In the world of electric vehicles, nothing attracts as much speculation or disagreement as the debate over exactly how EV drivers behave. Do they need 100 miles of range or will 30 miles do? How many public recharge stations do they need? Do energy prices influence charging? And so on.
The answers to these questions could have huge implications for the success of EVs. If drivers are satisfied with lower-range cars, fewer recharge points and overnight recharging, then the overall challenge of electrifying the nation’s fleet could be resolved at lower costs and more quickly -- with greater economic and environmental benefits.
The best way to answer these questions, of course, is to watch EV drivers and to learn what they’re actually doing. To assist in that process, the Department of Energy commissioned an industry collaboration -- involving a wide range of carmakers, utilities, retailers, government entities and technology providers -- to help identify current and potential barriers to EV adoption.
Dubbed the EV Project, the program began in late 2010; gathering data from EV drivers willing to share that information. And last week, the EV Project announced it had amassed an unprecedented volume of behavioral data drawn from more than 24 million miles of EV driving.
The DOE awarded management of the project to ECOtality, which manufactures EV charging units and related software. Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan LEAF are project partners, too. Qualifying Volt and LEAF drivers also receive a residential charger and installation at little or no cost to themselves.
“We’re beginning to really see how people are using chargers,” said Colin Read, vice president of corporate development for ECOtality. I spoke with Read while he was in New York City.
So far, the EV Project is tracking some 4,600 vehicles. And including public sites the EV Project is also monitoring 6,200 charging stations, made up mostly of the Type II chargers that operate at 240 volts.
Geographically, the project is tracking EV behavior in 18 markets, including the “Birkenstock Belt”— those eco-conscious parts of West Coast: Washington, Oregon and California -- plus sites in Arizona, Texas, as well as Tennessee, where Nissan builds the LEAF. “We picked regions with very little in common on purpose. We’re seeking a diversity of driver experience,” Read said.
The EV Project is also buying EVs from dealer lots, much like regular consumers do, to understand the overall buying experience. “We call it the ‘Noah’s Ark of EV programs,’ because we buy a pair of every EV on the market,” Read joked. The project does make some exceptions, however, with the most costly models, where just one car is enough.
Next page: Early lessons about EVs