Transportation | Ecotrope

A Million Charges Later, Some Electric Car Trends

Ecotrope | Oct. 15, 2012 6:49 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:29 p.m.

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ECOtality now has data from 1 million electric car charging events. What does that data show about electric car driving behavior?

ECOtality now has data from 1 million electric car charging events. What does that data show about electric car driving behavior?

Mass-market electric cars are still pretty new on the scene, and there are a lot of companies interested in how drivers are going to use them. How far will they drive every day? Where and when will they charge them? Can businesses use charging stations to lure new EV-driving customers?

Well, the electric car-charging company ECOtality has teamed up with Idaho National Lab, among other partners, to answer some of those questions with $230 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Energy. They’re using charging-station data to document how electric vehicle drivers use their cars in a program they call the EV Project since 2009.

In exchange for a free charging station at home, participants in the program agree to share the data that comes from the charging station. The program is tracking 470 Leaf drivers and 85 Volt drivers in Oregon and 8,300 drivers nationwide. The participating cars recently reached the 1 million charge mark.

According Steve Schey, director of Stakeholder Services for ECOtality, that’s enough charges to provide the outline of some trends in the behavior or electric car drivers. So far, he said, Oregon Volt drivers are driving more than Leaf drivers and charging their cars more often. Drivers of both cars in Oregon are slowly increasing the number of daily miles they drive. And retailers are noticing differences in the shopping behavior of EV drivers compared with their other customers.

6 Electric Car Trends

1. Volt drivers are driving more than the Leaf drivers.

In Oregon, Volt drivers are driving an average of 9 miles a day more than Leaf drivers. Leaf drivers are driving an average of 28.7 miles per day, while Volt drivers drive 37.5 miles per day on average.

2. Volt drivers charge their cars more often than Leaf drivers.

Nationally, the average Volt driver charges 1.8 times a day, while the average Leaf driver charges up 1.1 times per day.

“The Volt driver wants to drive as much as possible on the battery rather than the gas,” he said. “They’re subject to a new phenomenon people are calling gas anxiety.”

3. EV drivers are charging their cars away from home more often.

When the EV Project started in Oregon, participants were doing 94 percent of their charging at home. That number has dropped to 83 percent as of June of this year. So, EV drivers in Oregon are charging their cars away from home 17 percent of the time. That’s above the average of 12 percent for all regions in the program.

“As people become more familiar and public infrastructure becomes more available, people are starting to use it more,” said Schey. “We can see that in most of the locations and we measure that in terms of recognizing when people charge at home and when they charge away from home.”

4. Electric car drivers are slowly increasing the number of miles they drive every day.

In Oregon, daily mileage for electric car drivers is up from 23.4 miles between charges to 26.2 miles since the project began.

5. EV drivers stay longer, shop more often at stores with charging stations.

Schey said preliminary reports show a difference in shopping behavior between EV drivers and other customers. They may stay longer in stores because their car is charging outside, he said.

“The large retailers keep track of their customers,” he said. “They know how long their customers will stay in their stores. And they found that EV drivers are more likely to return more often than other customers if they have a charging station in front of their location.”

6. If electricity is cheaper at night, they charge their cars at night

Schey said in San Francisco, the program is testing a theory that dropping the price of electricity late at night would help shift drivers’ behavior and relieve stress on the power grid during the day. Indeed, he said, there is a noticeable jump in the number of drivers charging their cars during the off-peak hours when electricity is cheaper.

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