to reduce energy usage and re-use energy in new and creative ways. This series examines Precourt Energy Efficiency Center projects that look to increase efficiency, including using rooftop reflectors to cool buildings and wireless recharging for electric cars. The cutting edge technology of today soon will be the expectation of tomorrow.

“Yi Cui, a professor of materials science and engineering who works on energy efficiency as well as improved batteries, said he started thinking about heating and cooling when he looked at where most energy goes.

‘We spend 30 percent of electricity to cool and heat the building, which is about 13 percent of total energy consumption,’ he said. ‘The estimation is, if you can change the set point of air conditioning by 1 degree Celsius, you save 10 percent of energy use in the building heating and cooling.’”

AEE: Pioneering a Performance-Based Future for Energy Efficiency, California Utilities Are Creating an Opportunity for Innovation Not to Be Missed by Matt Golden

As providers and states work together to meet new renewable and emissions standards, energy efficiency will be an important part of ensuring demand flexibility. This will include increasing the availability of pay-for-performance programs in households and small businesses, beyond the commercial and industrial markets, removing barriers to energy efficiency programs and reaching disadvantaged communities.

“Combining pay-for-performance with time and locational meter-based savings represents a major leap forward for energy efficiency, enabling it to compete as a true distributed energy resource.

‘Our focus in this process is the customer and how do we put the highest quality programs at their fingertips,’ says Matthew Braunwarth, Manager of Energy Efficiency Program Procurement at PG&E. PG&E’s RFA is designed to invite innovation and broaden the pool of potential applicants by minimizing the barriers of entry to submit new program ideas that deliver value for building owners and the electric power system.”

Utility Dive: Integration is the Next Step in Demand Side Management: Here’s How Three Utilities Are Pursuing It by Robert Walton

The article explores how PG&E, Con Ed and Eversource are using energy efficiency and demand response as part of Integrated Demand Side Management. IDSM is allowing these utilities to defer infrastructure investment, engage customers in demand response programs and be proactive with energy efficiency projects.  

Mary Ann Piette, senior scientist and director of the Building Technology and Urban Systems Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, also spoke on the webinar and reminded utilities that ‘many building owners don’t really understand the nuances of the electric system and the different programs, but they understand their bill.’

These customers want technology in their buildings that can ‘help them both increase energy efficiency and reduce peak demand, and respond to demand response events,’ Piette said.”

Whether a provider uses energy efficiency programs to improve customer engagement– which improves customer satisfaction and ROI – or pursues it as an additional revenue stream, we have only begun to explore how it can change the energy industry.  

Utilities are looking for opportunities to connect more deeply with customers. HomeServe helps to improve customer engagement for our utility partners through the integration of complementary home protection programs with utility initiatives such as energy efficiency and safety, offering customers greater access and choice. Partnership allows the utility to leverage HomeServe’s marketing and communications expertise to educate their customers through a variety of channels. For more information visit www.homeserveutility.com/energy-efficiency or contact me

Cyber Security Solutions in the Energy Industry

As the traditional electric power grid evolves into a connected smart grid consisting of millions of interconnected devices and entities, the potential for malicious hackers increases exponentially.  As vulnerability increases, so does the criticality of advanced cyber security measures. Here are five recent articles about cyber security solutions in the energy industry you should be reading.

The Cybersecurity 202: Here Are the 55 Things the US Government Most Needs to Protect Against Cyberattacks by Joseph Marks

The Department of Homeland Security has released a new list focusing on critical functions that need to be protected against cyberattacks, instead of overly broad industrial categories. The department will use this new list and conversations with industry leaders to identify the gaps and overlays between industries and identify the most critical of critical functions.

“DHS’s previous system for categorizing digital threats focused on 16 critical infrastructure sectors but didn’t deal with the complex web of interdependence between them. And it didn’t distinguish between truly vital systems, like those that deliver electricity, versus less vital ones, such as that electric utility’s public-facing website.”

Cyber security is critical to the utility industry to protect infrastructure and customer safety.

World Economic Forum: The Growing Cyber-Risk to Our Electricity Grids – and What to Do About It by Karime Kuri Tiscareno

Smart grids increase resiliency, make systems more efficient and have the potential to deliver more value to society than any other individual digital initiative, but as the grid becomes smarter, it also becomes more at-risk for cybercrime. Energy and utilities are the second most impacted industry in terms of cost. This article explores steps to reduce the risk of falling prey to cybercrime.

“But as electricity grids increasingly become smart – and interdependent – the impact of a cyberattack also becomes more severe and wide-reaching. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2019 suggests that large-scale cyberattacks rank fifth among the risks most likely to occur in the next 10 years. The cost of a cyberattack on the US smart power grid is estimated to be $1 trillion – roughly eight times the cost of cleaning up the Fukushima nuclear disaster.”

Dark Reading: Security Depends on Careful Design by Susanto Irwan

As the Internet of Things proliferates, so does cyberattacks – 40 percent of US businesses experienced a ransomware attack last year, and the energy industry experienced 20 percent of the overall attacks. Air-gapping is becoming more untenable and isolated systems are connected, so energy utilities must be on high alert for potential attacks. This article looks at cyber security solutions using layered security and universal, role-based access.

“But in industrial operations, which are physically disparate and varied in connectivity, we must move beyond one centralized security center to a decentralized model. By deploying smaller, focused devices, we can extend beyond network-level security to protect to millions of previously exposed devices and control systems at the operational edge.”

