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What Electric Utilities Can (and should!) Do To Help Organizations Electrify Their Fleets

As fleet electrification accelerates in 2021, spurred on by major financial incentives, there is tremendous opportunity for electric utilities to help guide their commercial and industrial customers into an electrified future. 

There are several ways utilities can help organizations with their electrification needs, positioning a power company to lead their commercial customers forward. 

Leading by example

A utility that prioritizes its own fleet electrification efforts bolsters its credibility in the eyes of its customers. By taking steps to start a fleet electrification project of its own, the power company is able to understand the decisions required and can provide a real world blueprint to help its customers through their own electrification journey. 

This is crucial – without an internal fleet electrification program, the utility lacks the expertise, credibility and authority to influence businesses.

Pioneering new solutions

Utilities have a great opportunity to shape the future of transportation electrification by influencing the speed of fleet adoption and a responsibility to engage customers in innovative ways, which may involve trying different business models. 

Some electric utilities are developing charging-as-a-service business models to reduce risk for fleet managers. Fleet owners know how to manage diesel fuel prices, but may not be as well-versed in managing kilowatts. A power company removing that risk for fleet managers is a great way to promote fleet electrification.

Other innovative approaches we’ve seen is a cooperative in Colorado called Tri-State. They encourage members to experience electrification without the risk of commitment. Through a program called EV Experience Fleet, Tri-State allows its members the opportunity to borrow an EV for up to a month as part of their fleet. This is a pragmatic way to provide first-hand experience to customers, helping them determine if electrification fits into their short and long term strategic growth. 

Utility support of fleet electrification: Best practices 

Outside of the above methods and examples, consider the following tips based on proven catalysts of fleet electrification. 

Provide technology and data-driven tools

New data analysis technology can help render decisions faster and easier than ever before. Interactive tools can aggregate resources to help customers understand the solutions best tailored to their needs – which, in turn, have a higher chance of adoption and real world success. 

To design and develop fleet engagement programs, utilities need to leverage best practices that keep the customer’s perspective in mind. To achieve this, use tools such as online calculators to help customers analyze and forecast. Integrate incentives, electric rates, infrastructure cost, and help them take a short and long term approach to their own TCO and ROI. 

Fleet electrification planning is no easy task, largely due to the complex calculations. Providing tools and support to simplify the process adds value and has a lasting impact.

Foster collaboration among local stakeholders

Electric utilities have many customers, each with unique needs – this means a utility can play the role of a great matchmaker.

To help customers collaborate and connect, a utility can partner with stakeholders involved in public events. For example, Ride-and-Drives or Clean Cities Coalition Network routinely put together events that promote EV education and awareness events. Partnering with these organizations can help bring together OEMs, local dealers, EVSE vendors, utility representatives, consultants, non-profits, state officials, and many others. 

Promote customers that have already electrified their fleets

Businesses considering fleet electrification are increasingly reaching out to their utilities to inquire about fleet electrification. Documenting their efforts together, specifically around how the utility is helping them, simultaneously promotes enhanced electrification and generates goodwill in the local community.

This could be in the form of an email, a case study, a newsletter, or a website video. These mechanisms can help encourage and accelerate fleet electrification. 

Arrive at customer sites in an EV

Driving to businesses in utility branded EV fleet vehicles is a great way to not only engage with customers, but also let them see, touch, and drive (if possible) the vehicles. It shows businesses their utility is not just paying lip-service, but actively committing to this new technology.

Discussion suggestions during this “show-and-tell”:

    • Speak about the stability of electric prices over gasoline prices and the further benefits of smart charging. Show historic charts comparing electricity and diesel prices validating the point.
    • Highlight perks and incentives.
    • Promote a benefit-driven win-win strategy for both customers’ bottom lines and the environment.
    • Let them kick the tires and discuss reduced maintenance.
    • Have a tablet on hand, and let them plug in their own numbers to your fleet planning tool to get a comprehensive picture for their business.
    • Invite the business to the utility and show them how they can charge their fleet by showing how you made the jump yourselves.
  • Share the lessons learned when you transitioned your own fleet so their transition can be smoother, and they see you as an even stronger partner in their business.

