Tune in to our eighth episode to hear from Emily Phan-Gruber, associate manager for transportation electrification at Duquesne Light Company (DLC), the utility powering the Pittsburgh area. She joins ICF Vice President for Transportation Electrification, Stacy Noblet, to discuss the state of local and national electric vehicle (EV) adoption and how utilities can lead the way in innovative programs.
Topics in today’s episode include:
- Forecasting EV adoption for both residential and commercial applications
- Understanding local and national trends in policy support
- Load management strategy
- Understanding the biggest barriers to EV adoption, including resistance to change
- Adopting charging connection standards
Full transcript below:
David: Hello and welcome to Energy in 30. We'll use the next 30 minutes to explore how utilities in the industry are reacting to forces that are shaping new offerings for customers in order to meet decarbonization goals.
Joan: If you are a utility manager, consultant, technology provider, or just curious about energy, we hope to push your thinking about the changes that are happening in the energy industry with me, Joan Collins.
David: And me, David Meisegeier.
Temperature-checking EV adoption
Joan: David, today we're going to be talking about transportation, electrification, and load management. And that made me curious, do you drive an EV?
David: That's a great question. I am still driving what is now a 17-year-old Honda Civic. It's still going, but I have placed an order for an Aptera, and an Aptera is not actually a car. It's a three-wheel vehicle, which is called an auto cycle, and it's really an interesting company and product. They're a startup out of California and, fingers crossed, I hope to get delivery of mine next year when they start to go into production.
Joan: Well, that sounds interesting. What led you to the Aptera?
David: It showed up in one of my news feeds and the shape of it is so different from anything out there. It just grabbed my attention, and I started learning more about the company. Actually, it integrates solar panels into the exterior so it can drive up to 40 miles a day just from being charged up from the sun.
Joan: Oh, wow.
David: There's a lot about it that really struck me as innovative and sustainable, and I just love what they're doing.
Joan: Oh, I can't wait to hear more.
David: Yeah, so what about you? Do you drive an EV?
Joan: I do. I drive a Tesla and it's really changed the way that I...I mean, it's just fantastic. It took me a while to get used to the frunk, but otherwise it's just been great. I mean, 20 minutes of charging [at] $7 takes me about 200 miles or so.
David: That's amazing.
Joan: Yeah, so it's pretty fun. It's also a neat community, but just really enjoying it. So speaking of EVs, we are so fortunate to have our very own Stacy Noblet today with Emily Phan-Gruber with Duquesne Light Company (DLC). And before we provide your backgrounds, do you two want to weigh in on what you drive?
Stacy: Sure, Joan. Thanks for having me. This is Stacy Noblet and I have yet to acquire my first electric vehicle. For as long as I've been doing this, I've had my eye on this crazy development of different technologies and offerings and it's been fun to watch. We were getting close to pulling the trigger on a pre-owned electric vehicle at the very beginning of the pandemic, when prices were at an all-time low, but unfortunately that changed rather quickly and we missed our window. But still on the lookout and there's just so many different offerings coming down the pike. So excited to sink our teeth into that sales process again pretty soon. How about you, Emily?
Emily: Yeah, thanks Stacy. This is Emily Phan-Gruber from Duquesne Light. And thanks, Joan and David, for having me today. My husband and I purchased a Toyota RAV4 Prime this spring, which is a plug-in hybrid, and we have gotten about between 45 and 50 miles of electric range. So, I would say locally we've been driving pretty much exclusively on electric and then obviously, can utilize the gas engine when we are traveling further distances. But it's been a great car, and I've really loved having it.
Joan: That sounds like a great pick, Emily. Okay, let's move on to introductions so our listeners can learn a little bit more about Emily and Stacy. Emily is the associate manager for transportation electrification at Duquesne Light Company, the utility powering the Pittsburgh area. In her role, she helps develop and advance the company's transportation electrification strategy and has a lead role in designing and implementing DLC’s portfolio of transportation electrification programs, including EV time-of-use rates and its electrification efforts. And if that's not enough, Emily is also leading development of their load management strategy, which we'd really like to dig into with her today.
