The key to increasing EV adoption is hidden in EV driving and charging data

 In Fleet Management

Electric vehicles are catching on, albeit not fast enough for everyone’s liking. Plug-in Electric Vehicle sales were up 67% year to date as of November 2017 in Canada. In the United States, sales are up 27% year over year. These represent the highest rate of increase for the adoption of electric vehicles ever. So, why are some saying that it’s not enough?

Some of those voices asking, ‘where are all the EVs’, are coming from Ontario, Canada where, as part of the Climate Action Plan for 2017 – 2021 a lofty goal of 5% of all vehicle sales by 2020 was set. Several years later, the plan had attracted criticism. With skeptics pointing to the fact that the Province is on course to miss the 2020 deadline.

Ontario EV Sales Targets

A reasonable amount of skepticism is healthy, but let’s not forget how far we’ve come. At the time the 5% by 2020, Climate Action Plan goal was set, the EV market was at a mere 0.3% and registrations on EVs in the province were measured in the hundreds. In recent months registrations have increased to the thousands.

The increase in electric vehicle adoption is no accident, public and private partners are banding together to see that more drivers choose low-carbon vehicles. Barriers to EV adoption have been targeted to reduce the friction for consumers and businesses alike. In the report, “Factors Affecting EV Adoption” from the University of Hawaii, these barriers are defined as internal and external. Internal factors are those related to the vehicle itself, some of these are: purchase price, battery cost, driving range, and charging time. External factors are those which relate to the market environment, or factors which indirectly affect the relative value of an electric vehicle. Some of these are fuel prices, consumer characteristics, travel distance, charging station networks, public visibility and vehicle diversity.

Depending on where any particular party sits, these barriers are either within reach or not. Vehicle manufacturers, Battery manufacturers, Charging station providers, Electrical utilities, and others have a role to play in affecting internal factors. Governments, both big and small, are able to impact a range of internal and external factors by applying mechanisms to affect the relative value of EVs in a marketplace.

Efforts by the Government to increase the rate of EV adoption by targeting ‘range anxiety’ are working. Following the installation of chargers along traffic corridors in Ontario, adoption rates increased noticeably. Electric vehicles in Ontario accounted for approximately 0.5% of all vehicle sales a year ago (Nov. 2016), one year later, that number has increased to 1.1%. Following on that success, recent incentives which will cover up to 80% of the cost of a station have been created to spur on an even larger charging network.

We’re leaping over barriers to electric vehicle adoption. The cost of new EVs is falling, it’s now at parity, or as low as half the cost of an ICE vehicle. Range anxiety is evaporating as newer vehicle models regularly achieve 200 km to 400 km on a single charge. Charging times are falling too, with the average fast charger charge duration around 24 minutes. With so much going for electric vehicles, what’s the problem – why isn’t everyone driving one? The ultimate barrier to EV adoption may not be cost, range anxiety, charger speed or availability.

The consumer perspective of an EV is through the lens of traditional internal combustion vehicles. Compare roughly a decade of serious electric vehicle development to over a hundred years developing internal combustion engine vehicles and supporting infrastructure. Our current conception of how we use cars is skewed by how we’ve had to use them. We’ve been trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. The truth behind how we want to use our vehicles and the key to greater EV adoption is hidden in EV driving and charging data.

There’s some room between how we think consumers will use electric vehicles and how they actually use them. Findings from monitoring over 600 electric vehicles and some 88,000 charger events for 4 months in Canada and the United States by FleetCarma reveal some interesting findings about EV behaviour.

What’s common among all drivers is the tendency to overestimate the distance travelled in a day. Despite the improved range performance of EVs year over year, electric vehicles are still criticised for not having ‘enough range’. In the report: “The Barriers to Acceptance of Plug-in Electric Vehicles: 2017 Update” by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the majority of respondents (over 50%) would only consider an electric vehicle if the driving range was greater than 482 km (300 miles). In this study, the average real-world daily distance travelled is a mere 61 km (37 miles), less than 1/10th the distance drivers think they need to travel.

Visible public charging does spur on the adoption of electric vehicles, as seen in Ontario, Canada but it may not be for the reasons we all think. Both survey and study data reveal the irregular use of public fast chargers. Only 3% of all charge events, 6% of energy consumed by EVs was at a fast charger. Instead, there is an overwhelming preference toward level two home charging which accounts for approximately 69% of all charge events and 75% of all energy.

The preference toward at home charging is so strong that the perceived barrier of charging duration may not be a barrier at all, at least not at home. Data shows that even with larger battery capacity EVs, which should take longer to charge, there is no change in preference toward fast chargers. Owners of long-range battery EVs still prefered level two home charging despite the fact that charging time could be reduced significantly. The average level two charge event taking just under 2 hours, compared to fast charging which takes just under 24 minutes on average. EV owners realize refueling and recharging isn’t an apples to apples comparison. The average vehicle in this study was available 81% of the time and was in use only 6% of the time. Basically, recharging time doesn’t really matter. Convenience matters.

Electric Vehicle Charging Preference by EV Type

Confidence among electric vehicle owners is rising. The range of newer models is adding to that confidence. Newer model vehicles with longer range charge less often, once a day on average. Compare this to 2011 models which charged approximately one and a half times a day on average. As battery capacity in electric vehicles increases with each successive year, owners charge less often. Reducing the periods between charge events and increasing the total energy consumed in each charge. As charger preference isn’t changing, the majority of these large charge events will occur in residential areas.

Charge events by model year

The average number of charging events per Month based on vehicle model year.

As public and private interests grapple with strategies to continue to increase the rate of adoption, the holistic aspect of ‘convenience’ could be considered more seriously. Electric vehicle adoption could be catalyzed by focusing on user experience. Reducing friction for preferred uses of the new technology will ultimately be more efficient than forcing a behaviour through incentives. In practice, this means ensuring drivers will have access to charging locations where their vehicle is already at rest. For homeowners and tenants this means making level two charging at parking locations a requirement. Similarly, workplaces could provide access to level two charging for all employees.

Electric vehicles will catch on, not because they are good for the environment, more affordable, or have enough range, they are all of these already. electric vehicles are likely to catch on because, as current owners already know, they are better. And, if they were just slightly more convenient to own, we could see many more of them on the road.

Collecting reliable data and monitoring the use of electric vehicles is critical to the adoption of clean transportation. The behaviour of electric vehicles, driving and charging patterns, can differ significantly in different climates, geographic regions, and locations. Understanding how electric vehicles perform is important for electrical demand response management, planning electric infrastructure, installation of public and home EV charging, and electric vehicle adoption. FleetCarma creates technology to help public and private organizations understand the impact, plan for adoption, and manage the operation of electric vehicles.

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