Manufacturing, Sustainability, and Travel & Tourism

Michigan races toward vehicle electrification

Five meetings over the past year informed industry leaders of economic opportunities, benefits.

October 12, 2018
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More than 70 Michigan organizations convened over the past year to compile recommendations to help get Michigan first to the finish line in the race for vehicle electrification.

Approximately 140 stakeholders — representing 74 state organizations — from a variety of sectors participated in a series of five sessions in Lansing from January through August. The efforts were organized to inform industry leaders of the economic opportunities and benefits of an accelerated advanced mobility sector in Michigan.

Meetings were held in Lansing and conducted by the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council; a business trade association representing advanced energy companies that have business in Michigan.

“Michigan’s history as the auto capital of the world positions our state to be a leader in the emerging advanced mobility industry, which includes autonomous vehicles and connected vehicle technology,” said Liesl Clark, president of MEIBC. “Creating a coordinated and collaborative strategy is an essential step for the success of vehicle electrification in Michigan, which is why we are convening stakeholder meetings with a broad range of organizations, businesses and regulators.”

The first meeting in January focused on electric vehicle pilot programs under development by both DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, as well as the funding provided to Michigan under the Volkswagen settlement.

Camilo Serna, vice president of corporate strategy for DTE Energy, and Mike Delaney, executive director of regulatory affairs and policy for Consumers Energy, discussed both companies’ respective approaches to EV deployment. Serna said DTE Energy sees utilities’ role in EV deployment as four-pronged: educating customers; designing rates; managing charging; and investing in and supporting charging infrastructure.

To these ends, DTE Energy is prioritizing make-ready Level 2 and DC Fast Charging infrastructure where ownership is split between the utility and the site host; a residential approach to rates; and education, including an updated website, mailings and education for potential site hosts.

Delaney said Consumers Energy is trying to pursue “smaller bets” given the uncertainty about the future deployment of EVs. The company’s goals are to improve the customer experience, define the role of a regulated utility regarding plug-in EV infrastructure, realize grid benefits while mitigating risks and plan for future changes.

Delaney also emphasized home charging equipment installation, increasing customer awareness and smart charging technology as focus areas for the utility. He also prioritized exploring rate options for DCFC, public charging and workplace/multiunit dwelling charging.

The second stakeholder event, held in March, centered on customer awareness and education. The meeting opened with a panel discussion of automakers’ perspectives on consumer and dealer education with Britta Gross, director of advanced vehicle commercialization policy at General Motors, and Lisa Teed, U.S. marketing strategy manager with Ford Motor Company.

Gross said despite significant growth, EVs still are mostly being driven by “early adopters,” or people who are excited to try new technologies. The next step would be to get general consumers interested in EVs. To achieve broad-reaching interest, General Motors is focused on dealer education, providing online information, storytelling as a key for advertising and large-scale public awareness campaigns.

Teed discussed Ford’s perspective and customer education model, emphasizing automakers and other interested parties should consider current deployment when predicting future demand. Ford has found that customers want options in EVs, including longer ranges per charge, and a variety of car sizes and body styles. Teed emphasized that consumer education needs to focus on why there is a push for electrification and what EVs can offer them.

A second panel at the meeting featured Brandy Brown, a senior evaluation consultant at CLEAResult, and Anne Niederberger, vice president of marketing and development at data and behavioral science company Enervee, discussing customer psychology and behavioral economics.

Brown said CLEAResult’s approach is to make EVs desirable to customers where they are, rather than expecting customers to seek out information. She said it is especially important to close information gaps by providing customers with accurate and helpful information, and to advise them during the product evaluation period.

Niederberger cited an Enervee survey that found most customers want clean vehicles and low fuel costs, but they don’t realize that an EV would give them those results. Niederberger also described a website Enervee built that provides customers with information on different vehicles and allows them to compare their non-EV “dream car” to the closest EV match so they can see the benefits of buying an EV.

The third EV session in June focused on DC fast charging, long-dwell charging and charging infrastructure deployment.

Shanna Draheim, director of policy development for the Michigan Municipal League, and Jukka Kukkonen, founder of PlugInConnect, spoke on a panel about residential and workplace charging.

Draheim said investments in advanced mobility, vehicle electrification and EV charging could make a city or community more attractive to potential residents and businesses. However, there are challenges for communities, including zoning, equity in access to investments in infrastructure and mobility, and funding.

Kukkonen described PlugInConnect’s efforts to help apartment complexes and workplaces invest in charging infrastructure. He also explained how EV ownership and at-home charging could benefit utilities with increased load at times when demand is lower. Kukkonen described several common utility EV programs, including time-of-use rates and hourly pricing, charging infrastructure incentives, controlled charging programs, and workplace, apartment and condo charging programs.

The fourth EV meeting in July focused on fleet electrification. Laura Sherman, MEIBC vice president of policy development, moderated a panel on trends in fleet electrification with Sara Forni, senior manager of clean vehicles for Ceres, and David Peterson, head of fleet solutions at ChargePoint.

Forni said electrification can help companies meet their climate and emissions goals, help with workforce recruitment and retention, provide companies with reputational benefits, improve workplace safety, give companies the benefit of consistent fuel supply and price stability, and provide cost savings.

Peterson said, although most current fleet electrification is light-duty vehicles, the next step would be heavy-duty transit buses, followed by mid-duty trucks and vans, and finally heavy-duty truck fleets. He discussed the benefits of integrating fleet operators’ expertise — scheduling and logistics — with EV charging providers’ expertise to find the solutions companies need.

In another panel, Matt Patton, public policy manager at Lyft, and Mike Alaimo, executive director of Clean Fuels Michigan, discussed ride sharing.

Patton explained Lyft is focused on reducing congestion, even when that means recommending fewer individual Lyft trips in favor of shared trips. Alaimo said incentives are virtually nonexistent in Michigan to electrify fleet vehicles.

Previous Business Journal coverage noted Clean Fuels Michigan is working on and advocating for legislation to provide a partial sales tax exemption and R&D incentive to reduce costs of buying and developing EVs.

The fifth EV meeting focused on rate design and a review of the proposed utility EV programs.

Chris Nelder, manager of EV-grid integration at the Rocky Mountain Institute, described key considerations when designing rates for EV charging. He outlined the goals for EV rate design, including that charging should be profitable, it should be cheaper than gasoline, Level 2 charging should be considerably cheaper than fast charging and grid services provided by EV charging should be incentivized.

Nelder said EV charging stations also should have dedicated tariffs and meters, preferably within the charging station or vehicle.

Based on stakeholder input from the five sessions, the MEIBC recommended the following actions:

Gap assessment: The meetings provided a survey and discussion of the most pressing considerations around vehicle electrification, but they also pointed to gaps that exist around current efforts and initiatives toward EV deployment. According to the MEIBC, a detailed assessment of remaining gaps in ongoing initiatives needs to be undertaken with participation from stakeholders. A gaps assessment also can support communication needs, such as ensuring continuity of programs for EV customers.

Topical future discussions: The first five EV sessions prioritized education and discussion across a wide range of subjects. The presentations and the resulting discussions yielded the beginnings of more policy and regulatory conversations amongst stakeholders. MEIBC recommended a new series of discussions focused on specific topics identified by stakeholders.

Roadmap for next administration: The gaps assessment and stakeholder summits would help inform a roadmap developed for the next state administration focused on key policy and regulatory priorities, best next steps and opportunities to ensure Michigan is a leader in the automated, shared, connected and electrified mobility future.

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