David: Absolutely. And for those of you who don't know Stacy, she's a Vice President, Transportation Electrification, and a senior fellow with ICFs Climate Center. She leads ICF’s EV practice and has more than 20 years of experience in the industry working with clients including Duquesne Light. So, Emily and Stacy, welcome again. Thanks for sharing about your cars and we're really pleased to have you on the show.
Stacy: Thank you.
Emily: Yes, thanks.
Joan: Yeah, this is going to be a great discussion. I know there's just so much going on in this area of the industry and just really looking forward to it. And one of the ways we like to kick things off is by asking what you guys are currently working on. Is there anything you've recently been involved in that stands out?
Stacy: Yeah, some of the projects that I've been involved in recently have to do with really translating what we've learned from program implementation on the EV program side into new program design—including utilities that might be introducing programs for the first time or maybe getting past the pilot stage. One of the great things about ICF is that we're on the implementation side and we're helping to support the design, as well, so we can cross-pollinate and carry those lessons learned forward. To help do that, I'm constantly picking up the phone and calling Emily and others across the industry that are really leading the efforts for the utilities so we can help to understand what is going well, what is a challenge, how are different programs pivoting or changing directions. And, again, applying those lessons learned to the new tranche of programs that are coming so they can just keep evolving and keep getting better for customers.
David: Sounds pretty exciting. How about you, Emily?
Emily: Yeah, on my side, we've been very busy this year getting a bunch of new programs off the ground. We went through a distribution rate case last year in 2021, and we're fortunate to receive approval for a whole portfolio of EV-related programs. And so now we're in the, as Stacy just alluded to, the fund-implementation side of the equation there. So, we've been working on getting both a community and fleet-make ready charging infrastructure program off the ground. This year we launched a fleet advisory service where we're partnering with ICF to do the fleet analysis.
And then more recently, I've really turned more of my attention to our load management activities and really helping the company to develop a more comprehensive load management plan. So that encompasses both grid analysis and understanding the impacts on our grid from electrification, both transportation and really building electrification. And then thinking about, based on what we're projecting those impacts to be, what are the cost-effective solutions that we can be putting forward to help better manage some of this new load that's expected to come on the grid within the next decade or so.
Electrified transportation’s impact on the grid
David: That's one of the things that consumers probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about—the grid impacts—but I’ve got to imagine you're looking both at individual consumers but also fleets, right? If there's a large customer that decides to electrify their transportation, that would have a substantial impact on what you're trying to manage.
Emily: Yeah, David, I think you've highlighted one of the big challenges of transportation electrification going forward— a lot of it is very locational. So we're trying to look at our grid from both the system level and understanding the system-level impacts and what we expect that load profile to look like within certain customer classes. But then we also, of course, have to look at the circuit level, too, and really understand, okay, what do we think is going to be happening? What do we forecast as adoption both on the fleet side and the residential side on our circuits to understand where we think we will have challenges or where there is excess capacity, and we'll be fine.
David: I can't imagine that's an easy job when there's no real way for customers, both individuals and those that have fleets, to communicate with you and say, “Oh, by the way, we're planning on buying an EV or we're planning on electrifying our taxis next month.” Do you have a way of trying to...how do you crystal ball that, I guess?
Emily: Yeah, we have a couple of ways that we're trying to be a little bit more proactive and understanding likely adoption. On the residential side, we do offer—actually and commercial, I should say—our EV-driving customers a $50 incentive for telling us that they have an EV. So that's an after-the-fact thing, but at least we have some understanding, for, I would guess at this point about a quarter to a fifth of the registered EVs in our service territory where those customers are located. So that's, I think, a very solid starting point for us to understand the impacts.
