As electric vehicle usage continues to rise nationwide, some of Oklahoma's public utilities are launching new rate plans designed to incentivize EV owners across the state to carefully consider what time they charge their car.
Utility provider OG&E announced recently it is rolling out a new variable rate plan that could make it cheaper for electric vehicle owners to charge up at home, depending on the time of day and year. Electricity will come cheaper for customers if they charge at night, when overall demand on the grid is low.
Choose to charge your car on a summer afternoon, when overall electric demand is highest, and the price can jump by more than 600%.
The new rate comes at a time when electric vehicles are becoming more prevalent, and the expectation that EVs will only become more popular with a variety of government incentive programs and state-level mandates focused on pushing the driving public into zero-emission vehicles over the next decade.
In Oklahoma, EV usage is exploding.
According to Experian, the number of EVs registered in Oklahoma City grew by 75% compared with last year. Statewide, the number of registrations last year doubled to more than 7,000.
The number of plug-in hybrid vehicles, which use both electric and gasoline-power, grew by 283%.
A majority of these EV owners charge their vehicles at home, said Jim Holman, president of the Electric Vehicle Association of Oklahoma City. To fill up in a reasonable amount of time, he said most have installed a Level 2 charger that's faster than just plugging it into a basic wall outlet.
Depending on how far you drive each day and the type of charger, drivers usually can fully charge their car in one night.
"It works, in a sense, just like your cell phone," Holman said. "And of course, most of us charge those at night."
The lower overnight rates are possible because that's when electricity demand is at its lowest. Holman described it this way: Utilities don't have any problems selling electricity in the afternoon, especially during summer months; if anything, increased demand can put a strain on power generation. After midnight, however, power plants can easily produce more than what's needed.
A standard at-home charging station for a typical EV will add about 50 miles of range for every hour it's plugged in, and cost about 50 cents based on OG&E's new overnight rate. Powering a car for about one penny for every mile is dramatically lower than what it costs to drive an internal combustion engine.
"Even though we're in an oil and gas economy, there's a lot of EVs in Oklahoma. And charging is growing like crazy," Holman said.
Public Service Company of Oklahoma, another major Oklahoma utility, introduced their residential EV rate in February. That rate has a similar structure to OG&E's program, charging significantly less during overnight hours.
"Though home is likely to be the primary charging location for most customers, PSO is working on other charging options as well. PSO has partnered with EV charging company ChargePoint to streamline the purchasing of charging stations for fleets, employees and customers," said PSO spokesman Wayne Greene.
When regulators approved OG&E's latest rate change in September, the utility also promised it would create a pilot program to expand the EV rate beyond the home for general service, fleet and public school customers. That program will be introduced within nine months, the company told the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
Utilities in Oklahoma are also recognizing the need for EV charging capability at multifamily housing and at the workplace. OG&E has begun developing a Transportation Electrification Plan to support this buildout, and PSO offers a $250 rebate for buying a Level 2 charger for your home.
The federal government's recent infrastructure bill allocated $66 million to Oklahoma for The National Electric Vehicle Formula Program, which will support EV charging infrastructure over the next five years. Oklahoma will have to match the federal funds with state, local and/or private funding. That money will help grow Oklahoma's network of roadside public chargers, said Eric Pollard, air quality and clean cities manager with the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments.
"But having people charging at off-peak times is definitely key when it comes to supplying electricity to the growing number of EVs that we're going to see on the road," he said.
Pollard also highlighted an Environmental Protection Agency program to subsidize the purchase of electric and low-emission school buses. After high demand when the first round of funding opened in May, the Environmental Protection Agency doubled the amount available for rebates to nearly $1 billion.
Despite the recent increase in EV use, and both California and New York mandating that all new cars registered in those states be zero-emission by 2035, gasoline-powered vehicles are still the king of the road.
There are 3.4 million in Oklahoma alone.