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The next frontier in corporate climate pledges: Installing free EV chargers at employees’ homes

Biogen wants all its corporate vehicles to be electric by 2025. It’s hiring Enel X to give employees at-home charging to make it happen.
By Jeff St. John

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Companies across the globe are pledging to convert their vehicle fleets to electric vehicles to combat climate change. The next step may be giving their employees free at-home charging to convert them to the EV cause.

That’s what Biogen is hoping to accomplish with its latest initiative with Enel X. Under a deal announced Tuesday, the Cambridge, Mass.–based neuroscience company will contract with the major U.S. EV charging provider to deploy at-home chargers for Biogen employees driving corporate EVs and manage their charging to maximize the use of renewable energy while balancing the grid.

A growing number of corporations including FedEx, Walmart and Amazon have pledged to convert to electric delivery vans and other cargo vehicles as part of their carbon-reduction goals. Many other corporations have joined early adopters like Google in making EV charging available for employees at their corporate campuses and other work sites.

But this is Enel X’s first publicly announced project that combines corporate EV ambitions with employee home charging, according to Giovanni Bertolino, head of e-mobility for Enel X North America.

It is not the first time we’ve done it — it is the first time we’ve announced it,” he added. There are other customers we’ve been working with on this model.” Enel X is also working on similar partnerships with major fleet-leasing companies, he said, though he declined to name them.

There are good reasons to support home EV charging among employees, Bertolino said. While the proliferation of EVs must be supported by more public and workplace charging options over time, the most convenient way to charge an EV is to charge it at home, and 80 percent of EV charging happens at home,” he said.

Biogen has pledged to convert the more than 1,000 vehicles in its corporate fleet to EVs by 2025, and many of these vehicles spend most of their parked time at employees’ homes, he said.

If you’re assigning vehicles for your employees, whether they’re passenger vehicles for your salespeople or managers, or work vehicles for your fleet, if you can help them charge them at home, that’s a great pathway to achieving that,” Bertolino said.

And this is a smart charger,” he added. Enel, the Italian utility and global energy company, acquired startup eMotorWerks and its JuiceBox EV charger business in 2017. It has since integrated that business into its broader Enel X distributed energy offerings — a path followed by a number of European energy giants such as Shell, BP, Total, Engie and EDF.

This allows you to optimize around the tariffs, or around emissions, or other grid loads, to make the best use of your power,” Bertolino said. In Biogen’s case, Enel X has pledged to match every kilowatt-hour of EV charging with zero-carbon power through the purchase of renewable energy certificates via its JuiceBox Eco product.

Enel X can also optimize EV charging in five-minute increments to avoid times when greenhouse gas emissions from the generation mix serving the regional grid are higher. It can also carry out more charging when those marginal emissions are lower through its partnership with software provider WattTime. (WattTime and Canary Media are both supported by RMI.)

Enel X’s access to wholesale energy markets and partnerships with utility distributed energy integrators such as EnergyHub also allow it to reduce EV charging when the grid is under stress, Bertolino said. Enel X has used this capability to shave EV charging during California’s recent summer grid emergencies — but it can also make its suite of capabilities available to fleet managers at companies like Biogen.

Companies looking to reduce carbon emissions tied to the vehicles they own are eager to monitor the impact that EVs are having on those emissions, and according to Bertolini, the data insight that we’re providing helps with that. […] Biogen can have a real-time report on how much energy is used, and if it’s part of their policy, can also provide financial support for their employees’ electricity use.”

The at-home fleet charging model

The new Enel X–Biogen project is an interesting new solution on workplace EV charging programs,” said Mark Rawson, chief operating officer of the California Mobility Center, a public-private partnership supporting transportation innovation.

Rawson also serves as the manager of new business development at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, the public utility serving California’s capital city and environs, where he worked with Enel X on a program that offers SMUD employees access to the more than 70 JuiceBox chargers it uses for its fleet vehicles.

A key target for a utility like SMUD is ensuring that new EV chargers can modulate their charging patterns to minimize pressure on the power grids that serve them, Rawson pointed out. Otherwise, a utility is stuck with an uncontrollable asset at the edge of their grid,” and this can add the equivalent of an entire household’s electrical load to the distribution circuits and transformers serving neighborhoods.

Fleet vehicle electrification is already placing strain on power grids serving transit bus or delivery van depots. That stress is expected to grow as the country scales up to the massive EV growth needed to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector.

President Biden’s $2.2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan includes a target of about 20 million EVs and 500,000 public chargers by 2030. States with aggressive EV goals such as California and New York are directing billions of dollars of government and utility incentives to EV charging at workplaces, multifamily housing, highway rest stops and other locations.

A public charging infrastructure is key, of course, to fully make a transition to electric vehicles,” Bertolini said. Not everyone has the ability to be charging at home.”

At the same time, companies are looking for ways to combine EV initiatives with the reality of how employees operate their vehicles, he said. In December, Enel X announced it was working with Vestas to deploy 370 charging stations in the Danish wind power giant’s most prominent service markets” in Europe and the Americas, with a goal of slashing its Scope 1 and Scope 2 carbon emissions by one-third by retiring its conventional fossil-fueled fleet by 2025.

These are companies that have strong sustainability objectives, and have the ability to deliver and make the transition fast,” Bertolini said. EV fleet charging at home will be a model that I believe will become very important in the next few years.”

(Article image courtesy of Enel X) 

Jeff St. John is director of news and special projects at Canary Media. He covers innovative grid technologies, rooftop solar and batteries, clean hydrogen, EV charging and more.