Poll results show utilities losing ground to third-parties in consumer preference for new energy services

consumer preference

Customer demand for new energy technologies like electric vehicle (EV) charging and solar power has more than doubled since 2017. Utilities across the country, with an eye on creating new revenue streams, are increasingly launching EV charging and solar power offerings to meet this growing demand. While many consumers view utilities as natural providers for these offerings, utilities are quickly losing preferred provider status to non-utility third parties.

Overall customer preference for the utility as a solar power provider among interested customers has fallen from 68% last year to 47%. While preference for utilities as a provider of EV charging offerings remains flat, preference for third-party providers has increased by 66%. If preference for third-party providers continues to increase at this rate, they will overtake utilities in consumer preference in three years.

“Utilities are on the verge of one of the greatest marketing and revenue opportunities they have ever had,” said Chris Oberle, senior vice president at Market Strategies International-Morpace. “If they want to capture significant EV charging and solar power market share, utilities need to quickly build and defend their brands as trusted providers of new energy technologies.”

The energy industry research shows customers with low brand trust in their utility have a very high preference for third-party providers, while the utilities with the strongest preference tend to have higher Brand Trust scores as well as strong support for being “trusted energy advisers.”

Provider Preference by Offering Category and Brand Trust

(Brand Trust is measured on a scale of 1–1,000)

Solar power offerings – prefer utility

  • Low brand trust: 38 percent
  • High brand trust: 47 percent

Solar power offerings – prefer third party

  • Low brand trust: 29 percent
  • High brand trust: 7 percent

Solar power offerings – no preference

  • Low brand trust: 33 percent
  • High brand trust: 46 percent

EV charging – prefer utility

  • Low brand trust: 38 percent
  • High brand trust: 58 percent

EV charging – prefer third party

  • Low brand trust: 28 percent
  • High brand trust: 19 percent

EV charging – no preference

  • Low brand trust: 44 percent
  • High brand trust: 33 percent

Nationwide, 14% of utility customers say that they are likely to adopt rooftop solar, community solar, solar hot water or home battery storage within the next six months. While western states like California and Arizona are perceived to be the hottest solar markets, the greatest demand for solar offerings is actually in the South—stretching from Texas to Virginia. Similarly, customers in the South indicate the greatest interest in home or public EV charging offerings.

The study

These and other findings can be found in the Cogent Reports 2018 Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement: Residential study by Market Strategies International-Morpace. The study measures the market dynamics of over 65 offerings and customer shopping behaviors of 18 customer segments.

Market Strategies-Morpace conducted surveys among 52,486 residential electric, natural gas and combination utility customers of the 130 largest US utility companies (based on residential customer counts). The sample design uses a combination of quotas and weighting based on US census data to ensure a demographically balanced sample of each evaluated utility’s customers based on age, gender, income, race and ethnicity. Utilities within the same region and of the same type (e.g., electric-only providers) are given equal weight in order to balance the influence of each utility’s customers on survey results. Market Strategies-Morpace will supply the exact wording of any survey question upon request.

— Solar Builder magazine

EV Update: Seven steps for regulators, New York rebate, EVgo ramps deployment

EV chargers

Electric vehicles are coming, and grid planners, regulators, developers and solar companies should all be ready to build the complementary infrastructure. Here’s a roundup of all the recent EV segments news to keep you up to date.

AEE’s seven steps to prepare for EV surge

Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) released an issue brief outlining seven steps state regulators should take to prepare for a surge in electric vehicles. In EVs 101: A Regulatory Plan for America’s Electric Transportation Future, AEE notes that plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) currently account for a small share of vehicle sales, but a high – and accelerating – growth rate is putting EVs on the agendas of public utility commissions (PUCs) around the country. To address the potentially rapid electrification of the vehicle fleet – from passenger cars to delivery vehicles, buses, and trucks – state regulators should take measures to maximize the benefits and minimize the challenges associated with this transportation transformation.

In EVs 101, AEE urges PUCs to take seven specific steps:

1. Establish an electric vehicle regulatory framework. PUCs should use a collaborative process to gather information, then put out its viewpoint in a white paper on the key regulatory issues for EVs to reduce uncertainty in the marketplace. An open, collaborative process allows everyone to participate, ensuring that the best information is brought forward.