On the fleet side, that was part of the impetus for launching some of our fleet programs—our fleet advisory service and our fleet-charging infrastructure program—is to allow us to have that conversation with fleets up front and sooner, as they're just starting to think about, in many cases, electrification. So that way we can be much better positioned to support them as they are going through that transition. We understand if someone wants to install 50 charging stations that that's coming down the road and then we can really engage in our planning process to plan appropriately for that.
Stacy: Emily—everything she just went through, working with Duquesne Light for all these years—one of the things that has always struck me is how small but mighty, first of all, the utility is, how proactive you are. I mean, the simple—just notifying the utility if you have an EV is such a basic thing, but not many utilities have actually rolled that out. And I was always struck when you all were one of the first to move on that. Where is the motivation coming from to put such comprehensive programs and ultimately the portfolio together, and do you feel like it's top-down leadership? State policy? I've seen that across the country, in terms of decarbonization targets, or ultimately just hearing from customers and trying to respond to those needs or all of the above?
Emily: Yeah, I would say it's probably mostly option C—probably all of the above. So I do think that as an organization, Duquesne Light has made a commitment. One of our core tenets is a clean energy future for all. And I think we see an incredibly important role for transportation in meeting that goal for ourselves. And so that's certainly part of where I think internally the support comes from for us to be pursuing these initiatives. I think at the state level, our Department of Environmental Protection and more recently PennDOT with the NEVI funding have been really great partners at helping to advance both policy and funding opportunities to support electrification at the both personal vehicle level, as well as now starting to really focus on fleets, too. And so I think that's been another critical factor that Pennsylvania isn't necessarily a first mover in this space, but I think that we are growing in adoption and market-share in a way that's really helping to keep that circular motion going of advancing these efforts.
Incentives and policies directed at utility program support
David: Really, really insightful. Stacy, what do you see from the national level? Do you see particular triggers that are stronger than others and driving more of the EV push?
Stacy: Yeah, there's definitely a correlation across the country between strong policy support at the state level and utility program support. So in most cases, the utility is regulated by a utility commission of some kind and their goals tend to be aligned with the state administration. And so where we're seeing targets being put out by state agencies or governor's offices, those tend to trickle down and you see more approval rates within commission programs to get those utility programs moving forward. At the same time, you have to have a market. And that's why the Pittsburgh area has always been such an interesting case study, because I think Duquesne Light has done a really good job of recognizing that it's still early days. But there's a lot you can do to get those systems and processes and really just mindset in place with this load management strategy that Emily mentioned.
So a lot of times it needs to meet in the middle. You can't have overwhelming EV adoption and huge EV registration numbers and no support from the state level or at the utility level. So we definitely see a mix of program types, scales, budgets…but there's such good lessons learned and sharing across the industry. And I remember working with Emily's colleague, Sarah Olexsak, on some of the early programs. And really you only have the California utilities to look to at that time, which were great models. Of course, they still are, but that market seemed so different compared to what was going on in the Pittsburgh area. And the good news is it all worked out and that model carried through and really got things started for the utility, but definitely not a cut-and-paste situation. You need to still really fine-tune that program design for the specific utility territory.
Emily: And I would add maybe to Stacy what you just said. I do think another important entity in Pennsylvania is our utility commission, and they have been very supportive of the proposals that we've put forward in both our most recent rate case and then the prior case that we were referencing before that. And so, I think their support is another big catalyst for why obviously we were able to do what we are currently working on in terms of programming and sending indicators to the market and the industry that this is a space that they think utilities have a role.
Joan: Just pivoting just slightly. Just curious—you've both been at the forefront of the transportation electrification strategy overall. Why this area for each of you? David and I were both curious because you've been at it for a while.
Stacy: I grew up in the clean transportation space—biofuels, natural gas, propane, hydrogen— you name it. And they all still play a role. It's definitely not a one-size-fits-all strategy. But in early 2010, 2012, Recovery Act funding started to flow and there was an opportunity to focus in on electric vehicles as this industry was coming up from nothing and applying what we knew about all those other fuel types as it relates to fleet and passenger vehicles to some extent. For me, it was an opportunity to develop my subject matter expertise mid-career, which not a lot of people have the opportunity to do. And at the time I was focused more on the government side of things and public sector work. And then, more recently, having the opportunity to apply that to our utility customers has just been such an amazing learning experience. I'm still learning every single day and very lucky to have the opportunity to ride this huge wave with new technology and in such an exciting time in the industry.
