Navigant Research Blog

Data Analysis Key to Unlocking EV Demand

— January 5, 2017

The term big data has quickly entered the lexicon of technologists in energy, IT, transportation, healthcare, security, and other industries for the potential of using data to get a better systems-level understanding of how industries function. In the nascent industry of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs), sharing data on how these vehicles are driven in comparison to gasoline vehicles, as well as vehicle charging habits and requirements, are viewed as critical to growing the market beyond today’s less than 2% penetration rates.

Recognizing this, the White House assembled a group of government and private sector data enthusiasts (from automakers, charging networks, and others) for a Datathon in late November last year. The event featured presentations by many leading researchers who shared their latest work to get their peers interested in comparing, processing, and combining these data sets to increase the understanding of market requirements. Participants heard from the following:

  • The Idaho National Laboratory—the granddaddy of EV data, having housed and analyzed EV data since the early EV Project, and most recently included recommendations on residential and workplace charging based on its extensive experience.
  • The Argonne National Lab offers the Downloadable Dynamometer Database, which houses test data evaluating the energy consumption of PEVs as well as conventional drive vehicles in cold, average, and warm driving temperatures.
  • The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) offers the Transportation Secure Data Center, providing access to regional travel surveys and studies to understand the differences in the driving patterns in the United States. This data for all types of vehicles can be used to see how PEV driving habits compare to gasoline cars, and how PEV usage may evolve once the promised 200+ mile range EVs hit the market. As an example, NREL hosts the 2014-2015 Puget Sound Regional Travel Study, which contains records of more than 10,000 individual driving trips in the area, including time of day, the distance of the trips, and the time required for the trips.
  • Another great resource is the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which has a bevy of travel and fuel consumption data about vehicles of all sizes, from cars to buses to trucks and rail.

Not long after the Datathon, the DOT announced grants totaling $300 million for the nation’s dozens of University Transportation Centers, which share the common goal to “advance US technology and expertise in the many disciplines composing transportation through education, solutions-oriented research and technology transfer … .” These Centers contribute to the DOT’s research housed in the USDOT Research Hub, the central repository for research data not only for highway vehicles, but also aviation and maritime vehicles.

Transforming the US Highways

The Federal Highway Administration published a map that shows the recently designated Alternative Fuels Corridors, where signs will be posted to direct PEV drivers to the charging stations located near the highways. This map provides useful data for utilities to anticipate where additional DC fast charging stations are likely to be installed. This could affect grid operations and could also provide a new revenue stream.

Highway Information: Electric Vehicle

(Source: US Department of Transportation)

In late December 2016, the US Department of Energy announced that it is further committing $18 million to researching electric and other alternative fuel vehicles, which will no doubt generate some interesting additional data. By continuing to add new research and by diving deeper into this plethora of data, we can continue to chip away at burning PEV questions such as, “How is the range limitation of EVs preventing their expansion to selling in larger numbers?” and, based on where people, work, live, and recreate, “Where should charging stations be located to be frequently utilized and better serve EV drivers?”

Analyzing real-world data to better understand how PEVs can most appropriately fit into the overall transportation market will enable automakers, utilities, charging networks, and the other stakeholders to improve their decision-making and reduce the risk in this rapidly evolving market.

 

Preparations Continue for Tesla Model 3 Launch

— November 21, 2016

Electric Vehicle 2For the hundreds of thousands who put down a deposit on the upcoming Tesla Model 3, the future can’t come soon enough. The much anticipated EV, which is scheduled to start shipping sometime between the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, is one of several vehicles due out in the next 18 months that are expected to push plug-in EVs (PEVs) into the mainstream.

A new book, Getting Ready for Model 3: A Guide for Future Tesla Model 3 Owners by Roger Pressman, details many of the expected technical details about the car’s performance as well as considerations for keeping it charged. For those who like the minutiae of how cars function, the chapters on performance and autonomous vehicles give digestible overviews of how EV and assisted driving technologies work in general, as well as Tesla’s likely implementation.

One aspect of PEVs that is often overlooked or misunderstood is the efficiency of electric motors in providing more torque at low to medium RPMs than conventional vehicles. Pressman does well in explaining the details about this feature, which alone should have prospective Model 3 owners excited. Tesla’s prior vehicles are admired for their speedy and nimble driving, and bringing that capability to the Model 3 helps explain the long reservation list.

Autonomous Driving

Tesla’s Autopilot feature has gained praise for its role in pushing the edges of driver assistance (as well as a fair amount of notoriety), and Pressman provides an overview of the levels of autonomy and underlying technologies. The Model 3 will include the hardware and software for Tesla’s self-driving technology, though customers of Tesla’s least expensive vehicle to date will have to pay to unlock the feature. A recent survey of Tesla owners indicates that while the vast majority understand the limits of the technology, the minority who believe Tesla cars can fully drive themselves can have serious consequences. With the Model 3 likely to outsell all previous Tesla cars combined, barring an expanded education push, the number of misinformed drivers putting too much faith in Autopilot could skyrocket.

For those who haven’t owned a PEV before, how to keep the 215-mile-range, all-electric car sufficiently charged is worth reading up on. As my colleague Sam Abuelsamid correctly anticipated, Model 3 owners (and all Tesla buyers who purchase a vehicle after January 1, 2017) won’t have unlimited use of the Supercharger network, but will be capped at around 400 kWh worth of free charging, with a pay-as-you-go model kicking in after that.

To supplement the Supercharger network, Tesla has been busy working with partners to build out its Destination Charging network. As pictured below, this network provides slightly above Level 2 (up to 16 kW) charging at hotels, parking garages, restaurants, and other locations across the United States.

