Episode 136 - What Role Do Electric Utilities Have in the EV Space?

As demand for EVs grows, so too does the role of electric utilities.

From powering the grid to ensuring the reliability of EV charging stations, the electric utility industry plays a pivotal role in accelerating EV adoption.

For more than a century, Duquesne Light Company (DLC) has delivered electricity to more than 600,000 customers in the Pittsburgh region. Currently, there are more than 6,000 EVs in DLC’s service territory—and they expect that number to grow to more than 23,000 by the end of 2025.

With this projected growth, DLC is not only providing reliable power, but EV information analysis and incentives like a Community Charging Program and Electric Fleet Advisory Service Program.

We sat down with Sarah Olexsak, Senior Manager, Transportation Electrification, to discuss the role of electric utilities and how DLC is supporting EV adoption in Western Pennsylvania.

Meet Our Guest

Senior Manager, Transportation Electrification, Duquesne Light Company

At Duquesne Light, Sarah strives to increase charging infrastructure and vehicle electrification across the Pittsburgh region. Under President Obama’s EV Everywhere initiative, she partnered with more than 400 employers to shine a spotlight on the importance of workplace charging through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Workplace Charging Challenge. Sarah developed federal charging guidance and advised on the electrification of the U.S. government fleet while serving at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. In the aughts, she managed the technical component of the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program which supported the manufacture of the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf.



[00:00:00] Hello, I'm your host, Grayson Brulte. Welcome to another episode of SAE Tomorrow Today, a show about emerging technology and trends and mobility with leaders, innovators, and strategists making it all happen. Today I'm joined by Sarah Olexsak, Senior Manager of Electrification Transportation at Duquesne Light Company.

On today's episode, she'll talk about the future of electric mobility in Pittsburgh and the impact it's having on Western Pennsylvania. We hope you enjoy this episode. Welcome to podcast, Sarah. Thanks for having me. Excited to have you here because the future is electric. Everything that moves us is going electric, and you have a really interesting approach.

You spent 10 years working at Energy Policy since of the Department of Energy. And the White House. You're on the government side and now you're on the private sector side. Why after 10 years on the government side did you decide to transition to the private sector?


Well, that's a great question and a great way to start.

[00:01:00] So I'm originally from the Pittsburgh area, and after living in Washington DC for 12 years total, my husband and I started to think about as many Pittsburghers do coming home and when we think about coming home to Pittsburgh, it was really an exciting time and people, I think were beginning in the mid 2000s of thinking about Pittsburgh in a different way.

Now, our discussion today isn't about Pittsburgh, it's about electric vehicles, but in my world, the two are pretty united. Thinking about how an impact can be. At the local level when it comes to electric vehicles, it's a really different set of players than working for the federal government. And after, you know, 10 years of working in that space, I really had just this desire of making that local impact.

So a combination of a desire to move home and make that [00:02:00] local impact. Looking around and thinking about who the players are. It became really clear to me that the electric utility space was going to be a place to be. And so at that time, I started having a conversation with the local utility here, Duquesne Light Company, about what their interest was in the EV space.

This was, again, mid 20 teens and many electric utilities across the country. We're starting to really think about what their EV strategies were at that time, and Duquesne Light was doing that. And I'm just really proud and happy to say that the, the timing worked out for me and for Duquesne Light for me to be able to join the company and just really act.

in a shaping role in this emerging space about what the electric utilities role was and is for the EV industry is [00:03:00] just an exciting place to be and I think that today's conversation will help some of the listeners understand that a little bit more.



Utility sector is growing generally across the board.

It's held up well as this market has taken an absolute beating. This year, the s and p down 32% utilities have held up. It's growing. You're in DC so you understand politics. Everything around DC breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It's politics. Then there's energy politics now as we're facing a recession where Bloomberg recession dots are 50%.

We have rising inflation at 8.3%, and then we have the White House pushing everybody to EVs, but they're 20% more expensive than an internal combustion engine with slowing growth prices across the board of the grocery store going up. Will consumers opt for EVs that just gonna put their hands up and say, no, I can't spend anymore?


Yeah. You know, it is a good question and I think that probably the key thing here is that [00:04:00] we are going to start thinking of our vehicle. In terms of total cost of ownership and the investment of that thinking about. We already do this for some of our big appliance purchases. I think in the last couple of decades we've all gotten familiar with the Energy Star label and we recognize that an energy star rated refrigerator might be more money up front, but it's going to help save us money over time.

