Energy & Environment

How Utility Companies Are Helping Customers Transition To Electric Vehicles

As electric vehicles grow in popularity utility companies are being called on to help provide infrastructure for cities, states, and at people’s homes.

Tesla charging at home.

The UN last month released its most dire warning yet regarding climate change, making the case for urgent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

One way cities are looking to reduce their carbon output is focusing on electric vehicles. Houston has committed to converting around 8,000 non-emergency fleet vehicles to electric by 2030, and Houston METRO says it recently bought 20 fully electric buses as part of it's plan to go carbon-neutral.

That means utility companies are also adapting to provide infrastructure — for cities, and for individuals who are hoping to take their next Labor Day road trip in an electric car.

To learn more, Houston Public Media spoke with Karen Felton with the consulting firm Ernst & Young, who is a leader in the power and utilities division focusing on electric vehicles.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Will you describe the current landscape of electric vehicles in the US?

There’s coalitions that are being formed by utilities across the U.S. and it’s changing every week in terms of who is joining what coalition but the whole purpose behind these coalitions is we get a patchwork of utilities across the United States.

And there’s a growing awareness and recognition that if they work together as a whole across the United States, it’s going to not only accelerate adoption, but it’s going to help reduce range anxiety, help lower costs overall, help improve the customer experience and ultimately help improve the grid resiliency.

How are utilities helping to expand electric vehicle infrastructure for regular folks — like if I wanted to buy an electric car what would that look like?

Utilities right now and I’m in discussion with a lot of them their call centers are getting inundated with this question. People like you are calling the utility and saying, “how do I electrify, how do I plug in my EV at my house?”

And so these utilities are fielding all of these questions, and I’m seeing some of them actually create advisory services just so they can help customers like you understand what needs to be done, how to get someone at their house to actually install a charger.

Social equity has been coming up in the electric car conversation. Why is social equity important when we’re talking about the building of electric vehicle systems?

The cost of EVs is getting lower and lower and lower. It’s so important that the availability of chargers is equally accessible to everybody.

There’s going to be different challenges because some of them might be in apartment buildings in very congested cities, but the utilities have got to plan equally so it’s accessible to everybody.

I wanted to ask you about your predictions for next Labor Day. Are we going to see a significant increase of EVs on the road? And also, what about Labor Day five years from now?

In the next year, you’re going to continue to see us inching up EV sales as a percentage of total car sales, but it really won’t rapidly grow, in my mind, until probably four or five years out.

So the next five years, you’re not going to see a huge jump, but you’re going to see a slow, steady increase. And then it’s really going to accelerate.

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Kyra Buckley

Kyra Buckley

Energy Reporter

Kyra Buckley is an Energy Reporter with Houston Public Media. Before joining the News 88.7 team she was the Morning Edition Host and a reporter at KUNC in Northern Colorado. She started in public radio in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon where she hosted Weekend Edition and reported for KLCC....

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