Tesla’s Destination Charging Network

DestinationCharging

Source: Tesla Motors

Tesla will also be introducing a new type of glass in the Model 3 as the company continues to expand its research and development efforts to leverage the synergies with recently acquired SolarCity. There is justified enthusiasm surrounding the Model 3 and other more affordable PEVs coming out in the next 18 months. It will be interesting to see to what degree that excitement turns into growing sales.

 

Startups Mine Traffic Data to Drive City Efficiency

— November 2, 2016

Connected VehiclesThe traffic jam. It frustrates commuters, causes huge losses in productivity, and negatively affects air quality. This aggravating problem (and the often futile attempts to prevent it) dates back to the horse and buggy, and startups are now creating innovative analytics to better understand the causes of jams and developing services to increase the flow of vehicles.

Examining Intersections

RSM Traffic, based in Dublin, Ireland, focuses on collecting data from intersections within a city to enhance the effectiveness of traffic light timing. The company’s Simon platform analyzes the sensor data located at multiple intersections to create a network to better understand the interaction of traffic flows across locations.

Kathryn Mullins, Head of Strategic Partnerships at RSM, said the company uses radar to study the flow of vehicles, and its open software application programming interface (API) is data agnostic, enabling data collection from other sources such as city data repositories. Mullins said RSM’s target audience includes cities, commercial property owners, and media companies looking to get better data on the traffic flow around outdoor advertisements. RSM said Simon is not currently using data received from vehicle telematics systems, but the platform has the capability to accept data via dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), which would provide additional granularity in understanding driving routes.

Navigation Analysis

San Francisco, home to some of the worst traffic conditions in the United States, is also home to StreetLight Data. Founder and CEO Laura Schewel said the company uses data from relationships with in-car navigation system providers and mobile phone applications to understand the location and length of driving trips. Schewel said the company has anonymized data from millions of vehicles, which has been used to support nearly 200 transportation projects.

StreetLight Data aggregates location data on the origin and destination of trips, enabling retailers or city managers to understand where vehicles come from and where they go next. The mobile phone data is analyzed for the time and distance traveled in order to differentiate between driving and other trips such as biking or walking, according to Schewel. In October, the company announced a deal to integrate its Travel Metrics service into products from transportation modeling and forecasting software provider PTV Group.

StreetLight Data’s services are delivered via a web portal and has particular applications for the plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) market. Commercial property owners, charging networks, or utilities looking to find locations where PEV traffic is sufficiently dense can use StreetLight Data’s information to optimize the siting of charging infrastructure. The company can analyze trip data to find locations where PEV drivers are likely to need a charge based on where they live and common distances driven.

While the term big data may seem Orwellian to some, services like RSM Traffic and StreetLight Data will play a significant role in enabling smart cities to be safer and more livable by increasing the traffic flow and enabling the growth of emissions-free PEVs.

 

Rail Looks to Move the LNG Market

— September 13, 2016

Pipeline (2)The natural gas market in North America continues to have oversupply issues and a much lower price than other regional markets. Natural gas producers in Canada, Alaska, and other parts of the United States that are looking for new outlets for gas deposits may soon see new sales thanks to an old form of transportation—rail.

For the first time in decades, liquefied natural gas (LNG) is being used to power locomotives in the United States, and trains will soon begin delivering LNG by tanker for the first time. In June, the Florida East Coast Railway (FECR) began the first line in nearly 20 years to operate an LNG-diesel duel fuel train in the United States. The train runs between Jacksonville and Miami, and the company intends on converting all of its locomotives to dual-fuel setups.

Displacing Diesel

FECR is currently sourcing its engines from General Electric. Also offering LNG conversion kits to railway operators are manufacturers Energy Conversion, Inc. and EMD. Railroad operator BNSF is also testing LNG locomotives. The use of LNG in locomotives first began in the 1980s by Burlington Northern Railroad, but after several trials, engine conversion efforts lost steam, until efforts to put them back online returned just a few years ago.

The potential market for LNG as a rail fuel is considerable as diesel fuel consumed in the top 7 major freight railroads was about 7% (3.6 billion gallons) of the U.S. total diesel fuel consumption in 2012, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Supplying engines with LNG fuel while in operation requires the addition or modification of an LNG tender car. LNG tender manufacturers in North America include Westport Innovations of British Columbia and Chart Industries. The EIA expects that switching to cheaper LNG will more than repay the cost of converting the engine and tender car that holds the fuel.

Alternative to Pipelines

Rail is also being proposed as an alternative distribution mechanism to sometimes-contentious gas pipelines. The Alaska Railroad Corp. (ARRC) became the first rail agency to obtain approval from the Federal Railroad Authority (FRA) to transport LNG by rail tanker in October 2015. Transportation of LNG from where it is produced to interior markets in Alaska is likely to begin soon, and Union Pacific Railroad has similarly applied for permission to transport LNG in the lower 48. Specially designed LNG tanker cars are needed to store the fuel during transport, and new designs are currently in use in Japan and in Europe, where companies VTG and Chart Industries are collaborating.

LNG and oil pipelines continue to face opposition for their potential to endanger the environment that they pass through, so transporting LNG by rail could be a less objectionable method of distribution. Switching from diesel to natural gas also has environmental benefits. According to the EIA, natural gas produces 27.4% less CO2 than diesel when being burned.

Utilizing the railways for both delivery and consumption of LNG has inherent synergies, especially if the refueling depots and processing plants can be located near rail terminals. Until this market matures, some natural gas producers in Canada struggling to find options for exporting the abundance of natural gas are moving into the United States and Mexico in order to maintain growth.

 

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