And the same is true. Electric vehicles like energy efficient products, we as consumers will be on the lookout also for government and utility incentives that make it even more attractive for us. To purchase this efficient product, this efficient vehicle, and there are many incentives that are available, but also key with that is doing that total cost of ownership [00:05:00] analysis and on our website.

We have a tool, a really great interactive tool called the EV Guide. So the EV guide tool on our website helps our customers look at every single electric vehicle that's on the market, and it helps them recognize the incentives that are available for those vehicles. It helps them plug in information about how many miles they drive and other factors that help them do a calculation of what total cost of ownership looks like.

How much cheaper was it for them to fuel their vehicle as an EV? For a month of driving as it was compared to a gas vehicle. What about over the course of five or seven years? How much does that savings add up to? Or maybe it doesn't provide that much savings. And that's one key for us is that we wanna have [00:06:00] reliable, solid information for our customers to help make that decision process easier for.

But to answer your original question, beyond costs, there are many other reasons why consumers may make the switch to electric. For example, better performance. Individuals who drive EVs often are cited as saying they'll never go back to gas or they'll never go back to diesel. The performance is just better.

Others might choose to buy an EV because of the environmental impact. They recognize the responsibility that they have to make. Decisions that are more sustainable and more positive for the environment. So I think there's a whole host of reasons why people may choose to drive electric.


A few energy stars are really smart.

You mentioned appliance, refrigerator, a washing machine. You look at the total cost of, okay, if you wanna get in a spreadsheet, how much does it cost per [00:07:00] load? Same thing if you're going to do your laundry. And same different, same analogy. It could be made for a smart thermostat like a nest. You're buying that if it's regulating that, you're gonna see the energy savings pretty dramatically there.

And then from the total cost of ownership, no more oil changes. You're saving on brakes because of the regenerative braking. So there's a lot of positive long term economic benefits depending on the right use case for the EV of where the individual or individuals. But then there's the glaring issue, and I've been reading, I must have read five papers over the last week.

And the same thing. Charge reliability. People are complaining that the chargers are broken. The uptime there. You read these stories. Somebody tried to go on a road trip. Nope. Couldn't, couldn't do it. What is Duquesne Light doing to ensure charge reliability? So when your customers are operating in Western Pennsylvania, in their EVs they pull up to a charger and they go, okay, it's gonna work. We're not gonna have a, uh, oh, I'm stranded. Cuz that feeds into the anxiety issue.


know, I, I really appreciate this [00:08:00] as an issue, um, because people are used to, you know, for our entire lives. We pull up to a gas station and there's gas there.

There's actually only one time in my life that I can fortunately recall that that wasn't the case. And it was an issue that we had a couple of years ago, you know, that really disrupted the industry, the gasoline, you know, in petroleum industry. Um, but fortunately, you know, reliability and availability of gasoline is not typically not an issue.

So when it comes to charging station reliability, one thing to consider here is whose responsibility is it to keep those charging stations up and running? And the answer is that it's the charging station host. It's the business or the municipality or the charging station provider who owns and operates those charging stations.

So when it really [00:09:00] comes to any sort of, you know, regulation on this topic, there isn't necessarily a reliability regulation for charging stations that exist today. So it really is those charging station hosts who ensure that reliability, what is Duquesne Light doing to support the reliability of charging stations?

And that's a good question, and I think a question that many electric utilities are probably thinking about. What is our role in helping those charging station hosts keep those charging stations up and running? So I think that one thing that we can do is be a good partner. For information to those charging station hosts.

When a municipality is trying to make the decision about installing charging stations at their community center, for example, I see Duquesne Light as a source of information, helping them understand the [00:10:00] role that they will have in being a charging station owner and. For the course of the lifetime of that charging station and helping them understand how people will look to them for that reliability.

So that's one thing. I think the second thing is, is that when an electric utility, like mine, offers incentives and program to help support the deployment of charging station. What type of vetting of charging station manufacturers and service providers are we doing in the process of those programs?
We wanna ensure that the charging stations that are participating in a utility incentive program are known for their solid up time and reliability. So that's one thing that we can do. A second thing that we can do is when we provide these incentives, and I think this is, this is true for government programs as.

