Electric vehicles in Detroit

Motor City looking for an American second act

Phil Carson | Dec 09, 2010

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I invite one and all to attend our Intelligent Utility Reality webcast on electric vehicles after the holidays.

"Electric Vehicles: A Tale of Three Cities" will begin at noon, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011. (Click on title to sign up.)

We have a remarkable lineup and will take a slightly different tack than in the past. We'll be looking at utility preparations for the advent of electric vehicles in San Diego, in greater Houston and in Detroit.

Joining us will be Chris Chen, EV market development manager at San Diego Gas & Electric; Arun Banskota, president of NRG EV Services, which works with four subsidiary utilities in Texas, and Jeff LeBrun, principal analyst for electric transportation and infrastructure at DTE Energy  in Detroit.
 
This lineup will provide an unprecedented view of three-plus utilities in three disparate regions of the country, with each presenter addressing a different set of responsibilities in each of those markets. Because all utilities in the United States must prepare for EVs, regardless of adoption forecasts, we'll also get three perspectives on common issues across the industry.

In preparation, I chatted yesterday with Jeff LeBrun at DTE and share here a few points he made about EVs in Motor City, which I think is a particularly poignant story, given that city's historic role in the automotive industry and the recession's ravages on Detroit in particular and Michigan in general.

(Conversely, NRG EV Services has chosen a former Hummer dealership building in oil-loving Houston as its new headquarters. Ironies abound.)

You can hear the urgency in LeBrun's voice, even though EVs aren't expected to more than trickle in, beginning in March 2011. But clearly there's a lot at stake and DTE is doing all it can to contribute to an automotive and economic renaissance for its region.

The last thing I asked LeBrun yesterday was about the big picture in terms of costs and benefits for utilities in preparing for EVs, despite various adoption rate scenarios. The utility's lighter duty, neighborhood transformers (25 kilo-volt) on its distribution system will need to be systemically swapped out over time, personnel have been dedicated to EVs to determine the business case, develop rates, deliver on home charging infrastructure as well as public stations and reach out to stakeholders, citizens and commercial customers.

LeBrun said that DTE sees a "huge chance" to sell more electricity to recover from severely dampened demand over the past few years' economic downturn, even as it preaches and practices energy efficiency for its grid and customers. With standards in place and improved battery technology in development, EVs stand a real chance of taking off "this time around."

In fact, that balance of competing interests—traditional interest in revenue from electricity sales, while seeking rewards and the greater good by selling less—is shared by utilities across the country. Just as is the mantra that "there's no turning back" and little choice in the matter of facing our collective future, whatever it brings in terms of EV adoption.

While California (and San Diego Gas & Electric) faces a legal mandate from the California Public Utilities Commission to make EVs "happen," LeBrun said that leadership from the Michigan Public Service Commission through its EV Readiness Task Force made clear that Detroit and Michigan had no choice but to lead.

"California gets a lot of publicity in this area," LeBrun noted. "We're in favor of innovation, too."

LeBrun just met with Michigan's electrical inspectors to deliver, in effect, EV 101, to raise awareness and deepen the understanding that home charging stations are, in electrical terms, nothing out of the ordinary. The plan is to speed up inspections to smooth the customer experience after a vehicle is purchased.

The other customer experience element depends on DTE's effort to track adoption and move swiftly to ensure that EV buyers receive a second meter and the requisite charging infrastructure. DTE settled on EV-only, dedicated meters in order to closely track load for Level 2 chargers. Fortunately, automakers such as GM have had 90+ percent positive responses to the question of whether the automaker may share the EV purchaser's name and address with the utility.

DTE will offer $2,500 in assistance for the first 2,500 customers signing up for a second meter and home charging station.

Less apparent, but just as important, are the rate structures DTE will offer. The first 250 customers to sign up will pay a flat rate of only $40 per month for dedicated EV charging. While the standard residential rate is about $0.123 per kilowatt hour (and on-peak, between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m., Monday through Friday, is $0.182), the off-peak rate will be $0.077.

Of course, there's lots more to the DTE story on EVs, just as San Diego and Houston have much to share. But you'll just have to sign up for the Jan. 6 webcast to hear our presenters explain what's happening in their cities and share insights on common issues.

Phil Carson
Editor-in-chief
Intelligent Utility Daily
pcarson@energycentral.com
303-228-4757

 

 

 

 


 

 

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