2. Consider roles for various stakeholders in electric vehicle charging infrastructure ownership and financing. Regulators need to clearly define appropriate roles for utilities and third-party companies to play in owning and financing charging infrastructure. Both utilities and third parties have critical roles to play and should be able to develop, own, and operate charging facilities under appropriate rules and market conditions.

3. Adjust utility planning and operations to fully integrate electric vehicles. As the EV market grows, utility planning and operations will need to incorporate EV load forecasts, make modernization investments for smart charging, adopt streamlined interconnection processes, and ensure interoperability standards are observed for public charging stations.

sb-econference-web-post

4. Implement rate designs for an electric vehicle future. Regulators should consider EV-only tariffs and well-designed time-varying rates to encourage off-peak charging. In the early stages of market development, regulators should also provide relief from excessive demand charges under EV-only rates to support the use of chargers.

5. Ensure that vulnerable populations are not left behind. As the EV market unfolds, particular attention should be given to low-income and other vulnerable populations. Regulators should take steps to improve the ability of these communities to access the EV market and apply longstanding principles of consumer protection to ratemaking decisions with cost implications.

6. Educate consumers. Given the important role that consumer awareness plays in EV adoption and utilization of charging infrastructure, regulators should allow utilities to use their unique relationship with customers and experience in customer engagement from energy efficiency programs to improve access to EV information.

7. Prioritize consideration of medium- and heavy-duty fleets. Vehicle fleets have the potential to provide electrification at scale in the near term, with substantial benefits to the grid and society, and some operators are already starting to make large commitments to electrifying their fleets. Commissions should explicitly look at fleets in the context of the regulatory issues outlined in this paper.

New York launches first EV charging station installation rebate

new york EV rebates

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that $5 million is available as part of the first rebate designed specifically for the installation of electric vehicle charging stations at workplaces, office buildings, multi-family apartment buildings, and public locations such as theaters, malls, parks and retail locations. The installation of charging stations for public use supports the Governor’s ambitious clean energy goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

“New York continues to lead the nation in reducing our carbon footprint by aggressively investing in clean transportation methods,” Governor Cuomo said. “By expanding public access to electric vehicle charging stations, this program will make it more affordable for New Yorkers to make the switch to an environmentally friendly electric vehicle, resulting in a cleaner, greener New York for all.”

Administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the new Charge Ready NY initiative provides a $4,000 rebate per charging port for public or private employers, building owners, municipalities and non-profit organizations to install Level 2 charging stations. Depending on installation costs and the model/make of the charging station, installe rs can save up to 80 percent of a typical installation’s total cost. Level 2 stations provide up to 25 miles of electric range to cars for each hour they are charging. Charging stations must be installed at one of the following types of locations:

• Public parking lot: must have at least ten parking spaces and be open to the general public at least 12 hours per day for at least five days per week. Examples include municipal or privately-operated parking lots or garages, parking at retail locations, shopping malls, restaurants, parks, transit stations, schools and other destination locations.

• Workplace: must have at least ten parking spaces that primarily serve a minimum of 15 employees who work at or near the lot. Examples include office buildings, universities, schools, and hospitals.

• Multi-unit housing: must have at least eight parking spaces that primarily serve a building with five or more housing units, such as apartment buildings, condominiums and co-ops.

This new initiative supports the Governor’s Charge NY 2.0 initiative, which aims to have at least 10,000 charging stations across New York by the end of 2021,so clean cars can travel across the State with the opportunity to recharge along the way. The initiative also builds on the Governor’s Charge NY initiative, which was launched in 2013 and has a goal of having 30,000 to 40,000 electric cars on the road by the end of 2018.

To complement Charge Ready NY, which enables public and private organizations to apply directly for rebates, the Governor recently announced a $250 million commitment by the New York Power Authority to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles and expand electric vehicle fast charging stations along key transportation corridors and in New York City airports.

EVgo FastStart Fast Forwards EVgo Charging Station Deployment

EVgo charger

EVgo, the nation’s largest public electric vehicle (EV) fast charging network, unveiled EVgo FastStart, a mobile and modular fast charging station configuration that can be deployed in a matter of days or weeks, at the Solar Power International and Energy Storage International conference.