And you'll see that in the infrastructure bill funding, there's [00:11:00] requirements related to uptime and reliability of the charging stations. When a grant recipient receives grant money from the federal government through the infrastructure bill, there is requirements in our terms and conditions related to our utility incentive program for charging stations.

Related to the availability and uptime of those charging stations. So when we see incentive dollars go out there for this type of deployment of charging infrastructure, we need to have things in place that sets the standard, sets the tone for those charging station hosts to let them know that it is their responsibility and these charging stations may must stay up and running.

Another thing that I do have my eye on is that the US Department of Energy. Just a couple of weeks ago released an RFI or a request for information on just this topic. It asks respondents [00:12:00] to describe things that, that the federal government should be thinking about on charging station reliability. And I have a feeling that that means, you know, if I, if I had to read the tea, that there's an interest in the federal government for taking in a more active role in this space.

Maybe there's more r and d that should be done related to charging station reliability. Maybe there are some future regulatory considerations that could be undertaken in this space. But I think that it just is really a great sign that the Department of Energy is looking at this and thinking about how do we take a more active role in ensuring charging station reliability and not just leaving this up to chance.


You said the most important thing so far in this conversation. Charging stations must stay up and running. You're right. If they're not up and running, consumers will flock back to gas because if you go to your local gas station or gas station on the court, if you're driving to grandparents’ house or you're [00:13:00] driving to go on vacation, you don't have to pull up.

Is the gas station gonna work? Yes, it's gonna work. And a fun little fact. The 87 80. That's an SAE standard. And when you put the, um, the gas ale into your vehicle, that's an SAE standard and it works on standards and you know it's going to work. So I really appreciate Duquesne Light taking a leadership position on this, cuz if you're going to a friend's house and your friend says, well, I went to charge, it didn't work, and then.

Um, your grandparents or your parents. Yeah, I heard that from my friend. That's gonna spread throughout the community and you're not gonna get the adoption that's needed for the, the future, which is going to become electric. Then Duquesne light. You're going further down the totem pole on the leadership you set the community charging program where the company will design and build the electric infrastructure from the power grid to the charging station for relative.

How does that work? And do you have SLA? So when, if you're gonna put a, um, let's just call a, a charging operator, they have their service level agreement where no matter what happens, if it's two o'clock in the morning, you gotta send a tech to fix it. Is there an [00:14:00] SLA with that?


Yeah so this is a great question.

Thanks for bringing up this program. Our community charging program just launched to our customers this past spring, so, Spring of 2022. We're a little over six months into the program, and I will say that we're, we're still in that ramp up phase with our customers. I'm excited to say that the first charging stations that'll be installed through this program should go live shortly after the new year.

So we're very excited to see that come to fruition because this program was, you know, a while in the making. And you know, you asked how does this program work? So the first thing to think about is, you know, who are the potential charging station hosts that can take advantage of this program? And the answer is multi-unit dwellings.

Workplaces and public locations. That could be anything from a sporting venue parking lot to a public parking [00:15:00] garage, to a community park or a community center. A real wide variety of shops, businesses, retail, really any public charging station location. So those are. Commercial customers of Duquesne Light that will be participating in this program.

How it works is first that customer comes to Duquesne Light and really applies for, expresses an interest in, in becoming a charging station host. So let's use, for example, a community park. They've decided that they would like to install, you know, six dual port level two charging stations at this location.
What Duquesne Light does is we have the ability to help and facilitate the development of these charging stations by engineering and building the electrical make ready between the typical service point, which is around the meter over to the charging station stub up. It [00:16:00] is then on that community, for example, the municipality, the community park.

To procure and install the charging stations, they'll continue to own and maintain those charging stations for a period of 10 years under the agreement of our program. So through this program, we were able to offer them technical assistance to develop the project, do the engineering, acquire the permitting, do the construction.

And then their responsibility is the longer term ongoing operation. So your question about do we offer an SLA or a maintenance contract? The answer is, is that we will continue to maintain that electrical make ready, which consists of conduit wiring in an electrical panel, and our customer will be responsible.

Obtaining a service agreement with the charging station vendor or the charging station network [00:17:00] to maintain those charging stations. And again, as we talked about earlier, that agreement is a 10-year agreement. So in and in that they must agree to continue to own and maintain those charging stations for that period of time.

As I also mentioned earlier, we vet those charging station networks that participate in this program and we really, you know, vet them for their customer service and their ability to serve and maintain those charging stations.