Emily: I think for me it was really a confluence of factors. I grew up in Pittsburgh and then had moved away for quite a few years and my husband and I were looking to come to Pittsburgh about three and a half years ago. And so, I was looking around, thinking about what I wanted to do next. This role at Duquesne Light opened up and I previously worked for an energy consulting firm, but mostly working on national or federal programs or regional energy efficiency programs. And I really was at a point where I felt like I wanted to make more of an impact at the local level. And so, for me, this role at this company was a great way that I felt like I could contribute solutions to climate change and the climate crisis in a really meaningful way in a community that I felt very deeply about.
So that is part of the reason that I've wanted to come back and stay. And I think the transportation electrification space is just fascinating. It's changing literally every day. And I think the convergence of policy and technologies and programs make it a really interesting space to operate. And it's a great conversation starter at parties because everyone has an opinion about EVs. Everyone wants to talk about how either they own an EV, they know someone who owns an EV, or they're thinking about what EV they're going to buy next. So that's fun too.
Understanding the biggest barriers to EV adoption, including resistance to change
David: That's awesome. What do you guys see as the biggest barriers to EV adoption?
Stacy: I don't think they've actually changed much since EVs really hit the road. I mean, you really can boil it all down to resistance to change. And we all are used to driving gas vehicles, so we're used to predictability of fueling, and we're used to a pretty set number of miles that you can get on a fuel-up. We're used to pulling into really any maintenance station to get the vehicle service when needed or a dealership. So those systems that are in place for so long, it's hard to think about changing your lifestyle to adapt to a vehicle. But as Emily said, anybody who's driving a vehicle—Joan, you included—are really ambassadors for this technology. We're still in the early adopter stage and many of the drivers are very vocal, very supportive.
They're the biggest cheerleaders for this technology. And so, they're willing to say, “Look, I understand you're concerned about barrier X, Y, Z, but here's how I've overcome it, talking to neighbors.” And it is really a grassroots effort combined with what we're seeing from the automakers and charging companies. So, I'd say those barriers—those charging infrastructure concerns or range, and then of course cost, which right now is a difficult pill to swallow, but hoping that we see some changes in the industry on that upfront cost piece. There's plenty of incentives both on the charging side and the vehicle side. So those barriers are starting to come down block by block.
David: Do you think that Tesla's strategy of building out the infrastructure was brilliant then?
Emily: Yeah. I mean, I think there's a reason, right, that they are far ahead selling way more vehicles than any other manufacturer, at least EV manufacturer. And it's because of the charging infrastructure. They've given their customers the level of comfort that they can drive pretty much anywhere across the country and get where they need to go pretty easily. Whereas, I think, if you don't own a Tesla vehicle, there is a lot more concern about, one, if there is charging infrastructure at all. And then related, I think is also will that charging infrastructure work? Which is I think another big hurdle for the industry that they're going to have to get much more serious about in the coming years.
Stacy: That's right. Reliability. Yeah, I would agree, Emily. I like reliability of those charging stations. Will they work? Is the space lighted? Do I feel safe sitting there while my vehicle charges? I'm glad that the industry is shining a bigger spotlight on that because it really is something that we need to figure out rather quickly because we're getting past those mostly patient and understanding early adopters and into the broader mass market. And we'll run into a lot more hurdles if those charging stations aren't up and running.
Adopting charging connection standards
David: What about the charging connection? We don't have a standard across the country for that, right?
Emily: Well, there is a standard for level two. And then I think in general people have coalesced at the fast-charging level around combined charging systems (CCS) with the exception of, I guess, Tesla. But I think even that may be changing with some of the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) dollars that will be on the line here. I haven't, Stacy. Have you seen anything more about that recently? I have not.
