Innovation Spotlight: No Company is Making a Bigger Commitment to Smart Columbus than AEP
AEP Ohio, the unit within the larger company that serves 1.5 million homes and business in central, southeast and northwest Ohio, has pledged to work with the city to modernize the transportation network and reduce carbon emissions in both the transportation and electric power sectors. The utility has committed $185 million to the project—the biggest contribution from any public or private partner in the Smart Columbus initiative.
The Columbus-based utility is helping provide the “backbone” necessary for the initiative’s success, says Jordan Davis, director of Smart Columbus for the Columbus Partnership. “AEP cast a vision that aligns with us and put its corporate muscle behind this project,” she says.
AEP Ohio was eager to join the Smart City effort because the plan gelled with its own goals and provided an opportunity to improve the lives of consumers, says Julie Sloat, president and chief operating officer for AEP Ohio. “The timing is ideally aligned with and suited to what we’re doing,” Sloat says. “The world’s changing. Customers’ needs are changing. We have to deliver what’s next.”
Much of “what’s next” is not so far off, adds Jon Williams, AEP Ohio’s director of distribution technology and innovation. He encourages people to test drive a Tesla—the premier electric car—to see firsthand what’s coming to the automotive industry. Teslas are equipped with self-driving hardware that can park the vehicle hands-free in your garage, he says. Other less-expensive models currently available in showrooms share many of the object-sensing features that will be the foundation for the self-driving vehicles of the future.
Williams is equally excited by the role AEP Ohio will play in the electric mobility revolution. As part of its Smart City commitments, the company has pledged to add to the region 300 “level 2 chargers” (charging stations that use a higher-output 240-volt power source) and 75 “DC fast chargers” (which charge vehicles even more quickly). To further incentivize consumers, AEP Ohio sought and received approval from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to establish a rebate program for the hardware, network services and installation of the charging infrastructure for those 375 units. Officials believe it is the first approved rebate program for electric-vehicle charging in the Midwest.
The $10 million program will offer rebates for site owners to install charging stations, with 10 percent of the stations to be located in low-income areas, Sloat says. Though the project will “not bring a lot of dollars into our coffers,” Sloat says it’s a way to help create “a level playing field” for central Ohioans with mobility challenges.
Improvements to the grid also will play a role in making electric vehicle usage more efficient. The utility will be able to coordinate when customers charge their vehicles and take advantage of off-peak usage hours to maximize usage.
Customers also can take advantage of the information provided by smart meters. A downloadable app will show their usage in real time. They will be able to see how they are using electricity and make adjustments as they see fit.
A key component of Smart Columbus’—and AEP’s—efforts is using advanced tools to assist people living in underserved communities. The hope is that electric vehicles will improve the mass transit system and therefore play a role in helping people get to jobs, doctors’ appointments or the grocery store, Williams says. The region’s expected growth demands that leaders look for innovative solutions that can increase access, he says.
By establishing the new charging stations, AEP Ohio also hopes to address consumers’ range anxiety—the fear that an electric vehicle would not have the range to get occupants where they need to go. In most cases, that fear is “more of a perceived problem than a real problem,” Williams says. Still, having charging opportunities at home, work or in public places will increase comfort levels, he says.
“Smart City is a real clear opportunity for public-private partnerships to really work together to solve this problem,” he says. “These innovations are driven by real need. There are opportunities for greater social good.”
Melissa Kossler Dutton is a freelance writer.
700 Morrison Road, Gahanna 43230
About: Electric utility within the larger corporate company that serves 1.5 million homes and business in central, southeast and northwest Ohio.
2017 revenue: $324 million