EVs are set to take off in India driven by reducing prices, attractive Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) vis-à-vis Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles (ICEVs), more environment friendly attributes, lower pollution impact, and major policy support.

EVs present a challenge as well as an opportunity for DISCOMs. To become future-ready, DISCOMs need to understand what consumers think about EV adoption and use, what they need, and how DISCOMs can engage with them for meeting these new requirements.

Charging infrastructure is a key point of intervention for utilities. Globally, utilities such as Pacific Gas and Electric (California), San Diego Gas and Electric (California), Duke Energy, ENOVA (Norway), China State Grid, China Southern Grid etc. have played an important role in scaling up charging infrastructure for EVs. This has been a major contributing factor in the evolution of global demand for EVs.

Utilities have become facilitator(s), managers, aggregators, or charging service providers.

  • Utilities facilitate in identifying charging sites and tie up with the landowners, act as coordinators for engaging regulators and permitting entities, or distribute subsidies and incentives.
  • As ‘managers’, utilities become fully engaged in managing charging operations, scheduling and controlling EV loads, and using EVs for V2G (Vehicle to Grid) / G2V (Grid to Vehicle) integration for better grid management.
  • As ‘aggregators’ they help aggregate customer demand for charging infrastructure and work with charging network providers or charging network implementers in getting appropriate charging infrastructure in place for their customers.
  • As ‘charging service providers’ utilities install EV chargers, operate them and charge customers for charging services.

Benefits of utilities creating charging infrastructure
Because of their existing customer-connect, utilities command higher ‘trust’ and offer greater ‘ease’ of working for customers. Customers know them, have dealt with them, and if services are managed efficiently, can trust them more than third party vendors. The trust is enhanced because utilities are highly regulated and therefore unlikely to be permitted unfair terms of trade. The existing process of metering, billing, payments etc., result in reduced cost of service for charging

Utilities can also offer the customers single point program management. They can also set up, operate, and manage a variety of charging infrastructure across the city. Since EV customers need different types of charging infrastructure at different points of time, dealing with a single supplier will be easier for them.

Utilities need to be involved in managing EV loads in the network, which may include Time Of Use (TOU) tariffs, Demand Response (DR), investments in infrastructure upgrades and potential V2G services. All these features would indicate it would be easier and more efficient if utilities manage the customer’s charging infrastructure completely, either directly or through utility appointed aggregators or managers.

Utilities can bring in significant benefits of aggregation such as customer demand aggregation, aggregation of services from charging network provides (CNPs), payment assurance to various parties involved, dealing with regulators, distribution of subsidies etc. The aggregation will reduce costs, assure quality, and reduce risks for various participants in the charging infrastructure value chain.

A customer survey in Delhi also confirmed the positive role expected from the utilities in creating charging Infrastructure. India E Mobility Finance initiative and BSES Rajdhani Power Limited (BRPL), the Delhi distribution utility carried out a dipstick consumer survey during October-December 2019.

The survey confirmed that consumers looked up to the distribution utility in helping them with charging infrastructure needs.

  • Individuals and Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) were happy for the distribution utility to manage all the technical and quality parameters and facilitate the connection if the manufacturer guarantees remain unaffected. They are also keen to utilise the off-peak tariffs for charging and were open to the distribution utility offering smart charging, facilitating charging during off peak periods, so that their charging costs are minimised. They were also looking at managing charging without paying extra costs of demand charges or charges for enhancing sanctioned loads.
  • Commercial spaces showed a high interest in using utility support to set up charging stations, get permissions, and offer a viable business model for them to offer charging to their visitors. They were also interested in using low off-peak tariffs, and avoid increased demand charges by smart charging models, to further lower their electricity costs.

The survey discovered high degree of ‘openness’ of customers to the utility in setting up charging infrastructure, controlling charging to off peak periods (smart charging), and TOU tariffs.

A simulation model developed for Delhi, based on survey results, indicated that a large part of electricity consumption will be routed through home charging, kerb-side charging and commercial space charging and parking lots. The share of these types of charging stations will increase ~ 80 per cent in the state as consumer demand grows. Public charging stations may be restricted to fast charging services used for top-up by urban commuters, which will be a small part of the overall need.

Utilities can play an important role for home charging, kerb-side charging, commercial space charging and parking lots. They may also be able to support group charging by fleet operators if they can influence the availability of parking spaces, especially during night-time, from urban local bodies and private owners.

India has experience of utility-anchored solar roof top business models, which have resulted in improved quality and costs for consumers. An appropriate programme for utility-anchored EV charging infrastructure could also be designed and launched, to ensure faster EV scale up. Utilities could aggregate customer requirements and get smart charging infra implemented by qualified vendors, charge point operators or managers.