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As electric vehicles gain popularity, Duke Energy programs aim at owners

Duke Energy's North Carolina pilot program will test the idea of pulling energy from Ford F-150 Lightning truck batteries and sending it to the grid. Customers will get lower lease payments in exchange for participating.
Duke Energy
Ford Motor Co.
Duke Energy's North Carolina pilot program will test the idea of pulling energy from Ford F-150 Lightning truck batteries and sending it to the grid. Customers will get lower lease payments in exchange for participating.

This story first appeared in WFAE climate reporter David Boraks' weekly newsletter. Sign up here to get the news straight to your inbox first.

There's a lot of money and effort going into building out a nationwide charging network to speed up the adoption of electric vehicles in the U.S. But there's another side to this story: Electric vehicle owners do most of their charging at home, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

For many owners, that means using the charging cord that comes with an EV to plug into a standard 120-volt AC outlet. That's known as Level 1 charging and takes no extra equipment. This method takes a long time for a full charge — 24 hours or more. But it's enough for the typical usage of most drivers — about 39 miles a day, according to AAA.

Some EV owners choose to install Level 2 chargers at home. They use a 240-volt outlet, like your dryer or stove, and can charge faster — getting you to full charge overnight.

Meanwhile, a growing number of roadside chargers or commercial chargers are Level 3, also known as DC fast chargers, which can replenish your battery to 80% in about 20 minutes. (Below is a link to a new site offering EV charging basics.)

So if most charging happens at home, it makes sense that electric companies would see an opportunity here. In North Carolina, Duke Energy is developing a suite of programs to help EV drivers charge their cars:

  • Reimbursement for the cost of upgrading your residential service to install a Level 2 charger.
  • Electricity discounts through a monthly flat-rate subscription service require charging during off-peak hours, such as the middle of the day and overnight from about 1 to 6 a.m.
  • A monthly home charger leasing and maintenance program.

Lon Huber, Duke Energy's senior vice president for customer solutions and pricing, said EVs are increasing electricity demand.

"We've been focused on delivering reliable and increasingly clean energy for our customers. So it's one of our big priorities. And this is just, I think, a natural evolution to that," Huber said.

Meanwhile, EVs are also part of North Carolina's efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Gov. Roy Cooper has set a goal of 1.25 million EVs on state roads by 2030. Solving the question of charging is a critical part of that growth.

"We obviously know that electric vehicles can help the state meet certain goals. And so we're also doing our part there to meet state objectives," Huber said.

Here's more about Duke's EV-related programs.

Upgrading your service

Duke's Charger Prep Credit program already offers reimbursements of up to $1,133 to help EV owners pay for electrical work to ready their homes for installation of Level 2 chargers.

"The first very first thing is making sure you have the infrastructure at the premise, so that it's ready for the charger," Huber said.

That could mean extending an electric line to the outside of your house or a convenient place in your garage and making sure your electrical service can handle the demand from a Level 2 charger, he said. That reimbursement could cover all or most of the cost of an upgrade, Huber said.

"It really depends on the home, the age of the home, the service panel, how much conduit you're running, where you're running it. So it varies widely," Huber said. "In some homes, they might only have $300 of expenses. Other homes might have $1,500. It's sort of all over the place, depending on the home and location."

About 4,000 N.C. customers have received checks so far through the program. Duke also offers a similar credit to business customers.

Monthly charging subscription

On Friday, Sept. 1, Duke will begin taking applications for a pilot program that will offer a flat-rate monthly subscription for electricity to charge your EV battery at home. Customers get a discount on power if they charge at off-peak hours.

That trial starts Nov. 1 for a limited number of customers — 100 each in the Duke Energy Carolinas territory in central and western North Carolina, including Charlotte, and in the Duke Energy Progress territory in Raleigh, eastern North Carolina and the Asheville area.

Using an app from the automakers, drivers will be able to plan home charging to fit their schedules while also avoiding charging during peak hours on the electric grid. In exchange, they'll get a discount from the regular residential rate, said Lon Huber, Duke's senior vice president for customer solutions and pricing.

"It's a pretty decent discount, as long as you charge in what we call these off-peak or discount windows," said Huber.

Home charger leasing program

Duke also recently got North Carolina Utilities Commission approval for a program in which the company will lease and maintain EV chargers for your home or garage, for a monthly fee.

Huber said the charger program helps EV owners install a charger with no upfront costs. "It's a monthly, essentially, subscription to the charger, where we maintain it, keep it in great operating order. The customer has a menu of different chargers they can pick from, the basics to the Cadillac version," Huber said.

The charger leasing program should start in about three months, according to spokeswoman Logan Kureczka.

The cost is expected to start at about $20 a month for standard Level 2 chargers that connect to the internet to $100 or more for costlier chargers and configurations, Kureczka said.

Duke Energy also has other EV-related programs in the works, including a pilot program still being developed that will basically use electric vehicle batteries as a form of on-the-grid storage.

In April, North Carolina regulators approved Duke's proposed test involving 100 customers who lease Ford F-150 Lightning pickup trucks. A device being developed by Ford will connect the trucks to customers' homes and to the power grid. While the truck is plugged into a home charger, Duke would be able to reverse the flow to pull electricity onto the grid a couple of times a month.

In exchange for participating in the trial, customers’ lease payments will be reduced by about $25 a month. There's a $25 gift card bonus if they supply additional power.

When will it be available? "Right now we're saying first quarter 2024, just because we're just working through some things and waiting on software," Kureczka said.

EV charging basics

The auto industry-backed Zero Emission Transportation, or ZETA, is also trying to help boost our understanding of EV charging with a Charging 101 website. It explains in basic terms how charging works, where to charge on the road, how much charging costs, and why it might make sense to switch from a gas-guzzler to an EV. It also offers tips about how to get government tax credits and rebates when you buy an EV or install charging equipment.

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.