Study Finds Smart Charging Won’t Increase Electric Vehicle Adoption

Imagine charging your electric vehicle with a hybrid solar-wind powered charging station.

As the wind blows (or the sun shines) you could recharge your ride in a way that supports renewable electricity and reap the cost-savings.  Consumers would love it and electric vehicle adoption would take off.

A new study by professor Jonn Axsen, of SFU’s School of Resource and Environmental Management, reveals that smart charging isn’t likely to fuel sales.

“There are a lot of theories about how great smart charging, or vehicle-to-grid integration, might be,” says Axsen, “but after examining the literature we found the models weren’t representing actual human behaviour.”

The study, published last month in Nature, examined consumer behaviour related to smart charging—in which consumers recharge their electric vehicles in a way that supports renewable electricity, such as using wind- or solar-power suppliers.

The study used data gleaned from a representative survey of 1,700 electric-vehicle-buying households across Canada.

“It was a very in-depth survey, with people completing three parts over several weeks, providing background on their vehicles and keeping a travel diary to collect their driving information,” says Axsen. “There were also choice exercises in which people told us whether they would buy electric vehicles and enroll in a smart-charging program under different conditions.”

The researchers then statistically analyzed this data to develop several models representing consumer purchasing decisions, their willingness to enroll in a smart-charging program, and whether the savings for power suppliers and consumers would be worthwhile. To provide a comparison, they simulated the impacts on electricity grids in B.C. and Alberta.

The results were surprising. It turns out smart charging isn’t the game changer that pundits had predicted it might be.

Cost savings from smart charging amounted to between a one-half and one-per-cent-cut in overall energy prices—or about $50 to $100 per electric vehicle each year.

“The true novelty of this study,” says Axsen, “is that once you talk to real people, you discover that vehicle-to-grid integration is helpful but it won’t save the day in terms of reducing transition costs. Smart charging is not likely to increase electric vehicle adoption.”

Last month the Government of Canada announced a $4.3 million investment in the province of British Columbia aimed at expanding electric vehicle charging and refuelling infrastructure.