Without customer service, this collapses because then you're gonna lose the trust if, if the consumers do not trust that they can charge the EV.

Electrification never happens with 52% of Americans are renters, are multifamily landlords embracing this program and saying there's an overwhelming demand from our tenants for electric charging. We have to do something. You read horror stories. There was one I read in the LA Times last week where individuals putting out cords out their windows to try and to charge their vehicles [00:18:00] because the landlords aren't embracing.

EVs and they're locking these long term leases. Are you seeing a positive moment in Western Pennsylvania where the landlords are embracing this program to put EV charging in further tenants?


You know, we're starting to see this really emerge, um, in, in two ways. We're, we're seeing the interest emerge from the tenants and we're seeing the interest emerge from the property owners or managers obviously.

The demand for this amenity, as you can think of it in a rental situation, is coming from the tenants. When we do hear from our customers who are renters and, and they, you know, sort of express their interest in, in buying an EV, but what can they do? You know, there's lot of resources and case studies out there, up that, that we kind of point them to, to say, here's how it has been done elsewhere.

You know, here, here are some things that you [00:19:00] might consider talking to your landlord about, or here is some things that you might consider bringing up at your next co-op meeting because there is sort of a divide between renter and condominium or homeowner association. Um, owners complex issues on both accounts, so, you know, speaking more directly to owners and managers of, uh, rental properties or multi-unit rental properties.

I, I think this is an amenity that many of those entities are recognizing that they're going to need to have, and they need to think not only about how they're going. Purchase and install the charging stations, but how they're going to manage them for the longer term. How are those going to be priced?
How are they going to ensure that a, uh, tenant of the property moves their vehicle after it completes its charge? Um, how are they going to keep up with demand and [00:20:00] expand their charging station availability as EV adoption grows? And so this, I think taking off in, in certain types of properties first, where EV ownership is more prevalent than others.

But you know, one of the things that we wanna think about here in our service territory is how we can help all of our customers, whether they're in a high end, you know, condo complex, or whether they're in a community. You know, smaller multi-unit dwelling, um, apartment building, helping those property owners and managers of all shapes and sizes think about this and how to do it most cost effectively.

That's really key.


It's key because I know I'm harping on inflation, but you go to the grocery store and it, and it's eating away at the family budget. I wanna put some context to your service territory for our listeners here and the Duquesne Light Service Territory. [00:21:00] There's 6,000 electric vehicles currently operate, and the company's expecting that to grow to 23,000.

By 2025. That's a really great growth trajectory for Western Pennsylvania. How is the company preparing the grid for this new demand? And you're probably gonna exceed what you're already currently projecting just based on sales figures.


I think that growth is something that just about anybody in Pittsburgh will get excited about.

In the Pittsburgh area here, we've seen population decline for decades and decades and decades. Um, it was only in this last. That we saw that not occur, and it really spurred a lot of excitement because our, our region, um, as many of the listeners know, has, you know, gone seen a lot of change. And, and we really wanna see the region prosper, uh, from an economic perspective and, you know, just being a great place to live.

So, something kind of unique about our local grid here is that we've got a [00:22:00] lot of capacity. And we have a lot of capacity because our grid was built to sustain a steel industry that is largely not the same size we'll say, as it once was. So we do have a lot of that capacity now when it comes to EV adoption and charging and being able to support that growth.

Having the capacity is one thing but having the capacity in the right place at the right time is another thing. So it's something that we think that by gathering data, And making sure that we understand how EVs are coming onto our grid is something that we will be able to manage, and our grid planners, like every electric utility, are really watching the growth of electric vehicles and distributed energy resources for that matter.

As they develop across our service territories [00:23:00] and really thinking about how our grid is going to evolve for the capacity that we have and the demand that we have, and how that's going to be shifting in the decades to come.

Grayson: The steel city has the greatest steel. That's what it sounds like here.
Sarah: Yes.

Yeah. So you need to export your grid to California cuz they had the energy crisis they faced in September. It seems that you have the grid of steel. You're well prepared for the influx of EVs. What can other states do to prepare for this? Is this a sign of times to come where we have to have this massive grid upgrade as more and more electric vehicles come online?

California's currently the largest market followed by. And followed by Texas, then Washington State.