SecurityWeek: Cyberattacks Against Energy Sector Are Higher Than Average: Report by Kevin Townsend

Although hackers – seemingly Russian – managed to disrupt power in the Ukraine, at present, they have mostly performed surveillance on American systems, perhaps with an eye toward weaponization in the case of a future conflict. While it’s important to protect the grid, energy utilities also should invest in cybersecurity for IT systems as well. 

“‘It really is very easy,’ said Morales, ‘for an attacker to get into an energy utility network, use the tools that are already there – such as Outlook web access – and then be able to hide within the signal of things that are already happening. The behaviors they use aren’t really special, they’re just using what’s already there. In one instance, attackers used a Fortinet VPN client to do command and control – which is not something usually monitored by security systems. When they get onto a network, they use things like PowerShell to remain invisible. I wouldn’t say they use advanced tools, although I would say they are advanced attackers.’”

Coindesk: US Energy Department Eyes Blockchain to Prevent Power Plant Cyberattacks by Yogita Khatri

In partnership with Taekion, the Department of Energy is exploring how blockchain and decentralization can eliminate single points of failure and protect power plants from having operational information altered. The department will be investing several million dollars into blockchain research pertaining to cybersecurity.

“In an example of how a cyberattack could take place on a power plant, the lab said a system could be compromised so that it appears operational when it has actually been shut down by hackers, potentially ‘leaving millions without power.’”

The IoT and smart grid pose exciting possibilities for the future of energy as long as time, manpower and money are invested to ensure its security with up-to-date cyber security solutions.

HomeServe USA offers a suite of emergency home repair plans that can give your customers choice and peace of mind while improving satisfaction, an important ROI metric. With a more than 400-seat call center available 24/7/365 and a nation-wide network of insured, licensed and thoroughly vetted contractors, HomeServe is ready to respond to any home emergency.

Energy Efficiency – The Obvious and Not-So-Obvious Benefits

Energy efficiency has become a buzzword, especially among politicians who vow to increase efficiency alongside renewable resources. But what does it mean for energy utilities and their consumers?

For consumers, the benefits are clear – a lower electric bill with cost fluctuations having less of an impact, and a reduction in their carbon footprint, something that’s particularly important to younger ratepayers, including Millennials.

Trust and Energy Efficiency

As Daniel Fisher writes for Ecosphere+ in “The Millennial Consumer: A Driving Force for Corporate Sustainability,” This has all led to a world where trust has become a form of currency. Alongside this new currency and this generation’s collective concern and desire to act, leaning more heavily towards environmental initiatives than ever before, businesses are feeling the pressure to adapt their social and environmental practices. 

For example, recent studies show that ‘more than 9 in 10 millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause,’ and that millennials are ‘prepared to make personal sacrifices to make an impact on issues they care about, whether that’s paying more for a product, sharing products rather than buying, or taking a pay cut to work for a responsible company.’”

Utility Benefits

For energy utilities, the benefits may not seem as obvious, but energy efficiency allows utilities to step away from large investments on the supply-side, including building new plants.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory publication, “The Future of U.S. Electricity Efficiency Programs Funded by Utility Customers,” noted that energy efficiency flattens load growth, impacting investment in infrastructure. It is expected to do so into 2030.

Electricity savings from these programs, and from complementary policies such as equipment standards and building energy codes, have contributed to modest or even no growth in electricity loads in many states in recent years. That affects the need for investment in new electricity infrastructure, across generation, transmission and distribution systems, and the impact of such investments on rates.”

“The Cost of Saving Electricity Through Energy Efficiency Programs Funded by Utility Customers,” another Berkeley report, notes that the cost to the utility per saved kilowatt-hour ranged from 5 cents to less than 2 cents, while the levelized cost to generate a kilowatt-hour for a gas-fired plant is 5 to 8 cents, and up to 15 cents for a coal-fired plant. The greatest savings were seen in residential programs, especially lighting programs.

“The continued cost-effectiveness of the aggregate portfolio of efficiency programs—and thus the magnitude of the efficiency resource and where those savings can be acquired—depends to a significant degree on continued low cost and substantial savings from residential consumer products. Technological changes can enhance lifetime savings on a per measure basis.”

The decoupling of profits from usage and performance incentives isn’t new, but it does allow utilities to pursue efficiency programs without cutting into their own profits. 

Wide-Ranging Benefits

As Martin Kushler, Dan York and Patti Witte note in a report for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, energy efficiency addresses construction costs, uncertain cost recovery for new plants, public opposition to building new generation and transmission facilities and growing concerns about the environment. They acknowledge that the traditional model of profits reaped from kilowatt hours sold is the opposite of energy efficiency, so decoupling and incentives allows more frequent rate changes to meet necessary financial goals.

The authors of, “Aligning Utility Interests with Energy Efficiency Objectives,” explain that, “Experience to date suggests that the results from enacting either of these regulatory mechanisms has generally been very positive, with the utilities or other program providers governed by such mechanisms often demonstrating strong commitment to meet or exceed established goals for their energy efficiency programs. With the rapidly increasing interest in expanding energy efficiency as a utility system resource, we expect, and recommend, further adoption of regulatory mechanisms to address the utility financial concerns regarding energy efficiency.”

Utilities are looking for opportunities to connect more deeply with customers through the promotion of energy efficiency and other beneficial programs. HomeServe helps to improve customer engagement for our utility partners through the integration of complementary home protection programs with efficiency initiatives, offering customers greater access and choice. Partnership allows the utility to leverage our marketing and communications expertise to educate their customers on important utility programs through a variety of channels. For more information on our work with utilities, contact us