Stacy: No. Emily's right. CCS is a combined charger standard. It's an industry standard for that DC-faster charging, higher-power charging. And like Emily said, Tesla does have their own charger. Tesla vehicles can typically get an adapter to charge in any other charging station, but it doesn't necessarily work the other way around where, David, if you owned a different type of electric vehicle that you could charge there. But there have been a lot of talks about this more national fueling network that's being funded through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program at the federal level that we might see more of those Tesla stations retrofitted and opened up to the greater vehicle population. But we'll still have to see what that timeline is and how it actually rolls out.
Joan: And I was just going to add in, I'm sure the IRA [Inflation Reduction Act] is going to help move things along as well. Agree?
Stacy: The Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA, and previous to that, the bipartisan infrastructure bill combined are a huge boost to the electric vehicle industry across charging infrastructure, across vehicle production, battery production, grid infrastructure. So absolutely it will help us continue to move things forward.
David: What about the incentive for buying a used EV vehicle?
Stacy: From my perspective, that new tax credit is one of the most exciting things that we've seen because equity has been such an issue with transportation electrification because of the cost of entry. And by reducing that barrier for people who aren't necessarily in a position to buy a new vehicle, this now further reduces the already lower cost of that pre-owned vehicle. And in a couple years we'll start to see that incentive applied at the point of sale. Again, another brick pulled down from that barrier of entry. So, to me, that's one of the pieces of all the legislation we've seen in the last year or so that I'm most excited about because I think it will have a real impact on more equitable access to these vehicles, and, of course, the benefits that go along with them.
Joan: That's great to hear. I can't believe the time has already passed, as always, but we'd like to wrap up by asking you both. If you could change one thing in the industry with no limits, what would you do?
Stacy: I'll start, and I'll let Emily have the last word. I've alluded to it in a couple different ways throughout this conversation. But a new barrier that wasn't necessarily there in the beginning of this great industry development of transportation electrification is the supply chain issues. There is so much demand right now for electric vehicles for all sorts of reasons, and people have got long wait times and are probably getting frustrated and thinking they'll never get an electric vehicle and never be able to afford one. The prices have increased and all perfect-storm in maybe a not-so-great way. So if I could wave my magic wand, I would wipe out the supply chain issues that apply to the vehicles and the charging stations and the transformers on the utility side so that these charging stations can get on the ground, that people who want to purchase these vehicles or at lease these vehicles can do it within a couple months rather than having to wait such a long time. So that would be my one thing.
Emily: I would say from my perspective, coming from the utility side of the equation, I think one area is certainly that I think utilities have to be able and willing to move faster. This is a quickly changing space and so utilities are not known for being rapid innovators. But I think if we want to continue to be both successful and meet the challenges that a lot of the climate goals represent, then we're going to have to move faster. And I think part of that is also the regulatory structure, under which utilities operate and having to put forward proposals a year in advance if not more. And then you're implementing almost a year and a half after you've made the proposal can make it a little bit challenging when conditions are changing so quickly. I think if I could change one thing, it's having a little bit more flexibility and a little bit more willingness to take some risks, because I think that's what we're going to need to do in order to be successful.
David: No doubt. I wish I had magic wands to give to each of you for that. It's been such a lovely conversation and it is crazy how fast 30 minutes speed by. But if you would like to learn more about Duquesne Light Company and their programs, you can visit duquesnelight.com and if you've enjoyed this conversation, we would sure appreciate your liking it and even subscribing to our podcast.
Joan: Absolutely, David. That was such a fun discussion with Emily and Stacy. I always am learning and I'm just glad that we are continuing to talk with our friends in the industry and share some of their insights. And on that note, in our next episode, we'll be gaining an international perspective and outlook from Britain with guest Mark Allington. Mark leads ICF’s energy activities in Europe and Asia. So, listeners, please make sure to look to December and tune into our next Energy in 30.