Innovative ChargeWise Program from Great River Energy: An Interview with Eddie Webster

Electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are beginning to enter the Minnesota landscape. Forward-looking electric utilities are creating programs to help manage the opportunities and challenges that these vehicles bring to the electrical grid. Great River Energy’s ChargeWise is one such program that is helping their customers making this automotive transition.

ChargeWise is a voluntary program offered by participating member cooperatives to their member owners who own an EV or PHEV. Qualified members in the ChargeWise program will receive up to $500 for the installation of the ChargeWise outlet or charging station of their choice, and meter. Participation in the program means that power will be provided to the vehicle only during the off-peak hours of 11:00pm until 7:00am. Joel Haskard at CERTs spoke with Eddie Webster, Load Management Coordinator at Great River Energy, to find out more.

Joel Haskard: For customers interested in this program, what will they actually have installed in their garage?

Eddie Webster: The distribution cooperative member will need a dedicated circuit installed to serve only the electric vehicle or plug-in electric hybrid vehicle, a charging station or 120/240V outlet, meter (provided by the distribution cooperative) and load control device. All of this equipment in conjunction allows the utility to limit the charging of the vehicle to off peak hours and measure consumption to provide the appropriate discount for that energy.

Joel: We hear about level I and level II charging stations. Can you explain the difference between the two and what level of charging station the ChargeWise program offers?

Eddie: The charging levels refer to the amount of energy a charger can put into a battery at a given moment. The charging level is essentially the flow rate of the charger, the higher the charging level the higher the flow rate. The vehicle owner who purchases a level II charging station, over a level I, will spend less than half the time recharging the battery in their vehicle each night. However, there is a price paid for this quick charge, and it is paid by the distribution company. Distribution companies size their transformers to match the size of the load they expect to serve. When electric vehicles are introduced and the charge is condensed by a level II, or III charger, the impact on the distribution company increases. Being aware of this, Great River Energy and its distribution members created the Chargewise program to help minimize this impact.

Joel: Can you explain off-peak hours? What is the billing rate for those hours?

Eddie: Off peak hours are the hours of the day when people use less electricity, typically between 8:00PM and 10:00AM. The cost of generating, transmitting, and distributing electricity during these times is roughly half the cost of providing it during the on peak hours, 10:00AM to 8:00PM. By limiting the charging of electric vehicles to the off peak hours we are able to pass the savings to the end use member and charge them roughly half of the retail rate.

Joel: Taking that into consideration, what would be the typical cost for recharging an EV or PHEV for the night?

Eddie: Depending on what vehicle the member selects and the capacity of the battery (kWh) it can range from $.25 to $1.20 each night (assuming a $.05/kWh rate). $.25 will provide a full charge for a Hymotion 5kWh battery pack that is typically used for a Prius PHEV conversion. $1.20 will provide a full charge for a Nissan Leaf which has a much larger battery (24kWh) but will also allow the vehicle to travel further on only electricity as the energy source.

Joel: What are your hopes for this program?

Eddie: My hope is that all of our members deciding to transition to electric vehicles take advantage of the program. The benefits are not only to the member participating in the program, but to all members of the cooperative. The Chargewise program reduces the cost of providing electricity from Generator to end use member and everywhere in between. As electric vehicles become more prominent the impact will be magnified. The goal is to manage that impact and help keep cooperative energy affordable.

Joel: This sounds like an excellent opportunity for members of Great River Energy’s 28 cooperatives. Have you heard of similar programs and incentives?

Eddie: DTE has a very similar program. They provide a rebate as well as a discounted energy rate in the off peak hours.

Joel: Have you heard feedback from any participants so far about how they like their ChargeWise system?

Eddie: I have received positive feedback from our distribution members regarding the program. All of their members who have signed up to participate have remained on the program.

Joel: How can customers sign up for the program?

Eddie: Visit and click on the ChargeWise link on the lower right hand side of the page. This will allow the member to select the distribution cooperative they are served by and receive contact information.

For more information visit, the official site for the program.

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