Yeah. Well, I think that the first thing it is so much about data. It's about forecasting where we're going to see this EV charging growth in our service territories where is that growth going to occur at the residential level [00:24:00] and then the non-residential charging station level in space as well?
A charging station at home compared to a high powered DC fast charging station along a interstate. Also represents very different demands. And so we have to kind of think about this in a much more complex way than just number of EVs in our territory. So it is thinking about a lot of these different things at the same time.

And I think some utilities are probably better positioned and have a really have maybe a stronger footing in this space from a data perspective than others. And I think that at Duquesne Light, I will call us, you know, solidly middle of the pack on that front. We have a long way to go in our data capabilities and our smart grade capabilities.

But why I say we have a long way to go. I shouldn't say we have a long way to go. We have a way to ways [00:25:00] to go, and I think that many utilities are. Are similarly faced with these challenges, but one thing that that we and many our utilities are thinking about is load management. If we just sit here and allow, you know, these changes to happen and, and don't, don't make changes from a load management perspective, then we're not doing the service that we need to, to do for our, our customers and our grid.

We need to work to make sure that we are optimizing the use of the grid. So how can we use. And how can we shape perhaps new programs or rates that allow us to manage the load as it's coming on and work with our customers to manage that load, to really, again, optimize the use of our existing assets here because ultimately that will help us save our customers money.

Grayson: You're using data to manage the grid. You're [00:26:00] using data to help your customers save money. I wanna highlight two programs that you're using to help your customers save money. You have the whole home EV rate and the business EV rate. Could you talk about that and how you work to achieve those prices, please?

Yeah. Both of these rates, some of the listeners might know programs that other utilities offer that are called to U or time of use. So both the whole home EV rate, which is focused on our residential customers and our business EV rate, which is focused on our commercial customers, are time of use rates that offer customers who qualify a reduced electricity supply rate during off peak and super off peak times, such as over.

When there is plenty of capacity and plenty of electricity available on our grid, so many of our customers are already CH charging their EVs overnight [00:27:00] because it's just what is most convenient for them. So that's great. And you know, one thing to know is that fueling an EV already costs at least 50% less than a gasoline vehicle as we kind of were alluding to earlier this time of use rate offer.

These customers who sign up for it, an opportunity to save even more on fueling their vehicles by shifting their electricity usage. So it is important to note that our time of use rate applies to a customer's entire home or business. So not only do they have an opportunity to save on charging their electric vehicle, but it also gives them an opportunity to save on running appliances such as running dishwashers or closed washers, um, or dryers as well.

So it is really important for us as we're promoting this type of load management rate. You know, that's really what it is. Getting back to our [00:28:00] conversation earlier, that we need to educate our customers and help them understand how this rate will impact their bill before they even sign up. So there's a tool, a calculator tool, and interactive tool on our website that helps them understand based on their current electricity usage, will this rate be beneficial to me.

We don't want to mislead anyone, you know, in thinking that this could save them money. If it turns out that they actually like to charge their vehicle during the day, this might not be a great fit for them. So we have to, you know, help give them the information that they need to make an informed decision about what's right for them.

The other thing that we do is we make sure that after a customer signs up for this rate, that they get a monthly report to help them understand whether or not this rate saved them money or not. So again, it's all about transparency. It's about data for our customers too, and [00:29:00] empowering them to make the right decision.

Grayson: You're empowering them, how do you expose them to this program that it's available? Do you put a little snippet in their bill? Do you email 'em as part of their monthly bill? How do you expose your customers to this program?

You know, this is something in general that I've noticed is an interesting place for the electric utility industry and in Duquesne Light is, you know, a great example of this for decades and decades.

You know, we served our customers in a largely silent. You know, we provide your electricity and as long as the power stays on, you probably don't hear from us, right? Um, now we're thinking about things like, how do we tell our customers about this EV time of use rate? How do we reach them? How do we contact them?

How many of our customers do we have an email address for? You know, they're, these are really interesting things that many businesses have had for, for a very long time and have [00:30:00] a really mature way to communicate with their customers. For us, this is an emerging space. It's, and it's new. I should say it's not brand new, but it's newer.

So when we shape a program like this and we say, all right, let's offer a load management rate, this EV time of use rate, we have to think concurrently about how we're going to administer the rate, but also about how we're going to communicate the availability of this rate. So I have to take a step back and tell you about.

We learn who our EV drivers are because that's really our target audience for this, right? Most of our customers probably don't care very much about our EV time of use, right? Because they don't have an EV. But for that, you know, 2% of our customers that do have an EV, this is something that could be very beneficial to them.

