Utilities Want to Be a Partner in Promoting Electric Car Benefits
In the push for clean energy and electrified transportation, utility companies are often typecast more as a necessary evil versus a committed partner to the long-term success of EVs. That broad-brushed assessment is part of the reason the Edison Electric Institute, a consortium of stakeholder-owned electric companies, recently unveiled The Electric Generation, a so-called grassroots campaign to educate the public about the benefits of electric transportation. PlugInCars.com spoke with Brian Wolff, senior vice president of EEI, about ultimate goal of The Electric Generation, and how EEI will balance its push for clean energy, to negotiating partisan politics, and managing its duty to stakeholders.
There is ongoing debate about the true importance of "public education" for the success of electric cars. To many observers, the term public education brings up images of dry "eat your vegetables" public service announcements. Others believe that EVs need the same red-blooded marketing approaches used to sell any car, especially those that emphasize a superior driving experience. Then, there's a question about the role of utilities, car companies and trade associations in fostering "grassroots" driver campaigns, when there is already a growing list of websites and online forums started and operated by drivers themselves (including DrivingElectric.org, PlugInAmerica.org, MyNissanLeaf.com, and PluginCars.com).
The Electric Generation
“There was a real need for us to talk about electricity as a transportation fuel,” said Brian Wolff, regarding the EEI’s new Electric Generation campaign. “We wanted to make sure we were talking about and amplifying, in the public’s mind, the benefits of electricity.” At this point, the message consists of encouraging EV fans and early-adopters to get the word out about electric transportation. The website for The Electric Generation suggests everything from ‘friending’ the campaign via Facebook, to asking local politicians and even car dealers to be more pro-active in promoting EVs. For the latter, that could mean simply having an electric vehicle in showrooms for interested customers to see first-hand.
It’s a series of positive small steps, to be certain, though some EV fans might be wary of the source of this EV enthusiasm. Utility companies have often been portrayed to be as much of a hindrance as help when it comes to pushing for greener, cleaner energy alternatives, especially when the debate involves modernizing and cleaning up existing power plants.
“I don’t think there is a Democrat or Republican way to look at this,” said Wolff, regarding the need to cross the political divide when it comes to accelerating EV adoption. “I know a ton of Republicans who own Teslas,” he added. According Wolff’s online bio at the EEI website, he served “served as a Capitol Hill strategist for the U.S. House of Representatives and has served under Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, Robert T. Matsui (D-CA), Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).” Thomas R. Kuhn, the Edison Electric Institute’s current president, was himself a former roommate of former President George W. Bush during their years at Yale.
Wolff referred to utility companies as “a transformational industry,” that the role of utilities is to now “be a partner” when it comes to answering questions about energy and electric transportation. “One of the best ways [EV acceptance] can really cross party lines is the economics of it all.” The goal of programs like The Electric Generation is to first “build a foundation” of EV acceptance, Wolff explained. The second phase involves “accelerating the amplification phase to the broader mainstream.”
This next step, and one where the heft of the utility industry could be brought to bear, involves a wider push for EV-friendly legislation and corporate programs, ranging from more HOV lane access and preferred parking for electric vehicles to expanding corporate fleets of EV vehicles. Perhaps The Electric Generation will slowly build the case for these kinds of efforts from utilities, with its own database of EV driver testimonials. “Now is the time for us to work harder for broader [EV] acceptance, using the enthusiast to amplify that voice,” said Wolff.
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