Part of Paulsen Marketing’s “Rural97” market research project aims to help rural electric cooperatives protect their brand (i.e., commission Paulsen to craft ad campaigns) against concerns about electric vehicles. Pauslen’s polling of rural electric co-op members evidently finds underinformed rural folks share underinformed city folks’ worry that electric cars will affect the power grid:
Around half of the rural Americans served by electric cooperatives expect less reliable service and higher bills because of electric vehicles.
Even so, about half would consider buying an EV the next time they need a new vehicle.
…In spite of the ubiquitous nature of the topic in mass media – the last two Super Bowls featured multiple EV ads – a lack of basic knowledge about the vehicles and about the electric grid in general help fuel half-informed or misinformed spats on social media, [Paulsen VP Mark] Smither said.
A national poll from the Pew Research Center released in July suggested that Americans as a whole are concerned about the electric grid and electric bills. Just under half would consider buying an EV [John Hult, “South Dakota-Led Poll Finds Alignment of Rural, Urban Opinions on Electric Vehicles,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2023.09.22].
Funny: I don’t hear rural or urban folks worrying that all those electric TVs and dishwashers and air conditioners are going to hurt the grid and thus sticking with their gasoline-powered home appliances. And I suspect the same people fretting that EVs may raise their electric bill have never considered that putting more gasoline-powered vehicles on the road will increase fossil fuel demand, burden the fossil-fuel supply chain, and raise prices at the pump.
But this oldthink too shall pass:
What the Paulsen results show for rural Americans is a clear dividing line between the attitudes of young and old co-op members, alongside predictable political divides. Those older than 54 are far less likely to consider purchasing an EV, the poll showed. They’re also far more likely to be among the fifth of respondents who said that nothing could convince them to do so.
Younger co-op members are more likely to consider buying an EV, the poll found. More than half of respondents opposed a phase-out of the production of gas-powered vehicles [Hult, 2023.09.22].
The electric co-ops themselves aren’t worried about their ability to power personal transportation. They’re actually handing out cash to help people buy EVs and charge wisely:
…Sheila Gross of Sioux Valley Electric Co-Op gets accused of “pushing EVs” on a fairly regular basis. Sioux Valley EV owners can get a $500 rebate for the purchase of a fully electric vehicle if they sign up for the co-op’s off-peak incentives. The “time of use rate” program, which is also available to non-EV owners, charges members 43% less than the standard rate for power consumed between from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., and higher-than-standard rates during peak times.
At a Sept. 19 EV Expo at the W.H. Lyon Fairgrounds in Sioux Falls, Gross said the perceived push for EVs is really about education for consumers and cost control for the co-op, rather than an evangelical drive for an electrified future.
It’s true that co-ops could earn more if consumers use more power – potentially boosting payouts to its members – but poorly timed power use is a drain on the grid and a drag on any power provider’s bottom line.
The co-op is charged more for power during peak periods, and the overnight hours often coincide with a greater availability of cheaper wind power.
“We actually lose money pretty quickly” when members don’t take advantage of the off-peak incentive, Gross said.
“For the people who have them, we want to make sure they’re charging in those off-peak hours,” she said [Hult, 2023.09.22].
Sales of electric cars are booming globally. And even back in 2016, using the practical 73-mile range of a Nissan Leaf, researchers concluded that electric vehicles could meet the daily driving needs of 81% of drivers in rural areas. The electric co-ops are ready to sell us the electricity for those cars and manage the charging of those cars to keep the grid working for everyone.
I’m generally suspicious of marketing, but if Paulsen and the electric co-ops’ marketing can help get South Dakotans over their misconceptions of 21st-century transportation technology, then more power to them… and to the batteries of our fun, fumeless electric cars.