e-mobility NSR conference – some more notes

April 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

leaf chargingAnd some more notes from the e-mobility NSR conference last week. There’s a cluster of EV-related activity going on in the psychology department at Oxford Brookes University – linked to the Mini E and the government’s Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle trials – and Dr Mark Burgess & team have been looking at the barriers to EV adoption. They’re working on “the most comprehensive psychological study of EV drivers in the largest multi-vehicle, multi-location trial in the world”, and recent papers include this one. Some take-outs from Burgess’ presentation at the conference:

  • Research involved 352 drivers, 14 million individual trips, 15,000 charging ‘events, and questionnaires/interviews pre-trial, at one week and at three months. The drivers were 212 private, 140 corporate, with a mean age of 46 and 76% male.
  • EV drivers are generally car enthusiasts, are interested in new tech and ‘being among the first’ to adopt it, want to test the practicalities, and are interested in protecting the environment and in saving costs.
  • Drivers of ‘pool’ cars had the same motivations as the private drivers if they identified with their corporation’s green agenda.
  • Pre-trial, they thought adaptation to driving an EV would be easy, at 3 months they said it was easy, and had been easier than they expected. Most  participants found their EV quick with a sufficient top speed and fun to drive; ‘milk float’ stereotypes were overcome.
  • Word of mouth and personal interactions were important in bridging the gap in ‘cultural meanings’.
  • Regen braking was seen as positive, and preferentially used; drivers liked the displays, but didn’t know how much energy they were actually regenerating and how this was extending range.
  • Range remained a big issue – though most thought this was fine for them, they thought it would be a problem for others.
  • Their routines didn’t change but their ‘cognitive load’ was higher – they thought about range even when they practically didn’t need to.
  • Typical trips for private users were around 5 miles, with weekly mileages of about 100 miles; as time went on, distance between charges (their comfort zone) increased and they could get by on charging once a week.
  • The ‘primary adaptations’ were good – initially getting used to the vehicle – but there was a slower degree of ‘secondary adaptation’ – i.e. really challenging the range. People mainly used the EVs for routine trips at first. The ‘secondary adapters’ drove further, and went further between charges, and had a higher level of ‘expertise’, but still didn’t know much about how the regen braking supplemented range.
  • Price, maintenance, support and resale values were all identified as further issues at the end of the trial – but participants were positive.
  • The researchers recommend changes to training of drivers – particularly the fleet drivers – to take them out of their range comfort zone; more accurate feedback on the regen braking and how this extends range; and focus on the ‘wider cultural meanings’ of EVs to bridge the gap between early-adopters and mainstream buyers.
  • There’s more about all of the above in the full report for the Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Demonstrator Programme. And here’s an earlier paper on attitudes and sterotypes of EVs from the Oxford team.

And feedback from the Evalu8 project (based at University of Hertfordshire) which has been running the Plugged-In Places EV infrastructure programme in the East of England. Dr Keith Bevis reported that:

  • the rate of buying/using EVs is nowhere near meeting the earlier expectations, with predictions for take-up now more conservative; by mid-2013 there were still only around 4000 in the UK, though we are now up to about 7000 (not counting DIY conversions).
  • Range anxiety is high on the list of concerns before people get to drive an EV, along with cost, and a lack of information.
  • Figures from British Gas saw 59% of charging at home, 32% at work and just 9% at public points, with a lack of residential access to charging points in urban areas a problem; workplace charging needs to be implemented.

His colleague Russell Fenner added:

  • the reassurance of having a network of public chargers available is important when buying, and the practicalities of using this (ie via RFID cards, being able to charge across different networks) is important to people.
  • It is important to see how charging (financially) for charging point use will impact on the market – their feedback from existing owners sees people who have EVs already as not bothered about the changes (perhaps because they’re not using the public infrastructure much anyway – my note), but those who have not got an EV yet see the rising costs as an obstacle.
  • The visibility of the charging infrastructure is important, and seeing it in use.
  • There is an observed big gap and difference between the existing EV drivers/early-adopters and the mass market in terms of perception of the infrastructure, but there is a lot of support from the early-adopters – they are prepared to put up with glitches in a way that others might not.
  • We need to look at bridging the gap; Evalu8 has been doing projects ie funding trials with companies, working with car clubs, trying to extend chance to drive an EV – and has found that once people have tested one, they’re more likely to be interested in buying one.
  • But e-scooters, e-bikes also have a role in encouraging e-mobility in general, attitudes towards e-cars.
  • Conclusion: there’s a need to understand the dynamic between actual needs for infrastructure vs the perceptions of it, and ways to get people into EVs (for testing) are important for take-up.
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