Consumers stays on track to deliver EV fast-charging stations

Pandemic and resulting construction slowdown impact utility’s ability to meet goals, but future remains bright.
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One of the new charging stations is located in Boyne City. Courtesy Consumers Energy

2020 didn’t turn out to be the milestone year Consumers Energy was hoping for with its PowerMIDrive program, but the Michigan utility kept some momentum on the road to Michigan’s clean energy future.

On the residential side, PowerMIDrive is maintaining a good pace. Jeff Myrom, director of renewable energy customer programs for Consumers, said the program has 548 residential customers throughout its electric service territory as of press time.

The Business Journal reported Consumers had approved 387 rebates for electric vehicle (EV) charging stations for homes, businesses, municipalities and multiunit dwellings in January 2020.

The PowerMIDrive program offers $500 rebates for residential customers who install an approved, WiFi-connected Level 2 charger in their homes, rebates of up to $5,000 for commercial customers installing a public Level 2 charger and rebates of up to $70,000 for commercial customers installing a public DC fast charger.

One of the things Consumers did last year to help keep the program growing was to add a new alternative for customers who needed to upgrade their charging station, called FleetCarma, Myrom said. The FleetCarma device can easily be installed in the customer’s vehicle and provides an alternative to using the charging station network.

“What’s nice about the FleetCarma device is it doesn’t require you to change your charger, but when you leave your garage and are out and about, it sends a cell phone-like data text and allows us to see the times when the vehicle’s charging at home, whereas the network charging station often goes through a cloud service, and we download the data from there,” Myrom said. “It was also good, because a lot of people couldn’t get an electrician in their house for quite a while as well, if they needed to upgrade their charging station.”

Myrom added roughly half of all residential PowerMIDrive customers opted in to the FleetCarma option in 2020.

Consumers still has all 200 of the public station rebates committed, which is the same number it reported in 2020. As of press time, 111 of those rebates have been paid. Consumers expected to have all of them done last year, but the state’s stay-at-home orders prevented any construction from being done for several months.

Myrom expected the full 200 stations will be installed by this summer.

Consumers also saw significant savings on its DC fast charger rebates. When the program was originally approved, the utility had 24 fast chargers approved for rebates. The utility saw cost savings on average of $60,000 for transformer upgrades on each of the sites that requested rebates. Consumers then took the money and rolled it into additional fast charger rebates, from 24 to now 36.

Similar to the Level 2 chargers, Consumers still had the same construction slowdown with the fast chargers. The utility currently has 19 fast chargers rebated and operational and is looking to get all of them running by this summer.

Through the PowerMIDrive program, Consumers sees two distinct installations. The most popular would be for two fast chargers, each with up to 62.5 KW charging capacity.

Each charging station also typically comes with two types of cords: the combined charging system (CCS), which is standard for the majority of American EVs; and the CHAdeMO, which is popular with some Asian models.

“Both of those are different from the Tesla port,” Myrom said. “Tesla has its own proprietary port, and we went with the CCS/CHAdeMO, because only Tesla can install that version. There are adapters, if you drive a Tesla, to put on a CCS cord to allow it to charge your Tesla.”

Consumers also has had customers opt for charging stations with 150-to-175 KW charging capacity, but few EVs on the present market take that high of a charge.

The 19 fast charger rebates that have been completed amount to over $1.3 million, and line and transformer upgrades on each of these sites account for around $760,000 in rebates.

Additionally, the new transformers Consumers places serve up to 300 KW charging capacity and will allow for more charging stations to be installed on the site in the future.

With General Motors’ announcement that it will offer all zero-emissions vehicles by 2035 and focus attention on EV production, Myrom said Consumers is confident in its current trajectory to meet the infrastructure demand for the growing EV economy.

That demand is only going to increase, Myrom said. Before 2020, Consumers saw an average of around 22% growth of EVs in its territory year-over-year. While EVs still only make up around 1% of vehicles on the road, that level of growth means they aren’t going to stay at 1% for very long.

Even with the economic slowdown of 2020, EV adoption only dropped to 20% growth, Myrom said.

“I think we’re in good shape now. We’re in much better shape after getting this infrastructure up, but GM’s goals are absolutely fantastic, and it does mean we need to keep moving forward with more charging infrastructure,” Myrom said.

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