Americans purchased almost 18,000 plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) in 2011, a strong first year for these transformative vehicles. Recently, private industry and government have invested valuable resources in developing, promoting, and deploying PEVs. These vehicles offer an uncommon opportunity to address energy security, air quality, climate change, and economic growth. However, market growth is uncertain due to policy, economic, and technical challenges, and other advanced vehicle technology may prove more popular with consumers over time. There are steps that can be taken now, however, to meet some of these challenges and ease adoption of PEVs nationwide. In An Action Plan to Integrate Plug-in Electric Vehicles with the U.S. Electrical Grid, the PEV Dialogue Group lays out some of these critical steps needed to enable a robust national PEV market.
With PEVs’ important opportunities and challenges in mind, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) convened the PEV Dialogue Group—a unique, diverse set of stakeholders composed of leaders from the public and private sectors along with non-governmental organizations. The Group developed an Action Plan to fill gaps in the existing work on PEVs using a consensus process that aimed to optimize public and private investments and avoided favoring certain PEV technology.
The Group began by identifying key challenges and objectives that existing PEV efforts have not addressed adequately, such as integrating PEVs with the electrical grid. The Group did not focus on reducing vehicle upfront cost directly, since federal and state tax credits are already in place. The Group then held a series of face-to-face meetings to hash out the details of the Action Plan over the course of one year. The plan represents a unique and valuable contribution to the national conversation on PEVs by identifying practical steps that policymakers, regulators, local and state officials, private market participants, and others should consider as PEVs become more broadly available in the coming years.
The Group believes PEVs could be an important part of the vehicle market in the United States and worldwide if they are given a fair chance to compete with conventional vehicles. The Group identified a series of market-based actions for all stakeholders that foster innovation, minimize public cost, educate consumers, and maintain electrical grid reliability.
The plan recommends specific actions in four categories summarized below:
- Create a Consistent Regulatory Framework Nationwide: Regulations by state public utility commissions that are compatible across the country can help foster innovation and increase the PEV value proposition while also maintaining the reliability of the electrical grid.
- Optimize Public and Private Investments in Charging Infrastructure: There are opportunities to accelerate private investment, encouraging innovative business models while also acknowledging that PEVs warrant some public investment in charging infrastructure.
- Facilitate PEV Rollout: Connecting stakeholders to provide a satisfactory PEV and electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) purchase and home EVSE installation is a necessary step to seal the deal once a consumer commits to purchasing a PEV.
- Educate Consumers: Explaining the PEV value proposition and bridging the consumer information gap about PEV technology can be accomplished through a combination of cutting-edge online resources and traditional touch-and-feel experiences.
The Action Plan represents Phase I of a larger initiative to pave the way for PEV adoption nationwide by helping level the playing field. Phase II aims to work with stakeholders “on the ground” to go about implementing the Action Plan with leaders across the country.
The table below provides an overview of the Action Plan, which is fleshed out in great detail in the body of the report. Next to each action component are a number of individual actions or the principles for the individual actions. Many activities for these actions can occur concurrently. Businesses, electric utilities, government, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will all play a role in each action component.
Create a Consistent Regulatory Framework Nationwide
- Residential & Commercial EVSE Installation: Stakeholders should jointly create a competitive and innovative market for residential and commercial PEV charging services. Decisions by Public Utility Commissions (PUCs), local government, and PEV service providers regarding household EVSE installation should streamline the installation process. Regulations should reflect the local characteristics of markets, potential PEV users, PEV service providers, and electric utilities.
- Residential & Commercial Electricity Rate Structure: Stakeholders should work together to determine electricity rate structures that maintain the reliability of the electrical grid and reward households for charging PEVs at off-peak hours. Rate structures should offer households choices, including options that better reflect the cost of electricity generation.
- Transportation Infrastructure Finance: Stakeholders should work together to determine how PEV owners can pay their fair share of transportation infrastructure maintenance. Permanent or temporary methods should be implemented in a way that does not affect PEV market growth before PEVs have a noticeable impact on tax revenue for a state.
- Vehicle Charging Standards: Voluntary standards bodies should work together, with the assistance of stakeholders, to develop vehicle charging standards and best practices related to the vehicle charging connector, PEV interconnection and communication with the electrical grid, and EVSE installation.
- Protecting Consumer Privacy: Stakeholders should ensure that individual identity is impossible to glean from data collected from EVSE and vehicles released to NGOs, government, and other researchers while also maintaining the usefulness of these data for researchers.
Optimize Public and Private Investments in Charging Infrastructure
- Assess PEV Feasibility: Stakeholders should cooperatively develop a method to assess the suitability of deploying PEVs in a geographic area and share this information with area governments.
- Estimate Charging Equipment and Infrastructure Needs: Stakeholders should collaborate to estimate charging equipment and infrastructure needs in a geographic area based on the expected PEVs in an area, travel patterns, and area geography.
- Estimate the Extent of Public Investment in EVSE: Stakeholders should work together to estimate the amount of public investment in an area that is appropriate to overcome existing market deficiencies.
Facilitate PEV Rollout
Expedite EVSE Home Installation: Stakeholders should design an expedited EVSE home installation process. A locality can speed up permitting and inspection processes to reduce overall installation time. Localities can also promote training, best practices as identified by early-action cities, and guidelines for electrical contractors. PUCs and electric utilities should provide assistance when creating this process to ensure regulatory compliance. Steps should also be taken to encourage utility notification about EVSE installation.
- Remove Market Barriers for EVSE Service Providers: Stakeholders should cooperatively remove local and state market barriers for PEV service providers. Legal and regulatory hurdles that prevent a PEV service provider from competing in an area could exist. PEV service providers should identify local and state barriers that prevent them from introducing their product in a market. They should work together with automakers, PUCs, and local and state government to clear those barriers and facilitate new market introduction. Local and state government should encourage the training of inspectors and electrical contractors on all aspects of EVSE installation. Face-to-face meetings between PEV service provider representatives and government officials can begin this process.
- Create Tools to Help Consumers Understand PEV Value Proposition: The value proposition PEVs provide includes tangible operational cost savings such as lower fuel and maintenance costs throughout the vehicle’s lifetime. In the short term, however, consumers may find non-financial benefits more valuable, like the driving experience or the statement driving a PEV conveys. Since consumers attain most of their information about vehicles online, stakeholders should cooperate on unbiased web tools that accurately communicate the PEV value proposition.
- Close the PEV Technology Information Gap: The focus of an effort to close the technology information gap should be to increase PEV publicity, develop web tools on PEV technology, and improve stakeholder outreach. Stakeholders should develop engaging and sophisticated web tools to educate consumers about the difference between PEVs, other alternative vehicles, and conventional vehicles. While consumers obtain most of their information about vehicles online, there is no replacing test drives and other valuable hands-on experiences.
Consumers will ultimately decide whether PEVs will succeed or not in the vehicle marketplace. The inaugural year indicates there is strong consumer interest, but the number of early adopters and the ability of PEVs to reach the mainstream consumer are still uncertain. The benefits PEVs provide warrant action by relevant stakeholders to level the playing field in order to provide a fair chance for these vehicles to compete with conventional vehicles. Implementing the steps laid out in the PEV Dialogue Group’s Action Plan will enable a more viable transition to a nationwide PEV market.
Click here to read the full Action Plan.
Click here to listen to a podcast on the Action Plan.