Photo 13636945 © Biserko |
A California wind farm generates renewable energy.

Cutting EV Load 12% in California

Sept. 5, 2023
A California electricity provider and its partners are creating a blueprint for other utilities to reduce overall grid strain.

The summer of 2023 was one for the books. From Florida to California, states across the U.S. faced all-time high temperatures. According to Axios, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Oregon all had record-breaking heat waves in July 2023 — boosting energy demand from air conditioners, exacerbating already dire drought conditions and contributing to the frequency and intensity of wildfires.

In this era of a new normal — where the electric utility industry will likely continue experiencing unprecedented levels of strain — managed electric vehicle (EV) charging software can help to turn the 26 million EVs hitting U.S. roads by 2030, as projected by the Edison Electric Institute, into assets for the grid. As a result, a growing number of utilities and energy providers are investing in EV solutions that support a clean energy future, with a focus on maximizing the use of renewable energy resources while saving customers money.

Such projects can be replicated across the U.S. to future-proof even the most fragile grids — which is exactly what MCE, a not-for-profit electricity provider, has been doing alongside its partners. Beyond installing more EV charging stations and working to lower the up-front cost to purchase a clean vehicle, MCE knows firsthand that the key to unlocking greater synergy between EVs and the grid is incentivizing smart charging programs, which translates into a win-win-win: for the electric utility industry, customers and the grid.

Pathway To Adoption

As a community-owned utility, MCE offers customers 60% to 100% renewable electricity, while investing in local clean energy programs. More than 1.5 million Bay Area homes and businesses participate in MCE programs that increase access to clean energy technologies and improve their quality of life while also progressing the global energy transition to meet climate goals.

The utility launched its MCE Sync program in 2021 as an opportunity to promote EV adoption in the Bay Area, while simultaneously increasing the use of renewable energy and improving grid reliability. As part of the program, a free mobile app provides customers a hassle-free way to charge EVs during off-peak hours and save money without any special hardware. With inflation surging and high gas prices, the utility sought to deploy an innovative technology that would enable customers to save as much money as possible from going electric.

The app-based load-shifting program was developed in partnership with, a cloud-based platform that optimizes EV charging with a focus on grid resiliency, decarbonization and social equity.’s platform charges EVs with the lowest-cost, greenest electricity available while always ensuring the customer’s vehicle is charged by the time they specify. has partnered with numerous utilities and energy providers across North America to offer similar programs aligning EV charging with grid constraints.

The transition to time-of-use (TOU) rates in California is viewed as one of the major pathways for reducing grid strain and increasing decarbonization. However, an analysis of the impact of TOU rates shows off-peak hours are not fully aligned to when renewable energy is being distributed onto the grid. In fact, the overnight hours when many customers charge tend to be some of the dirtiest times to consume electricity. The MCE Sync app seeks to address this by not only shifting load out of peak hours but shifting it into hours with high renewable-energy generation.

The app launched as a six-month pilot with 232 enrolled participants. The plan was to pilot the program and then scale it to additional customers using learnings from the initial cohort. The program’s ability to be hardware-agnostic (offering customers the option to enroll by either a connected vehicle or charger) and equity-conscious (with special solutions for low- to moderate-income customers) created a unique space to include a diverse array of customers. The pilot program’s goals were as follows:

  • Reduce customer energy bills by automatically charging EVs off-peak.
  • Support grid resiliency by reducing demand during the 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. window.
  • Nudge customers toward low-carbon charging and automatically align EV load with renewable energy generation in real time.

Pilot Results

MCE Sync enabled drivers to easily take advantage of off-peak rates when electricity was less expensive. For example, to fully charge a Chevy Bolt with 100% renewable energy on the EV2 off-peak rate cost $2.30/eGallon. This compares to the average cost of gasoline in California at over $5.50/gallon. For reference, the last time a gallon of gas in California was under $2.05 was January 2005.

In addition to helping drivers save money, the app aligned EV charging with low-carbon electricity, supported grid reliability by avoiding charging during peak times and charged vehicles fully by the time drivers needed them.

