Dominion Virginia Power has begun this week to roll out a pilot program for at-home electric vehicle charging. Dominion's model, which offers customers a couple of plans that incentivize off-peak charging, will be an interesting case study of approaches for reducing EV strain on the power grid, while offering cheaper rates to EV owners.

The company is piloting two plans with different rate schemes:

The first is a plan that's geared specifically toward electric vehicle charging. Customers who go with the 'EV Only' plan will have a second meter installed at their home that's specifically used to measure energy use on a dedicated (potentially higher voltage) circuit. This circuit is specifically for EV recharging with a separate pricing scheme that offers lower off-peak rates.

Dominion estimates that powering a typical EV for a 40-mile commute would cost about $0.54 at the lower rate, as opposed to $1.10 at Dominion's standard residential rate. Rates would be higher for daytime charging, although it's unclear if it would be the standard rate or not. Customers who choose this plan would have to pay an additional service charge of $2.90 per month to cover the second meter.

The second plan, covering the whole house, is more intriguing. Participants in this pilot will have smart meters installed that record energy usage in 30-minute periods. Dominion's trade for higher-resolution data of energy usage is flexible pricing throughout the day -- and throughout the year. It seems like an advantage for customers as they can take better advantage of off-peak pricing for all of their energy-intensive needs, rather than just charging their car. Dominion guesses that a nightly EV charge will range between $0.51 in summer and $0.61 in winter.

Dominion has limited the availability of both rate options to 750 participants who each have to stay enrolled in the program for at least a year. The program is set to end November 30, 2014, with reports detailing public interest in and the viability of the program slated to be delivered to the Virginia State Corporation Commission on an annual basis.

Dominion launched the pilots based on its estimates that there will be around 86,000 electric vehicles in Virginia by 2020. According to the utility, that figure will account for about 5 percent of all vehicle sales in the state. If the EV fleet even begins to approach that number, the utility will have a sizable new load placed on its grid that would likely grow year after year.

The results of the pilot notwithstanding, it seems that Dominion is taking the most prudent approach to dealing with the slow-but-steady growth of the EV market: using incentives and smart meters to push customers to off-peak hours in order to best utilize current power production capacity before relying on costly expansions.