Support the process

Helping guide businesses through a well thought out process is always welcomed. Utilities can provide online tools to help organizations consider fleet electrification. For example, PG&E provides a fuel calculator and an option to speak with one of their representatives.

There are additional tools to help understand the cost of charging such as this infrastructure tool to help make a business case for charging. 

The more utilities can bring together resources and help businesses with planning, the more the utility helps itself plan for the future and build better relationships with their customers. This can be done through tools spanning:

    • Identifying applicable incentives
    • Selecting suitable replacement EVs for fossil fuel vehicles
    • Easy vehicle comparison: EVs vs fossil fuel equivalents
    • EV financing options
    • Infrastructure planning (E.g. identifying charger needs, selecting specific chargers and planning costs and locations of installation)
    • Aid in selecting optimal electricity rate

Target carefully and realistically

Not all businesses are ready for fleet electrification. For the engagement process to be successful, a focus on who is ready will avoid unrealistic expectations. 

Focus on a customer that can use light-duty EVs or off-road forklifts will help set an immediate benchmark to measure impact of engagement based on availability and reduced cost.

Once businesses have greater understanding of benefits and market inventory, they will have an optimistic view on electrification and a smoother long-term process without being discouraged.

Another approach could be to encourage used EVs for nonprofits, taxi businesses, and food delivery services. The availability and costs of medium-duty electric vehicles make them an expensive option in many areas. 

Keys to Success:

Engagement centered around meaningful connection

Fleet electrification provides an opportunity to forge a more collaborative relationship with commercial customers. It affords utilities the opportunity to help their commercial customers grow and, in so doing, help keep their customers happy. 

In an increasingly deregulated energy market with increased competition, understanding customer needs and cultivating a strong relationship is essential. We are seeing utilities interact with their customers as a sales manager may – asking how they are and how they can help, and following up several times a year. 

As the EV landscape continues to evolve, the approach of having an electrification account manager (charged with handling customers’ electrification needs) will be increasingly valuable. At the end of the day, connecting with commercial customers and viewing them as partners in this transportation electrification overhaul will be a necessity for success.

Credibility, trust and expertise

Instinctively, people follow those they respect and trust. Similarly, businesses have a reputation to build and monitor, and it is cultivated through credibility, trust, and expertise.

Businesses have to see how their utility can provide them with the support they need. So when an organization considers electrification, the utility is not at the end of their list of people to contact. This will only cause project delays and reduce the utility’s ability to plan and manage for the future. 

To gain trust, utilities have to highlight the benefits of electrification and provide real, upfront support to organizations considering electrification. The benefits are far-reaching in building credibility, trust, and an overall positive relationship with customers.

Scaling early on

EVs will significantly change the landscape of energy consumption. Stakeholders such as the auto industry and large businesses are preparing for that future. They are, undoubtedly, thinking about how their business models will scale. 

Utilities are setting the stage for the future, and rightly so. However, it is critical that their efforts are cohesive. Today, efforts vary by utility, state, and regulatory landscape. Utilities need to focus their efforts not only on their customers but how stakeholders will impact and influence their plans to scale.

Utilities need to understand and plan for the scaling of EVs. Car manufacturers from Volvo to General Motors have run major marketing campaigns signaling that they are “all-in,” committing to transitioning from ICE to EV production within a decade. These organizations have realized that making the switch is more than a passing trend, and that a “wait and see” approach could be risky at best, and financially disastrous at worst. The same is likely true for utilities. Plan to engage early, budget for growth, and provide customers, investors, and stakeholders with the vision, foresight, and true collaborative partnership they need to shift to a future that embraces transportation electrification.