Of all the market developments from 2016, the potential for greater utility engagement in EV infrastructure could bring about the most change in the coming years.
Utilities have started to make the (counterintuitive) case that an increase in electricity use from EVs will benefit all ratepayers. The proposition is that EVs mostly charge at night—when the demand for power is low and some generation assets are sitting idle. Increasing the utilization of these assets can lower the average cost of delivering electricity at all times, thereby putting downward pressure on rates for everyone.
A pivotal moment came in December 2015 when the California Public Utility Commission revised its position on utility ownership of infrastructure, opening the door for ratepayer-funded investments in charging equipment in the largest EV market. All three utilities had submitted proposals and successfully made the case that EV investments were good for the grid.
Nationwide, utilities have taken various approaches to defining their role in this market—with most sitting things out for now. Of those that have engaged, some are looking to own and operate charging equipment using shareholder funds. Others are partnering with third-party charging service providers to deploy charging networks, partially funded by ratepayers.
Utilities activity is worth paying close attention to, even though the cars tend to get the headlines.