One day in the not-too-distant future, drivers of electric cars could pick charging stations the same way owners of gas guzzlers choose pumps now - by price. New rules being adopted around the country, including North Carolina, are clearing the way.
In North Carolina, owners of electric vehicle charging stations who want to get paid can only charge users according to how long their cars are plugged in.
But that's a problem because not all vehicles draw power at the same rate so users of faster-charging vehicles pay less. It's a work-around to North Carolina's electricity monopoly laws.
"The way the system was set up, the only entities that can sell electricity in North Carolina are registered utilities," said Stan Cross, CEO of Brightfield Transportation Solutions in Asheville. The company, founded in 2010, owns solar-powered charging stations in North Carolina and other states from Florida to Massachusetts.
He said the current system isn't fair for drivers, but it has allowed companies like his to begin building private charging networks.
CHANGING THE RULES
Under the new N.C. law, Brightfield and other companies will be able to charge by the kilowatt hour, making electric vehicle charging just like the dollars-per-gallon pricing of a gas pump. The new law took effect when Gov. Roy Cooper signed it July 19. Cross said it will take a while for charging companies to change their systems, so it's not clear yet what prices will look like.
"As we transition to kilowatt hours, we'll kind of see what the market will bear, and that will vary just like the price of gas varies," Cross said. "You know, in some areas that are more remote it may be more expensive, and some areas where there's high volume, it may be cheaper. "
Cross said the change also could help charger providers grow their businesses, by making it easier to predict revenues.
Private providers like Brightfield and Chargepoint - the nation's largest charging station owner - are expected to face more competition, including from the state's biggest electric utility, Duke Energy. In April, Duke announced a $76 million plan to install at least 2,500 charging stations around the state. That's currently awaiting regulatory approval.
Brightfield operates a specialized verson of a charging station, which includes a solar panel canopy. The stations are connected to the electric grid, and Brightfield buys electricity from electric utilities, to ensure 24-hour reliability. But the solar panels also generate electric power, which is sold back to the power company. Cross said the amount of power they generate is about equal to the power they buy.
STATES TAKING ACTION
The N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State Unversity says in a newly updated report that 43 states plus the District of Columbia enacted changes in electic vehicle laws in the second quarter of 2019 alone. Most involved rebates for buyers, new vehicle registraiotn fees to make up for lost gas-tax revnues, and programs to add charging stations.
One of the biggest trends, according to N.C. State, is for states to do what North Carolina did - exempt charging station owners from state utilities law restrictions.
PlugInNC.org, a website with information on electric vehicle use and laws in North Carolina.
BrightfieldTS.com, the website of Brightfield Transportation Solutions in Asheville
Read the full text of House Bill 329, which changed North Carolina's rules on electric vehicle charging, at NCLeg.gov (PDF)
Duke-Energy.com page on electric vehicles.