Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Solving the EV Charging Dilemma

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EPRI research identifies the fundamental barriers to mainstream EV adoption and kickstarts collaborative solutions

In the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) most recent World Energy Outlook, a couple of technologies stood out for their unprecedented growth rates. Despite the lasting disruptions of the energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and lingering supply chain and economic challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, the IEA said that the rapid emergence of solar photovoltaics (PV) and electric vehicles (EVs) were quickly becoming a foundation of a new clean energy economy.

According to the IEA, one in 25 cars sold globally in 2020 was electric. By 2023, that number had risen to one in five cars. In the U.S., a similar story of rising demand for EVs has taken shape despite a rash of news stories about slowing demand. In each of the first three quarters of 2023, EV sales broke records, and annual sales were forecast to surpass one million for the first time ever. In California, one in four new car sales are now EVs, and the state beat its target of 1.5 million new EV sales almost two years early.

Rapid Growth, But Lots of Room for Improvement

While the IEA’s description of EV sales as “exponential” seems apt, it is also true that the brisk pace of adoption is not enough to achieve the federal government’s goal that 50 percent of all new vehicles sold in 2030 be EVs. What may also be surprising to some is the fact that although EV sales are continuously growing, we must sustain and expand adoption efforts significantly over many years because vehicles on the road have an average age of about 12.5 years (source).

Here’s why. There are five phases in the typical customer journey leading up to and following a purchase: awareness, familiarity, consideration, purchase, and loyalty. Even though EVs are a relatively new product, they have nearly universal awareness. According to a survey of new vehicle consumers, 94 percent were aware of EVs. Exactly half of consumers, 47 percent, who were aware of EVs took the next step and became familiar with EV options. Of the 47 percent who learned more about EVs, 33 percent considered purchasing an electrified car or truck. Only 1.5 percent ultimately decided to buy an EV.

“What’s unique with EVs is that awareness is very high, but the conversion rate is not,” said Watson Collins, an EPRI senior technical executive whose work focuses on electric transportation. “So, closing that gap becomes increasingly important as we are looking to create long-term and sustainable growth in EV adoption.” This matters to automakers producing EVs, but it also matters to policymakers eager to achieve ambitious decarbonization goals.

Energy companies seeking to engage customers about EVs can also benefit from a deeper understanding of the factors inhibiting purchases. Many companies currently focus on outreach and education about EVs, initiatives that are designed to raise awareness and promote EV familiarity. “If you only have so many dollars to spend to help increase adoption, how do you prioritize your focus?” Collins said. “This is a complicated vehicle purchase process, and it’s not a simple marketing fix of raising awareness and getting sales. You must identify the main barriers preventing consumers who are considering and investigating an EV from buying one and then use that knowledge to come up with solutions to overcome the barriers.”

How Can We Excite and Inspire EV Adoption?

EPRI is spearheading a root cause analysis to identify the underlying barriers to greater EV adoption. The analysis involved a comprehensive review of existing research about EV adoption barriers and multiple subject matter interviews. The result was an identification of six underlying barriers to widespread EV adoption.

The goal is to use these findings to inform key stakeholders and galvanize industry collaboration on solution-driven action items.

Tackling the Charging Familiarity Barrier

EPRI recently released the first of six white papers, each about the six systemic barriers to mainstream EV adoption. The papers provide in-depth descriptions and analysis of each barrier and prioritize actions to overcome them, including where EPRI is taking a leading role.

The first white paper focuses on the nettlesome charging issue at home and on the road. The research dug into the sources of charging unfamiliarity and found that it is rooted in six realms. 

From Diagnosis to Solutions

The purpose of identifying charging-related barriers is to kickstart efforts to address them. Prioritization of which barriers to tackle is also important, and EPRI’s research included assessing each of the six barriers on a five-point scale. The assessments were based on these factors:

Impact. A score of one meant that EV consumers would not experience a clear unmet need, while a score of five translated into a large group of potential EV buyers experiencing an unmet need.

Simplicity. A score of one indicated that potential EV customers would encounter challenges that a single stakeholder could solve. A score of five, however, indicated that multiple stakeholders would need to work together to solve the challenge.

Affordability. A score of one meant EV consumers would not face an additional financial burden due to the barrier. In contrast, a score of five indicated the barrier represented a significant financial burden.

Different EV stakeholders will attach varying levels of importance to each barrier to adoption. For example, price and payment complexity and connector confusion will be a significant concern to the providers of public fast chargers, while charger education and the variety of public charging options may be a higher priority for energy companies. While the report provides the results of EPRI’s scoring, different EV stakeholders can use the five-point scale to prioritize their own work addressing barriers.

What’s clear from the research is that no single entity can develop solutions to address all six barriers. Industry collaboration will be needed to provide ways to remove barriers preventing vehicle shoppers from choosing an EV. EPRI will be spearheading collaborative research focused on two barriers:

  • Variety of at-home charging practices. Addressing this barrier includes examining charging standards and also understanding that home charging isn’t always at a single-family dwelling. EPRI and members are exploring potential charging solutions for EV owners living in multi-family dwellings.
  • Price and payment complexities. EPRI is tapping its extensive study of public charging cost structures across the U.S., including collaboration with energy companies and technical experts.

“EPRI is already doing work in these spaces or has a body of work to build on,” said Mariela Arceo, an engineer scientist whose work focuses on electric transportation. “We have research looking at bringing charging to hard-to-reach places, like multi-family dwellings, and we are deeply engaged with the standards bodies. These are areas where it makes sense for EPRI to lead because they are barriers that score high and because we have insights and research that can help inform solutions.”

The collaborative research aimed at tackling barriers to EV adoption is part of a holistic strategy. Many stakeholders are engaged to help EVs deliver their maximum economic and environmental benefits to individual drivers, businesses, and society. This includes EVs2Scale, a three-year initiative launched earlier this year to coordinate and optimize the efforts of energy companies, regulators, charging providers, consumers, fleet operators, and EV manufacturers to achieve the 2030 goal that EVs constitute 50 percent of all new vehicle sales.

“Accelerating EV adoption is at the heart of all that we are doing, all that [EPRI’s Electric Transportation program], and EVs2Scale,” Collins said. “Together, these activities increase engagement with stakeholders in diverse segments of the industry. This activity is unique because it complements and expands these efforts by focusing on consumer drivers.”

EPRI Technical Experts:

Mariela Arceo, Watson Collins