Engineered to meet accelerating demand for EV chargers, the patent-pending EVgo FastStart station offers fast and easy deployment for partners with immediate charging needs, short-term site leases, or fleet customers requiring electric charging in temporary depots. The pre-fabricated EVgo FastStart can be deployed on a modular basis with multiple modules per site in just days or weeks, limited only by the power available. EVgo FastStart stations come in DCFC, Level 2, or combination configurations.

— Solar Builder magazine

Total clean energy disruption is here and three other takeaways from Intersolar 2018

Starting with the opening keynote presentations on through the innovations on the expo floor, Intersolar 2018 was all about disruption. Yes, even those of you already succeeding in solar today, if you’re not careful, you could be disrupted too. Here’s what jumped out at us in San Francisco last week.

1. Total clean energy disruption is coming, and it’s bigger than you think it is.

Intersolar 2018 coverage (53)

Keynote speaker Tony Seba was the disruption tone setter. For those unfamiliar, Seba is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, an instructor in Entrepreneurship, Disruption and Clean Energy at Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program and author of Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation. His work focuses on clean energy, entrepreneurship and market disruption of the world’s major industries, such as energy, transportation, infrastructure, finance and manufacturing.

Yea, it’s a lot, but luckily he summarized it all in his presentation to kick off Intersolar. He makes the case that energy storage, EVs, ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles are on a path to converge very soon, and that the convergence of technology and business models in such a way is always the heart of true disruption.

“Every single technology has been adopted as an S curve. It is never a line,” Seba said. Consider the fact that cars replaced the horse and buggy in a mere 10-year span – and that’s in the days of, well, horse and buggy. His research shows how the tipping point for disruption has always led to a sharp S-curve trajectory, which is only getting sharper in our current time. “S curves are accelerating. It takes months or a year or two. More like J curves now. But yet there are still just straight lines in projections.”

Fast forwarding to the end scenario he lays out (which he originally laid out four years ago, and is right on track) is a world with little to no car ownership because of how much more economic sense it will make to “Uber” everywhere via fleets of automated ride services. This scenario upends much of our modern infrastructure — an abundance of storage on the grid, no use for parking lots, etc. I can’t really do it justice, so I’d recommend watching the full presentation for way more details.

The takeaway I’d like to highlight for the solar industry though is how winners of a disruption are rarely incumbents. Seba points to Kodak as a quick example. Kodak invented digital photography, had its best year ever, and then was basically out of business in under 10 years. Yes, despite that constant steep S curve, projection systems and experts and thought leaders are never prepared when that disruption hits. Companies you’ve never heard of are already ramping up to own the automated driving fleet space and random companies like Dyson are taking educated stabs in the dark at launching their own line of EVs.

For clean energy, the technology and economics are already there, it’s just a matter of a few other chess pieces moving into place, or dots connecting, or whatever other game analogy you’d like to use. If you smell what Seba is cooking, make your plans for this new world now.

2. You should try and win this funding competition.

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Did that disruption talk get you excited, or get the gears turning on the next big idea? Well, hurry and tell the Department of Energy about it and you might get hooked up with a network of people to help implement it, along with some cash.

The DOE’s American Made Challenge Solar Prize competition is awarding $3 million in prizes as well as support from the DOE’s U.S,-based network to help grow, build business plans, prototypes and funding sources for labs and innovators. Additional cash prizes are then awarded to the most viable concepts.

“What role does DOE want to have? To focus on early stage research and forge strong partnerships with the private sector,” said Elaine Ulrich, Senior Advisor, Solar Energy Technologies Office, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Department of Energy. “We know this is the cornerstone of our success, so a new way we speed innovation is through prize competitions.”

And speed it, it does. This isn’t a laborious grant application process, but a series of contests. Record a 90 second video with a strong pitch and answer four questions: What’s the problem? What’s the solution? Who is on the team? What’s the plan?

The field will be winnowed to about 20 to 40 winners (for a max of $50,000 each) to about 12 after the proof of concept stage (an and additional $200,000 possible), until finally two winners will emerge with $500,000 to launch company.

