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To boost EV adoption, add a lot of charging stations and a few gas-powered backup cars

It's all about convenience: MIT researchers identify strategies that increase electrification by fitting it into people’s existing lifestyles
January 28, 2021

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They are zippy, stealthy, and can look cool, but electric cars won’t convert more car-buyers unless the drivers’ anxiety of running out of charge can be eliminated. A new study now explores how a couple key infrastructure changes and support strategies could help overcome this range anxiety barrier and get more EVs on the road

Making charging more convenient by installing overnight public charging stations in residential neighborhoods and high-speed charging stations along highways would vastly boost EV adoption, Jessica Trancik and her colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found. And easy access to an extra long-range vehicle—whether through rental, commercial car-sharing service or an additional car at home—for a handful of days a year could also have a big impact.

Of course another factor that limits the purchase of electric cars is their high sticker price. But Trancik’s team has also recently released data in an interactive online tool showing on how EVs can be green and save some green. After crunching numbers on the lifetime cost of nearly every new car model, the researchers have found that battery-electric models have the lowest cost and emissions.

The range of many affordable EVs isn’t high enough yet to meet the needs of users on high-driving days, they say in the new Nature Energy paper. These days might happen just a few times a year, but they still impede people’s willingness to go electric. Past studies have examined how expanding charging infrastructure and supplementary vehicles might help.

The MIT team wanted to identify strategies that increase electrification by fitting into people’s existing lifestyles. So they started by understanding in detail people’s travel patterns and related energy needs on a daily and annual basis in the Seattle area and the US as a whole. They used data collected from GPS systems in cars, as well as surveys about people’s daily driving habits and needs.

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Overall, home charging plays a pivotal role in electrification, meeting the charging needs of 12 percent of vehicles in Seattle, assuming a lower-cost Nissan Leaf with a 40 kilowatt-hour battery (150-mile range). Adding workplace charging could meet the needs of 14 percent of these vehicles.

The number increased dramatically to 41 percent with the availability of fast charging for highway trips. And it soared to above 80 percent when access to supplementary vehicles for up to 10 days was added as an option.

This suggests that access to auxiliary vehicles on a few days per year could be as effective in increasing EVs on the road as fast-charging or higher battery capacity. Even though these fossil fuel-powered backup cars would result in emissions, they would still save emissions overall by supporting vehicle electrification, the researchers write. Car companies could even provide car rentals or partner with rental services to boost their EV model sales, they suggested in a press release.

The results were similar for the broader US data, although the average energy needs for vehicles were lower in the dense, urban Seattle metro area than across the US. The team suggests that work charging might be more effective in increasing EV acceptance in less dense urban areas or rural areas, although more research is needed to prove this.

In the paper, the researchers also present a few different strategy combinations to help guide policymakers and companies that are supporting vehicle electrification. The Biden administration aims to push the construction of 500,000 public charging stations to boost EV sales and create jobs.

Source: Wei Wei et al. Personal vehicle electrification and charging solutions for high-energy days. Nature Energy, 2021.

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