So a few years ago, about four years ago, we started offering a program called the [00:31:00] EV registration Incentive. Essentially what this is, is any customer who owns an EV can raise their hand, fill out a short survey and get 50 bucks for letting us know they drive an electric vehicle. We ask them to really do this in a way so that it, it helps us identify who our EV driving customers are to date in our service territory, we've identified more than 20% of our EV drivers through this program, and we're able to reach out to them directly, especially via email, to let them know about this rate we currently have. About 400 customers that have enrolled for the EV time of use rate, which represents more than 5% of the EVs in our service territory.

So the rate has been up and running for just a little over a year, and that 5% number is something that we're really proud of. So it's a big education [00:32:00] process. And, uh, I'll also mention that we surveyed our EV drivers they just completed this survey last week, and we asked them to help us understand why they chose to sign up for the EV time of use rate.

If they did, we asked them to tell us about why they didn't sign up for the EV time of use rate if they didn't. And it turns out that a portion of them weren't yet knowledgeable about the rate. So it was, you know, helpful for us to let them know that it existed and we got some information about why they would or would not do that rate.

So it is a constantly engaging process with our EV customers to understand how we will continue to successfully fuel their transportation and do it in a way again, that optimizes our lives.


You're making progress and leading by example. You're giving the, the great way to charge to the electric vehicle for a price that's more affordable for individuals.

You're [00:33:00] creating the steel grid when you're allowing it, so when they go there that, that they can charge. You're demanding service level agreements. And from a leadership standpoint, the company's aiming to electrify 30% of this fleet by 2030, including a hundred percent of light duty vehicles. Why was that decision made?

Was it made that Duquesne Light gonna take a leadership mantle? As we push electrification, we will electrify ourselves.


I mean, I think that you, you can talk the talk and walk the walk, right? If we are out there trying to support our customers as they adopt EVs personally or for their businesses, we need to be thinking about doing that ourselves.

And what better way to do that than with our own fleet. So, you know, our work in electrifying our fleet has been over the course of at least I think six or seven years here since we incorporated our first Chevy Volt into our fleet, probably again, about six or [00:34:00] seven years ago. And, you know, we've, we've made a lot of progress since then.

Just a few months ago we accepted our first 12 Ford F-150 Lightnings, which we're very excited about, and I have heard they are very popular among our fleet drivers. Um, everyone wants to be assigned one of the lightnings, so that's really positive to hear the excitement about that. But to your question, you know, why was this decision made?

You know, I think it was made for us here at the local level to lead by example and learn by example. If we don't understand what it takes to roll out EVs in our own fleet, how are we really going to support our customers as they do that? I think that it was really hard for us to, to think about that.
Now, to be fair, my business unit does not manage our fleet. But [00:35:00] we work in a close partnership with the team that does do that, and we work with them in a really supporting role. We wanna be here as technical support for our own fleet, just like we would for our customers. And we can learn and observe, you know, some of the challenges that our fleet has to go through as they think about switching to electric.

Um, and it that helps us understand about how we can be more helpful to our customer. Another thing that I'll point out is that our 30 by 30 goal was announced and made as part of a larger industrywide fleet electrification commitment that was taken on through the Edison Electric Institute, which is one of the main trade associations for the electric utility industry.

So it was really great for us to stand up there beside many of our peers in the industry to make this commitment. And I think that it's really helpful as an industry to do this in this [00:36:00] collective way. Because it sends a signal to our suppliers that we're looking for these vehicles, and it's not just one utility or one fleet. It's all of these fleets together. So we're raising our hands, we're sending a signal, and we're saying we want to see these EVs available to us cuz we would like to buy them. So please invest your R&D money and your development money to making this happen.


When do you expect for us to see more heavy duty electric vehicles?

Obviously there's a demand in the marketplace. You have the, the F-150 Lightning that's completely sold out of the Tesla semi coming online, so there's an overwhelming demand for heavy duty vehicles. The bucket trucks that in the Comcast gentleman brings around and installs your cable. Eventually those are gonna become electrified.

When do you see more of those vehicles starting into the market? Cuz as I said earlier, there is a demand there for those vehicles.


