Navigant Research Blog

Data Analysis Key to Unlocking EV Demand

John Gartner — 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.

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