California becomes the first state to implement submetering technology to drive EV adoption

Brief description of the dive:

  • Last week, California regulators approved first-ever protocols for submetering technology, which would essentially allow EV owners to measure their vehicles’ energy use separately from their main meter.
  • Thanks to the decision, owners of electric cars, as well as electric buses and trucks, will be able to avoid installing an additional meter to measure the electricity consumed by their vehicle, removing a key barrier to the adoption of electric vehicles in the state.
  • The CPUC’s decision is the culmination of a decade of efforts to develop submeter measurement capabilities and standardize communications protocols, President Alice Reynolds said at a meeting Thursday. “We really look forward to building on efforts to accelerate and facilitate greater customer control over how and when they charge their vehicle, and to enable customers to better manage their demand and take advantage of electric-specific vehicles rates,” she said.

Dive Insight:

The transportation sector accounts for nearly 40 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, and electrifying vehicles is a critical component of the state’s decarbonization efforts. In 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom, D, passed an executive order targeting all new passenger vehicle sales in the state to be zero-emissions by 2035. Currently, more than 16 percent of passenger cars sold in California are electric, and the state accounts for nearly half of EV sales nationwide.

Submetering effectively allows EV customers to avoid having to install a separate meter to measure their vehicle’s electricity use, CPUC Commissioner Clifford Rechtshafen said at an agency vote meeting Thursday. This is important because in California EVs are subject to special rate structures that make charging cheaper during off-peak hours.

“Right now, you can charge your car for one-half to one-third of the cost of filling up a tank of gas, and that’s actually even before gas prices have gone up over the last few months,” Rechtshafen said. “But EV rates often don’t work for an entire home or business — so most EV drivers today don’t choose those specific EV rates.”

Specific EV pricing can dramatically reduce the cost of owning an electric car, but many customers are reluctant to purchase an additional meter, which is a barrier to EV adoption across the state, according to the CPUC.

“This technology is a way around that,” Rechtshafen said.

It’s one of the rulings issued by the CPUC that may seem technical and challenging, but promises far-reaching implications, Rechtshafen said, adding that, “This makes us the first state in the country to allow EV owners to meter their electricity usage their car regardless of their main electricity meter.’

In addition, the solution approved by California regulators defines communication protocols for EV chargers, which Rechtshafen says will help integrate the vehicle into the grid. Vehicle-to-grid integration refers to “a whole set of actions that determine when and how people charge their cars – when, at what level, how much energy is sent back, with the aim of both minimizing impacts on the grid and maximize consumption benefits, reduce costs for them or allow them to be paid for sending energy back to the grid,” he said.

Vehicle-to-grid integration will become especially important as California adds more EVs to its roads, creating the potential for grid congestion. Earlier this year, Pacific Gas & Electric and General Motors announced a pilot project to test two-way charging — essentially allowing customers to export power from their vehicles — which could help EVs become a home power source in request.

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