You know, uh, I might not be the best person to guess this one [00:37:00] because I have to admit that when we received the, you know, those F-150 Lightnings earlier this year, I was like, you know, I, I don't know that I expected that happen by 2022.
If you would've asked me five years ago, I would've thought that even those light duty trucks would've been a little further off. But I think that it shows what can happen with the drive in this space and when we start to see major players, like SAE, a membership body really taking an active role in moving the needle on R&D.

And working again as an industry together to make progress on standards, to make progress on efficiency of those batteries, to bring down supply chain costs. I think we're gonna see this happen probably faster than I could imagine. I think that our own fleet, when we are looking at the composition of our [00:38:00] electric utility fleet, for example.

You know, I think that for the more medium and heavy duty vehicles, I would have to guess that we're looking probably a little bit more like seven to 10 years out at this time. But I think what's important to say is that there are steps that occur before widespread commercial adoption. And I think that demonstration vehicles and participation in some of these r and d funding opportunities that are rolling out today, even here in Pennsylvania, um, before the end of the year, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will be rolling out a new grant opportunity to help on a medium heavy duty EV demonstration project. And that's something that, that me and my team at Duquesne Light are looking at saying, all right, we might not be able to convert our whole medium duty fleet to EV tomorrow, but how do we take an active [00:39:00] role in this development cycle and uh, and participate in this way?

And I think that that's something that we really want now.

Grayson: Eventually when those vehicles come online, I could see them getting incorporated into your fleet. And I, I can't call it heavy duty cuz it's a special type of vehicle. It's a school bus. There's electric school buses that are currently operating on the road, stay around the world.
Are any electric school buses operating in Duquesne's service area?

Yeah, that's a good question. And there's so much attention and excitement in this space. Awesome, it's great to see, you know, and, and a lot of that is being driven by some of the funding opportunities that are, that are out there.

So in Duquesne light service territory, there are several school districts that are strongly considering and or actively pursuing school bus electrification, but we don't have any on the roadway in our service territory just yet. Although I do feel like things are moving fast and by the time this recording comes [00:40:00] out, someone might correct me and say, you didn't hear about these guys, and I'll be like, no, I did it.

It's so hard to keep up, you know? But we are working closely with many of the school districts in our area to educate them about electric school buses to make them aware of the federal, state and local funding that is available to them for the procurement process. And then the other side of it, which we always refer to as the chicken and the egg, is thinking about the charging stations that they're going to need to support those school buses.

So this is not something that happens for a school district overnight. It is a longer process. It's a learning curve. As it should be. You know, this is something that as a school bus, school district or a school bus operator thinks about incorporating EVs or electric buses into those fleets, they need to make wise decisions.

All of the dollars and all the investment that's available in this space must be beneficial [00:41:00] to them and it must align with the goals that they have for their school districts and for those fleets. But an example is that, you know, recently we, we hosted a webinar. The regional EPA office, uh, to promote EPAs clean school bus rebate program and answer many of the questions that school districts have about making that transition to electric school buses.

So again, It. We don't have any up and running yet in our service territory today, but it is about really kicking off this learning process.

Grayson: You have to learn and you have to prepare. And Duquesne Light has the Electric Fleet Advisory Service Program. Are school districts taking advantage of that, of their businesses in the community saying, okay, perhaps we're delivery local, delivery business or it runs a pizza parlor that delivers and they want to transition to electric. Are you seeing uptake of that service in the local community? 

So you know, as you mentioned, our Electric Fleet Advisory Service, what this is, is Duquesne [00:42:00] Light will work with one of our commercial customers, our business customers, which includes municipalities, school district, non-profits, universities to collect data that they have available about how those vehicles are used, how many of them they have, what types of models are in their fleet, what the turnover expectation is for purchasing and replacement vehicles. And what we do is kind of like our tool that we were talking about earlier. Look at from a whole fleet perspective, what's that total cost of ownership look.

Which vehicles does it make sense to transition to electric? Which ones in their fleet? Doesn't it make sense to transition? And where do we need to see charging stations installed at their facilities to support those vehicles? Ultimately, that fleet advisory service that we offer helps them, you know, have [00:43:00] the information in hand to justify investment.

In fleet electrification and it really helps them come up with that roadmap of how they're going to do this. So, you know, your questions was how is this program sort of helping our customers and you know, what uptake have we seen with this? It's been a really nice mix of, we do have a school district participating.

