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DEC continues partnership with electric vehicle charging app

Katie Tabeling
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Optiwatt, a rising electric vehicle charging management app, is expanding its partnership with the Delaware Electric cooperative into the new year. | PHOTO COURTESY OF OPTIWATT

GREENWOOD — After a successful pilot program this summer, Delaware Electric Cooperative (DEC) is expanding its partnership with a rising electric vehicle charging management app to aid research in the electric grid’s limits.

Banking on electric vehicle adoption rates rising in the next few years, Optiwatt aims to incentivize drivers to charge their vehicles at off-peak hours when energy demand is low.  The company runs a telematics-based managed charging app, using a cell connection to send commands on when the car takes electricity from the grid. 

After enrolling with the DEC program, Optiwatt would stop customers from charging during peak hours, but allow other charging times at home. Those enrolled in the DEC program receive a one-time $100 reward for signing up and a $5 monthly credit in the summer. 

The pilot program with DEC ran from May to September, with 132 electric vehicles enrolled. That means the DEC has 750 kilowatts of shiftable energy load that reduces demand costs for the co-op members by tens of thousands of dollars per year.

“We’re thrilled to be expanding our partnership with DEC,” Optiwatt CEO Casey Donahue said in a statement. “The first round of studies we conducted went extremely well, so we’re looking forward to conducting a follow up and getting even more of the Delaware community involved. In a time when electric vehicles are more prominent than ever, research like this is hugely important to the further development of the industry.” 

Headquartered in Greenwood, DEC is a member-owned electric cooperative that serves in Kent and Sussex counties, primarily in once-rural areas. It powers roughly 115,000 homes, farms and businesses between both countries. Last October, the co-op announced it would credit 75,000 members $5 million in savings.

The partnership with Optiwatt is another way for the co-op to work to reduce energy costs for its membership, while also looking to the future as Delaware weighs electric vehicle adoption, according to DEC Public Relations and Community Outreach Manager Lauren Irby.

“Our co-op is always looking for ways to reduce costs for those we power. Our partnership with Optiwatt has helped our members with electric vehicles avoid charging during peak times of energy use, when our cost to purchase or produce energy is very expensive. By reducing the use of energy by EVs during peak times, we are able to lower overall energy costs for all of our members,” she said. 

“Through optimized charging, DEC will be able to ensure electrical equipment on the grid isn’t overloaded because of increased energy use,” Irby added. “This beneficial partnership with Optiwatt will continue for at least another year.”

In 2024, the DEC expects to more broadly market Optiwatt with a goal of doubling participation.

The partnership with the DEC is the latest in a string of partnerships Optiwatt has inked, the latest was with PowerSouth Electric Cooperative in Alabama last summer. The company touts its unique approach of utility partnership model as well as direct-to-consumer tactics to expand its user base quickly.

“We’re able to offer software that is useful to device owners both in and out of utility programs, and we conduct outreach to users in the area, help them connect their devices in the home and manage them to save money on their electric bills,” Optiwatt Head of Growth Matt Grace told the Delaware Business Times. “Eventually, we enroll them into managed charging programs such as DEC once they become available. No competitor offers such a breadth of services at this scale.”

Optiwatt also closed $7 million in Series A funding last fall, with the goal of using the proceeds on software development and marketing of features that expand the number of supported devices.

While Delaware is still weighing the infrastructure needed to move to electric cars — especially with the ticking clock of reducing new gas car sales in the state by 82% by 2032 — Optiwatt sees potential in how the DEC has taken on the task to address the forthcoming restrictions. 

“DEC is an innovator in the utility space, and was running an electric vehicle managed charging program via smartchargers prior to Optiwatt’s arrival in Delaware,” Grace said. “We saw them as an ideal partner, with whom we could show off the advantages of telematics within the industry, especially as it compared to legacy technologies.”

Delaware has less than 1% electric car adoption, according to Delaware Business Times records. But Grace isn’t concerned with the present – noting that the regulation and demand will cause more electric cars to get on the roads sooner than later.

“While Delaware may not be overflowing with electric vehicles yet, a combination of regulation and burgeoning consumer demand will cause a rapid rise in electrification of the transportation sector over the next 5 to 10 years,” he added. “We wanted to get well ahead of that wave, so that the Delaware grid is prepared for that eventuality.”

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