“Within six months, you could have $750,000 in cash and $150,000 in facility vouchers and tapped into a full network,” Ulrich said. “This is just the first, of hopefully many of these contests.”

Oct. 5 is the submission deadline.

3. Yes, there is still new ground to break in ground-mounted solar.

We saw and heard about several design changes in ground-mounted solar that can forge new paths in underserved segments or take over/grow established segments. We can’t talk about all of them right now (stay tuned for Solar Power International), but here are a few to note.

AP Alternatives Ready Rack

AP Alternatives Ready Rack.

AP Alternatives‘ Ready Rack mounting hardware is designed for both large utility-scale projects and small commercial projects. The small helical anchors and quick install cross bracing make the simple system robust even for high wind zones.

What we liked: This system is nimbly installed with an attachment that fits on a skid steer, which opens up the 20 to 100-kW market up much more for small solar contractors to grow and scale their business.

Soltec bifacial tracking

Live at the Soltec Bifacial testing facility.

We will have more on this topic in our Sept./Oct. issue, but just know that the industry is very focused on finding true, objective results for bifacial modules deployed in various tracker combinations. The price point on bifacial modules may not make sense for wide deployment just yet, but when it does, highly bankable systems from Soltec and Array Technologies, to name two, will be at the ready. Soltec has built a testing ground and is working with NREL and Black and Veatch to gather a complete data set on the harvest of bifacial modules on solar trackers.

Alion tracker

Alion Energy tracker.

This Alion Energy tracker is definitely not for all sites – it has a very specific value proposition for tough and dusty terrains by incorporating a self-cleaning function. There is a lot of concrete needed to install this system, but you could picture it opening up new sites in remote, harsh desert landscapes because of how often its panels could be cleaned with an automated system that uses much less water and no labor.

4. Solar + storage value is much clearer on both the large and small scale.

SolArk

You’ll want to check out the Sol-Ark inverter.

On the small-scale side, we saw the most efficient solar + storage inverter on the market, and it isn’t from SolarEdge or Tesla but from little-known Sol-Ark. We explain DC transformerless architecture in greater detail in our Sept./Oct. print issue, but the quick story is this inverter is able to maintain an impressively high efficiency – both peak and consistent – in battery and grid tied scenarios.

On the large-scale side, more and more storage is being built into projects. First Solar recently signed a project contract for 150 MW of storage, for example. The key stat came from Joachim Seel, Scientific Engineering Associate at the Electricity Markets and Policy Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, U.S.: At least six PPAs this year have featured PV-plus-long-duration storage that do not seem to be priced at a prohibitive premium to PV only.

Oh yeah, that reminds me of one more quote from Seba’s presentation: “At some point soon solar-plus-batteries will be cheaper than transmission,” Seba stated. Insert thinky emoji here.

— Solar Builder magazine

How local officials can ramp up EV charging infrastructure

EV charging

With electric vehicles (EVs) hitting U.S. streets in record numbers, a new study by U.S. PIRG Education Fund, PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center and Frontier Group highlights best practices to help local officials make their cities as EV-friendly as possible. The new report, “Plugging In: Readying America’s Cities for the Arrival of Electric Vehicles,” includes local and state data about the projected number of electric cars expected on the road in coming years, and how cities can accommodate these new EVs with enough places to park and recharge.

“Electric cars are leaving gas-guzzlers in the dust,” stated David Masur, Executive Director of PennEnvironment and a co-author of “Plugging In.” “We have an opportunity to make a positive change after more than a century of vehicles spewing pollutants into the air. Local and state officials who want to plug into this opportunity need to commit to an EV-friendly infrastructure as smooth and fast as possible.”

In particular, the report calls on local officials to implement the following EV-friendly policies:

• Residential access to on-street EV charging
• Access to public charging stations
• Support for private investment in publicly-accessible stations
• Incentivized EV parking and charging

EV sales nationwide increased 38 percent in 2016, and then another 32 percent throughout 2017, as charging stations became more convenient. Those electric car purchases reflect Americans’ values, including a desire to protect our communities’ public health, reduce global warming pollution and stop using so much oil.

