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Public EV Charging Not The Best Way To Stimulate EV Revolution

Originally published on EV Obsession.

Editor’s Note: Aside from home‐based electric vehicle (EV) charging, incentives and practices spurring EV adoption that have worked very well include access to HOV or bus lanes, free access to toll roads, and simply getting more butts in electric cars (through EV events, carsharing and rental car programs, and simple word of mouth, for example).

Having good access to home‐based electric vehicle (EV) charging could go a good ways further towards spurring EV adoption than having access to more public charging infrastructure, according to recent research from the Simon Fraser University Faculty of Environment.

The research — headed by Jonn Axsen, an SFU School of Resource and Environmental Management professor, and graduate students Joseph Bailey and Amy Miele — also found that awareness of public chargers apparently “has little impact on consumers’ interest in electrical vehicles.”

ev charging

“When we account for the relevant factors, our analysis suggests that the relationship between public charger awareness and plug‐in electric vehicle demand is weak or non‐existent,” stated Axsen. “In other words, the installation of public chargers might not be the best way to encourage growth in the electric vehicle market.” (Author’s note: Obviously, that’s not to say that public chargers aren’t useful for existing owners, and shouldn’t be installed.)

“This finding is particularly relevant for British Columbia, which recently announced that it will revive the Clean Energy Vehicle Program, a program that supports the adoption of vehicles powered by electricity and other alternative fuels. The provincial government has yet to announce how renewal funds will be spent.”


Here’s an explanation of the methodology used by the researchers:

The study collected information from a representative sample of 1739 new vehicle buying households in Canada, with 536 from British Columbia. Respondents were asked about awareness of public charging in their region, and about their overall interest in purchasing a plug‐in electric vehicle, such as a Chevrolet Volt or Nissan Leaf.

The data showed that British Columbia’s Clean Energy Vehicle program — which installed almost 500 public chargers when the survey was conducted in 2013 — was largely successful in increasing charger awareness. Almost one‐third of British Columbian respondents had seen at least one public charger, compared to only 13% of respondents in the rest of the country.

However, that awareness didn’t necessarily translate into increased plug‐in electric vehicle interest. The study found that future buyers are far more likely to be attracted to plug‐in hybrid vehicles, such as the Chevrolet Volt, which can be powered by both gasoline and electricity.

“Since cars such as the Chevy Volt don’t rely only on electricity, potential buyers aren’t concerned about public charging,” stated Bailey. “People can just recharge at home, and then drive wherever they want on any given day. The good news is that about two‐thirds of car buyers already have some type of charging access at home.”

“Given what we’ve seen here, it seems wise for governments to focus their money on incentives other than public electric vehicle chargers,” commented Axsen. “We know that purchase rebates can spark consumer interest, and we’ve shown that home charging is important. In combination with the implementation of a Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate like California’s, these measures could be the biggest boosters of electric vehicle sales.”

Hmm…. While I won’t say that I disagree, I think that there are some over-generalizations being made here. I don’t think that the implications of these findings can be stretched out in a linear fashion indefinitely — if, for example, public charging stations were ubiquitous, there could be a sea change in all-electric interest.

The research was published in Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment.

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Written By

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.


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