The first customer cohort produced successful results, shifting 93% of EV electricity usage away from the 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. peak, reducing carbon intensity by 55% on average and saving EV2 rate customers around $12/month before event-based incentives. On a household basis, the average load reduction during the 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. peak was 12.4%, with solar customers having an average of 21.9% peak load reduction and non-solar customers 3.6%.

In addition, participants were encouraged to take advantage of low-carbon events when solar energy generation was particularly high. Customers got push notifications on their mobile phones 24 hours in advance of a low-carbon event. The notification nudged them to avoid charging overnight and instead plug in during daytime hours, if possible, to charge with abundant solar. During the pilot period, 90% of customers participated in at least one event, enabling MCE Sync to shift approximately 50% of the overnight load into daytime windows with up to 80% lower-carbon electricity.

Key Learnings

The pilot program provided insight into new strategies for electric service providers and the EV charging market as a whole.
Electricity providers should consider these learnings:

  • TOU rates alone are not enough to successfully address grid reliability and carbon concerns. The app was able to smooth out rebound timer peaks and align with day-ahead emissions.
  • An emphasis on equity. Pilots should represent the customer service area so they scale effectively into programs.
  • Provide locally relevant messaging to participants with trusted partners, translate content for non- English speaking audiences, and add  incentives for low-income customers.
  • New programs should align with existing programs. MCE Sync participants were auto-enrolled by into MCE’s demand response market as well, which triggered additional events that increased the benefit to customers.

The EV charging market should consider these learnings:

  • Nudges work. Combining behavioral economics with active load control provides the best load-shifting results compared to each program on its own.
  • Vehicle application programming interfaces (APIs) should be open to all. Auto manufacturers should make their telematics platforms reliable and open to enable
    customers to enroll in vehicle-to-grid integration programs.
  • Third-party evaluation is necessary. Third-party evaluation can help to quantify the impacts and distill lessons from pilot phases into strategies for program enhancement and scaling.

Based on these learnings, MCE and determined that increasing customer incentives and education could further reduce grid strain by emphasizing the benefits of the charging program. When drivers better understand the benefits, they are more likely to schedule their charging times outside of peak hours and may even change their behavior to receive greater financial incentives. Additionally, aligning charging with rooftop solar generation could further reduce customer bills.

The Bottom Line

MCE and announced the expansion of the MCE Sync program in June 2022. The expanded program continues to offer incentives that reduce the cost of EV charging at home and increases community resiliency with a focus on low- to moderate-income populations. MCE’s goal is to have around 4.000 EV drivers enrolled in its program by May 2023.

MCE Sync now offers additional benefits, including EV charging aligned with home rooftop solar generation and grid solar availability, grid-reliability incentive payments worth up to $10/month and customer education about smarter charging strategies.

The EV market is growing approximately 40% to 80% each year, according to Virta Global. With EVs expected to comprise one-half of U.S. auto sales by 2030, utilities need to treat EVs like they would treat any other distributed energy resource and find ways to best manage the energy load. That is the only way to nip grid strain in the bud to future-proof energy systems now.

And with ZEV states leading to limit new car sales to EV-only after 2035, the time to start planning for the massive wave of EVs connecting to grids is now. If utilities can make better use of the distribution, they can eliminate the challenges of strain and usage.

Brett Wiley ([email protected]) managed MCE’s EV charging infrastructure, EV rebate, managed home EV charging and fleet electrification programs for nearly five years. He currently manages East Bay Community Energy’s residential electric mobility programs. Some of his other prior work experiences were at Groundswell, Sierra Club, National Park Service, and The White House Council on Environmental Quality. Wiley received his B.S. in Biology from Truman State University, his MPA in Energy & Sustainable Development from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA), and his Certificate in Social Entrepreneurship from SPEA and Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Presidio Graduate School.

Joseph Vellone ([email protected]) is head of North America at In this role, he partners with energy providers such as MCE and National Grid, manufacturers such as Volkswagen and Siemens, and charging networks such as ChargePoint and Volta to deliver greener, cheaper, grid-friendly EV charging to drivers across the U.S. and Canada. He previously spent five years with the Boston Consulting Group’s energy and environment practice. He holds a master’s degree in energy economics from the London School of Economics and a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Princeton University.

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