Even the change-resistant auto industry recognizes that the future is electric. GM plans to launch 20 EV models by 2023, while Ford announced last month it plans to invest $11 billion in EVs, with a goal of having 40 models by 2022. These new cars don’t just check off the “electric” box; they’re earning acclaim from mainstream car enthusiasts. Motor Trend even named Chevrolet’s Bolt the 2017 Car of the Year.

The ‘Carportunity’: How our electric vehicle future means big things for solar carports

But with more electric vehicles on the road, and many more coming soon, cities need to map out where EVs will charge, particularly in city centers and neighborhoods without off-street parking. In all, major cities will need to install hundreds to thousands of new publicly-accessible electric vehicle chargers to keep the increased number of EVs running, depending on the size of the city.

“American cities risk being unprepared for the impending arrival of thousands of electric vehicles on their streets,” said Alana Miller, policy analyst at Frontier Group and co-author of “Plugging In.”

“Without forward-thinking policies that give EV owners places to park and charge their vehicles, cities could lose out on the health and air quality benefits that electric vehicles can deliver,” Miller said.

“One of the biggest barriers to greater EV adoption is the lack of charging infrastructure. We’re excited for more tools to be available to cities and towns across the United States that will help to speed adoption of these clean vehicles,” said Katherine Stainken, Policy Director for Plug In America.

The report’s authors note that local and state officials increasingly are having to lead on issues related to climate change, clean energy, and clean cars, as the Trump administration dismantles federal policies that offered concrete solutions to these issues. In the coming weeks, the administration is expected to propose new steps towards revoking federal fuel efficiency standards and weakening clean car policies.

“Adopting smart public policies, which have been implemented already in visionary American and international cities, can help more U.S. cities lead the electric vehicle revolution,” noted Masur. “For the sake of our public health and environment, it’s crucial that we expand access to clean transportation for those who live, work and play in our urban centers. And once we complete the transition away from gasoline and diesel, we can all breathe easier and see more clearly.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Check out this simple new solar canopy from startup Renewz

iSun Oasis EV charger

At the New England Home Show in Boston, solar energy and electric vehicle (EV) technology startup Renewz launched an online ordering campaign for the iSun Oasis, a smart solar canopy that easily integrates into homeowners’ lifestyle and garden, patio or driveway. It is part of the iSun Energy brand, and is now available for the price of $9,999 USD less a limited offer $2,500 discount.

How it works

iSun Oasis connects directly to the home’s electrical grid. The durable, aluminum structure holds an American solar panel array which captures and delivers clean power, reducing the homeowner’s carbon footprint by approximately 1.4 metric tons of carbon emissions per year. Users will also see reductions to their energy bills, and may be eligible for further rebates and tax breaks in their state or province. In the US, Americans will receive a 30% federal tax credit in the first year after installation. In many cases, the entire purchase and installation of the canopy can be financed by energy savings, as well as an increase to home value when it comes time to sell.

The canopy extends the use of outdoor areas by protecting from heat, rain, snow and UV whether on driveway, patio or garden. iSun Oasis is controlled and monitored via the iSun mobile app, which will be consistently updated with new features such as Electric Vehicle charge control, smart lighting and more. The canopy’s functionality can be expanded with accessories like an EV charger, smart lighting, electrical outlets, bluetooth speakers, plant holders and bug nets.

Solar canopy

“One of our main goals in the design of our canopy was for it to integrate and improve users’ home lifestyle, in a seamless and cost effective manner,” says CEO Sass M. Peress. “We designed the iSun Oasis so that it would be simple to install, and easy to obtain an installation city permit, since it is considered a temporary structure due to its innovative anchoring system. Its access to a host of incentives plus energy payback and increased home value make it a smart financial decision as well.”

iSun Oasis works under all kinds of daylight conditions and features high efficiency, curved solar panels designed to optimize energy generation. While maximum power is obtained from direct sunlight, the canopy’s unique solar technology creates energy even through diffuse light or cloudy conditions. It is capable of producing power even when buried under four inches of snow.

The ‘Carportunity’: How our electric vehicle future means big things for solar carports

— Solar Builder magazine