From cost to range, electric vehicle drivers approach charging differently

Understanding how EV driving behaviour differs from owning and driving internal combustion vehicles will ensure we don't slow down the EV transition.

As the electric vehicle transition continues to grow, so too does the need to understand how EV owning and driving behaviours differ from/are similar to those for the internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV).  

To this end, a recently published paper from the University of Melbourne on Australian EV charging behaviour has shed some light on the different approaches EV drivers take for charging their vehicles.

Strangely enough, they found there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model for how people approach their charging needs. In fact, the researchers defined five segments of EV users with distinct charging preferences, these being:

Cost sensitive planners

Making up around 27% of all EV users, this group favours charging at regular times rather than following the battery level closely. For this group, cost is a major defining factor for their charging decisions. Cost sensitive planners were described as using routine as their main charging cue and thereby avoiding leaving charging decisions to the last minute.

Cost sensitive calculated

Similar in size to the above group, this cohort’s charging decisions were also found to be primarily driven by cost saving. Unlike cost sensitive planners though, cost sensitive calculators are more willing to plan their charging events around the cheapest tariffs in conjunction with their battery SoC (State of Charge). As such they may charge at different times or even days – again unlike cost sensitive planners who primarily use their regular time/s of charging as their cue to recharge.

Range seekers

Making up around 19% of EV drivers, this group has no fixed preferences for charging costs or battery SoC, putting equal or higher value on convenience over charging cost. They also tend to weigh cost and charging speed equally. More than 50% of people in this group were found to be in the highest income bracket, which the researchers suggested perhaps justified this group’s reduced emphasis on cost in their charging decisions.

Flexibility seekers

Flexibility seekers were described as following the battery level closely instead of using routine and/or opportunity cues. Approximately 18.5% of those surveyed were classified into this group. Flexibility seekers were found to be more likely to charge at different times of the day and make on-the-go charging decisions. While home charging was still their preferred option, this group had the highest share of people who prefer destination and fast charging to the other identified groups.

Indifferent late adopters

This group was the smallest at 8% of respondents. They showed no specific preferences for charging time or place. It was suggested by the researchers that this sort of charging behaviour indicated a potential desire for EV charging to be similar to current ICEV refuelling practices.

So what can we make of this?

First-up – as EV ownership spreads from a small minority to become the norm, EV charging decisions will come to more accurately reflect the general population’s approach to decisions in general.

When it comes to the ICEV, we already know that some people refuel on the way to work at a particular fuel station on a certain day they consider cheapest, whilst others will alter that pattern to account for when the cost per litre is at its absolute cheapest – with neither of these groups taking much notice of the fuel level when they refuel (provided it isn’t about to run out!). Others will only refuel an ICEV when they absolutely have to, irrespective of price.

So in that regard, as EV ownership becomes a majority thing, charging behaviour will tend towards what the general public have always done – but with a twist. EV ‘refuelling’ happens at different places and times. Recharging happens at your destination and can most easily be done at home.

This means that the various old patterns will re-establish themselves in ways that reflect these new norms.

One implication of this research is that simple models for encouraging people to charge at the times that work best to support the grid do not apply to every EV driver. (If they ever did).

Another implication is that rolling out EV charging networks based on simple or single models of how it is assumed people want to charge could result in ‘less than wonderful’ charging (and general EV) experiences for others.  

Together, these add up to planning the energy transition and marrying policy with the EV transition is more than a simple model to encourage EV owners to charge at off-peak times through tariff pricing now, or the use of smart charging when it becomes available.

Some people won’t care about price, others won’t be engaged enough to ensure a regular time of charging. Others still will simply avoid the use of smart chargers and stick to plug-in (Mode 2) chargers.

Nor are some EV drivers ever going to be clued into EV tariff choices or smart charger control settings even if they install a Mode 3 smart charger. As a result, electricity retailers and regulatory authorities will need to develop multiple ways of fitting in with people’s charging and decision making behaviours if they want to maximise the benefit of EVs to the grid.

A second issue is that EV charging provision (and associated support policies) will need to reflect the different ways people approach EV charging.

For instance, simply assuming there is no point in installing DC charge stations in suburban areas as ‘everyone’ charges at home or at work may be disenfranchising a certain group of potential EV users – who then choose to not buy an EV as a result.

All-in-all, the take-home message from this research is that to not account for the variety of human behaviour patterns in EV transition policy and planning may in fact end up being a good way of slowing the EV transition.

This article was first published by The Driven. You can read the original article here.

Bryce Gaton
March 3, 2024
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