We have a number of non-profits that operate fleets. Um, we have a university and a whole bevy of municipalities and working with these customers is, you know, just a really great way to help them be empowered with data and information to make decisions. And I hope that that's sort of a thread that, you know, has been woven throughout our discussion today is that, you know, as the electric utility, we don't sell the vehicle.

We don't [00:44:00] sell the charging stations per se, but we do sell the electricity. And we want to help our customers and our community members make decisions that are right for them to understand if making that transition to electric for fueling their fleets or for their own vehicle is right for them. And you know, this is just another way that we're doing that.

Grayson: It's an honest assessment. It's one that Duquesne Light should be proud of because you're not trying to oversell, you're trying to provide the best solution for the customers, the nonprofits, the school districts. And in your opinion, Sarah, what is the future of electric mobility and what impact will it have on Western Pennsylvania?

You know, I think that for me personally I'll answer this question personally. When I moved back to home, back home to Pittsburgh, one of the things that I factored into this decision was, did I want to move to an area of our country that had poorer air [00:45:00] quality than where I was at?
And ultimately, I decided to do that. You know, I decided to come home and I decided to be here. And I really am very passionate about seeing our air quality improved here through transportation, electrification. And many of the listeners might say, well, how are you doing that? If your grid is powered by coal, you're in Western PA, right?

That grid can't be clean. And the answer is, is that an electric vehicle on the road in Pennsylvania is two-thirds Greenhouse gas emissions than a gasoline vehicle. Now, that's not related to air quality, that's related to climate change, but when it comes to medium and heavy duty vehicles, our grid powering a medium and heavy duty vehicle, like a school bus or a transit bus, is significantly cleaner, powered off of our grid than a comparable gas or diesel medium and heavy duty vehicle.

So I really think about how the growth of [00:46:00] electric mobility here in Western Pennsylvania. Um, we'll be able to impact our improvements in our air quality and our, and reduce our, our impact on greenhouse gas emissions. So that's one of the biggest things for me personally. I think that I'm also passionate about reducing our reliance on foreign oil.

I started getting into the EV space, actually the hydrogen vehicle space in 2000. and at that time we were in a very different place of political conversation in our country and I started working for the Bush administration. And at that time, you know, our focus in this space was, you know, freedom from foreign oil and how do we put the dollars for fueling our transportation and our mobility, putting those dollars back, you know, here in America, I, I really love thinking about how Electric Mobility can diversify our [00:47:00] transportation port, uh, fuel portfolio and, um, diversify that portfolio. When we see our mobility sector so reliant on a single fuel source, we're really. At the mercy of disruptions in that space. And, uh, I, I really like to think that electricity can provide the diversity that we need to, to help more individuals have a little bit more of a protection from some of that, uh, volatility.


They’re all positive steps. We're saying the same thing happen in the chip sector dependent on one country. And I'm very worried about EVs cuz we. We were relied on foreign oil. Now we're relying on foreign refineries. So there's a long way to go and we can't make these same mistakes, but they're small positive steps that are starting to happen.

And Sarah, as we look to wrap up this insightful conversation, what would you like our listeners to take away with them today?


I would like them, uh, if, if they had one action item from the discussion, I would ask them to learn more about EVs, [00:48:00] take a ride in one go to. Local dealership and, uh, test, do a test drive, do some learning online, do some calculations, understand the incentives that are available, recognize that there are many, many options that are out there.

And then at the end of the day, these vehicles are really fun to drive and might just change how you think about how you get around your community and, and how you fuel your mobility. So that's what I would say.


There we go. Take a ride. Experience an EV because today is tomorrow. Tomorrow is today, and the future is Duquesne Light.

Sarah, thank you so much for coming on SAE Tomorrow Today.

Sarah: Thank you very much for having me. This is a really enjoyable discussion.

Thank you for listening to SAE Tomorrow Today. If you've enjoyed this episode and would like to hear more, please kindly rate review and let us know what topics you'd like for us to explore Next.

Be sure to join us next week when we speak with Dr. Janet Kavandi, a veteran, astronaut, and president of [00:49:00] Sierra Space. On this episode, she'll discuss the company's dream chaser launching in 2023 that will fly cargo supply missions for NASA to the International Space Station.

SAE International makes no representations as to the accuracy of the information presented in this podcast.

The information and opinions are for general information only. SAE International does not endorse, approve, recommend, or certify any information, product, process, service, or organization presented or mentioned in this podcast.


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