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Electric utilities are driving customers into the hands of startups

Imagine running a large public company — S&P 500 large — and telling some of your most promising customers that you can’t sell them what they want unless they’re willing to wait three to five years at a minimum. In some cases, the wait might be as long as a decade.

More likely than not, those customers would find someone else to give their money to.

That’s what’s happening today at large electric utilities across the U.S., according to a new report in The Wall Street Journal. Of all the companies that should be eager to embrace the electric transition, electric utilities would seem to be at the top of the list. Yet they also appear to be some of the most hesitant.

The problem is particularly pressing in California, where the next couple decades will see the state phase out fossil fuel vehicles. Most of the replacements will be electric, which means that utilities should see an easily anticipated surge in demand, something most businesses would welcome.

For now, utilities are probably happy to sell a few extra kilowatt-hours. There aren’t enough EV owners yet to require large amounts of new investment. And where available, most EV owners time their charging sessions to take advantage of low prices that some utilities offer. Plus, a slew of startups like WeaveGrid have cropped up to help utilities smooth some of the spikes that can occur when too many EVs get plugged in around the same time.

But as more vehicles get plugged in and zero-emissions deadlines grow nearer, it’s clear that many utilities aren’t prepared for what’s to come.

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