Using Behavioral Techniques to Move Electric Vehicle Charging Off-Peak

James Giampietro, Senior Manager, Product Strategy & Marketing

With some of the most aggressive decarbonization goals in the country, National Grid is focused on accelerating beneficial electrification.

Earlier this year, they ran a first-of-its kind program to educate people on the value of heat pumps by sending personalized animated videos. I’ll admit, I learned a thing or two about how heat pumps work from this clip—a few years ago I didn’t even know what they were (and I’ve heard others say the same thing)! And while the electrification of heating is important, we simply can’t reducecarbon emissions without electrifying our cars.

However, getting more electric vehicles on the road doesn’t completely solve the problem. It’s obviously important, but if the timing of charging is not properly managed, the impending influx of EVs will tax the grid and hit utility customers in their wallets. To prevent this, we must influence when people charge.

With a growing number of electric vehicles in its service territory, National Grid wanted to tackle this problem head-on by demonstrating they could successfully shift the load generated from EV charging to off-peak times. Doing so would prove its ability to maintain grid stability, satisfy customers with stable electricity prices and a great experience, and reduce emissions in the communities they serve.

Changing how we think about behavioral programs

National Grid already offered a rebate to encourage EV load shifting to off-peak hours. While successful, the enormity of this challenge requires the testing of many different approaches.

“We’ve long partnered with Opower to run behavioral energy efficiency programs that get the attention of busy customers and influence them to act,” said Ryan Cote, EV Program Manager for National Grid. “Based on our success using behavioral science and personalized outreach, we wanted to see if the same principles could be applied to changing electric vehicle charging behavior.”

This is absolutely the right line of thinking. Behavioral programs are about so much more than neighbor comparisons and home energy reports. They are about clarifying and influencing increasingly complex customer actions. We know that electrification is critical to decarbonization, and electrification largely depends on customers taking action, so it’s not something utilities can accomplish without the customer. Behavioral strategies are the perfect approach.

Using behavioral science techniques to shift EV charging load

We worked with National Grid on a digital engagement campaign that educated customers on the impact of charging their vehicle at different times of the day, and ultimately got them to change their behavior. Email was chosen as the communications vehicle of choice, but this wasn’t a run-of-the-mill marketing email. It was rich in behavioral science techniques and personalization that led to some pretty amazing results.

Before we get to those results, a bit more about our approach. When designing this email, we wanted to apply proven behavioral techniques. Here are some of the behavioral science tools we used:

  • Personalization & Gamification: Make it fun for customers to compete with themselves. In the case of this campaign, we showed people how their charging habits changed month-over-month with rich data visualizations right in their email inbox.
  • Unity and Agency: Remind people that they have the power to have an impact, and when they do it as part of a big group, it feels good and makes a big difference.
  • Benefits framing is a totally different type of motivator: it shows what’s in it for the customer if they take an action. In this case, it’s the rebate they get from National Grid by charging at off-peak times.
  • Salience: Make it easy for a utility customer to act by showing them the one action that’s most relevant to them. Throughout the campaign we included next best actions relevant to EV drivers, like learning where public chargers are available around town, the tangible benefit of upgrading to a level 2 charger and setting an automated off-peak charging schedule, with advice specific to their EV model.
  • Ease: Make the decision to act feel effortless. That is why we included the option for a one-tap download of the PlugShare app, which helps people locate the public charging sites mentioned above.
  • Achievement: Associate a feeling of pride with actions taken and create a sense of anticipation of taking similar actions in the future. By showing people how much they save from changing their charging habits, we positively reinforce that behavior and increase the likelihood they will maintain those actions going forward.

The initial results of the program are incredibly promising!

It takes a wide variety of behavioral science techniques to measurably change energy consumer behavior. While this may seem like a lot of work and thinking for an email campaign, the initial results show the effort has been worth it.

We are only part way through a 17-month campaign, but our analysis shows the emails have had a whopping 73% open rate, which is 3.5X the average for the utility industry. And the customers receiving the emails are acting on the insights as National Grid has already seen a nearly 10% reduction in on-peak EV charging among study participants! These findings have been validated by trusted third-party evaluator DNV, who in their own study found that treatment customers have shifted the start of more of their charging sessions to off-peak periods.

We will continue gathering data to determine a fully conclusive result from this pilot, but initial results speak to the power of behavioral science techniques in influencing the increasingly complex customer actions that are critical to decarbonization. In fact, there’s reason to believe this behavioral strategy could be even more effective at shifting load in other circumstances, as National Grid had already worked hard to reduce the on-peak charging from this group of EV owners with previous efforts.

We are incredibly proud to partner with innovative utilities like National Grid that are continually pushing the art of the possible on their path to a carbon-free economy.

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