The Untapped EV Rate Engagement Opportunity

By Crystal Leaver on

Charging EV at public charging station

Uplight recently partnered with the See Change Institute to interview 20 electric vehicle (EV) owners about their interactions with their utility throughout the EV customer journey. We found that most EV owners don’t consult their utility before or after an EV purchase, and that as a result, most are completely unaware of EV-specific rates and other programs such as managed charging. And most EV owners interviewed were not price sensitive, but it is important to note that 12 out of the 20 participants made an annual income of over $100,000. 

After bringing home an EV, some participants reported that they did not look at their energy bill and were unconcerned about any bill increases from EV charging. Participants even said they were comfortable and even satisfied with energy bill increases as long as that increase was less than the cost of gas they used to spend on a monthly basis when they had a gas-driven car. For example, one participant noted, “I did investigate…about how much energy it would take for a full charge and then came up with a number and then assumed that was a…full tank of gas. [Electric costs] seemed substantially cheaper than gasoline.”

A few participants did contact their utility after their EV purchase and switched to an EV rate. This was typically done in response to a noticed bill increase, and customers tended to reside in California where energy prices are higher.

For example, one participant described how she contacted her utility after a $200 increase in her bill, “I actually called because I was like, how am I this high this month? $200 more than normal with our solar…So they’re like, oh well it shows here that you have this draw…you have an electric vehicle right?” This participant also described how she first looked at her utility’s website before calling, and learned that they had rebates and rate options: “I just looked at our SDG&E website and went through the stuff that they have. Like they have rebates and different things in different plans that you can use when you’re charging at home.”

Surprisingly, many EV owners who did find out about their current rates did not change their charging behaviors in response to learning the new information. For example, David noted that, “I discovered that it was less expensive to charge at night. There was kind of a prime time sort of a cost…When I looked at the the way that the rate structuring works, I knew that when I plugged it in in the evening, it was probably going to be expensive and then later on into the early hours of the next day, it would be cheaper and it will all balance out.” However, he also stated that he did not change his behaviors after learning this information. 

And those who did want to take advantage of their rates often had creative solutions to charging. For example, some participants discussed time-of-use rates or how their energy was cheaper at night. Because they wanted to be able to charge at night, they had to develop a solution to enable their car to only charge during certain hours, such as 10pm to 6am.

One participant described a timer he bought to schedule his charging times––much like a managed charging program would work. He said, “It’s like a timer, basically. I don’t have that technology in my vehicle to schedule when to start and stop for charging so I basically bought this $15 thing from Home Depot.” Another participant developed a similar DIY solution to charge at certain times of the day. Laureen stated that “we have a smart plug and then we set the routine (Alexa) to turn on that time. We plug in as soon as we get home in the evening and it charges at the right, super off-peak time.”

EV-specific rates, managed charging, and other programs are unknown resources for most customers who own an EV. And managed charging programs can be a complement to EVs rates by helping align charging with the cheapest time to charge without creative workarounds. Yet, right now, most customers aren’t aware of these valuable programs and are missing out on opportunities that could help them optimize energy use and reduce their bills. Also, as more middle and lower-income customers adopt EVs, helping customers get on the right rate and avoid bill surprise will become even more important. For any customer, education on the benefits of rates before, during and after an EV purchase will set both customers and the utility up for success. 

To find out more about Uplight’s research with EV owners, download our eBook: Driving Engagement in the Customer Journey

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