A recent study by Fleetcarma analyzed EV charging behavior today and compared it to 5 years ago. Using data from 3,900 EV drivers, it found that electric cars today with larger battery packs charge less often — there is less need to plug in every day if a car has a range of 200 miles or more — but the average amount of electricity used in each session is double what it was in prior years.
Much of the basis for this shift can be attributed to Tesla. The massive success of that company’s models, especially the mass-market Model 3, has dramatically altered statistics regarding the average battery size of electric cars. 5 years ago, the Nissan LEAF with its 24 kWh battery, was the norm. Today, the Model 3 battery is three times larger and is responsible for ~65% of all new EV sales in the USA.
The upshot is that while the average charging session time is about the same now as it was then — 3 to 3.5 hours — the amount of electricity supplied per session is more than double — 17.959 kWh versus 9.011 kWh. Similarly, the average current draw in each session is also about double — 9.74 kW versus 4.54 kWh.
Impact On Utilities
Fleetcarma says the lesson the utility industry should draw from its study is that higher power charging sessions will become more common as electric cars with larger and larger batteries come on the market. The Rivian R1T and R1S electric vehicles coming in a year or so will feature enormous 180 kWh batteries. Ford and GM are planning electric pickup trucks that will need massive batteries to compete with gasoline and diesel powered models.
The biggest challenge, Fleetcarma warns, will be in neighborhoods where several EVs with large batteries all charge at the same time from one transformer. Utilities really have two choices — smart grid technology that manages demand on a second-by-second basis, shifting loads from one location to another in real time — or time of use pricing.
The data compiled by Fleetcarma suggests EV owners respond strongly to off-peak pricing signals. As soon as the lower rates kick in, charging activity spikes. Time-of-use strategies may be less costly for utilities to implement, but it seems demand response technology could be vital as well.
If there are 10 EVs in a neighborhood that need to be charged and ready to go at 8 am, there is no reason they all have to charge together from midnight to 3 am. EV chargers that are networked together over the internet could easily adjust charging parameters — start/stop times and current draw — so everybody has a full battery in time for the morning commute without the need to upgrade grid resources.
The Fleetcarma study is couched in terms of a warning to utility companies that electric cars are going to require expensive upgrades to the distribution infrastructure. In reality, utilities could head off the emergency by helping EV owners acquire smart home charging equipment. No need to run and tell the king. With a few intelligent strategies, the EV revolution can move forward without crashing the grid.
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