Thought Leadership

Demystifying Charging with Data Will Expand the EV Market


By John Gartner

January 19, 2021

Since the “modern” era of electric vehicles (EVs) began in 2009, limited awareness of and access to charging have created real and perceived barriers to broad adoption. Put simply, drivers won’t get EVs until it’s easy, quick and cheap to charge them. The lack of comprehensive, real-world data is making it harder for government agencies, utilities, and entrepreneurs to determine when, where and how to cost-effectively build charging infrastructure.

We need charging infrastructure to meet climate goals

Without any additional incentives, sales of PEVs are expected to reach 2.4 million annually by 2030 in the U.S., according to projections from CSE’s Caret™ software platform. This total, which includes both battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), is less than half what is needed for the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 2005 levels by 2050 (known as the Mid-Century Strategy).

To reduce transportation’s impact on climate change, states are setting ambitious goals for electrifying the light-duty vehicle fleet. California, Massachusetts and New Jersey have announced plans to ban the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles beginning in 2035. For states to reach their goals, the current network of EV charging stations will need to greatly expand in cities and rural areas along commuting corridors and highways.

By 2030, $100 billion or more will be needed in charging infrastructure investments to meet the expected demand. This would likely require more than $35 billion in incentives, according to CSE’s analysis. Placing chargers, especially higher-power chargers, also requires investments in the electrical grid. Limited data makes it difficult to optimize these investments and weigh driver convenience against economic feasibility.

Better data will lead to better decisions

The sparse data available on PEV charging is either outdated, based on small regional studies, or siloed within organizations. Data is needed to illuminate the path to effectively and efficiently deploy investments in charging infrastructure. Without this data, we are driving in the dark.

A national database that aggregates charging data would help utilities, states, and entrepreneurs maximize the return on investment and avoid underutilized assets. This database would foster:

  • A more realistic view of PEV energy requirements across climates and regional driving patterns, which will allow automakers to right-size the batteries of future vehicle platforms
  • Creation of a 24/7 PEV load profile that will allow utilities to develop vehicle-to-grid projects that will better integrate renewable energy by storing excess energy in PEVs
  • Improved forecasts for power that utilities and grid planners can use to better plan (and in some cases defer) investment in the electricity grid
  • Increased visibility into electricity costs and charging revenue potential to better understand charging station economics

Due to the lack of charging data, operators of EV charging stations face significant uncertainty in estimating both operating costs and potential revenue. This has contributed to the slow growth in charging station development and charging gaps that discourage EV adoption.

Electricity is often 50% or more of the cost of operating a charging station. This is especially true for DC fast chargers, which provide power from 50 to 400 kW or more. Most utilities assess demand charges when power demand surpasses specified thresholds at any time during a month, which can make it impossible to operate an EV charging station at a profit.

Comprehensive data that accurately predicts the peaks in EV charging demand could help regulators and utilities design rates that more accurately reflect the overall system costs and benefits of higher power charging. Timely reports generated from this database would highlight trends in PEV power and energy consumption, enabling utilities to plan for or defer system upgrades, and the aggregated demand can even lower electricity costs for all customers.

We need to build on the first steps

When the U.S. Department of Energy funded EV charging infrastructure as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, the agency recognized the need to understand charging patterns and established the EV Project. Though limited in scope, this multi-year project was a keystone study that became an essential guide for policymakers and market participants. It set the stage for subsequent efforts, although most were regional in scope and only captured a small fraction of charging sessions, many of which occurred at residences, private companies, or at “dumb” charging stations without data tracking capabilities.

In recent years, utility regulatory agencies have considered or enacted rate program changes that affect PEVs and are responding to applications from utilities to fund chargers. To understand the implications of any changes, regulators have requested “one-off” data sets from charging networks and automakers. These data sets have been expensive to assemble and provide a limited picture. Utilities, which are increasingly funding or operating charging stations, are now capturing charger utilization data at their own locations, but this data is usually similarly incomplete and stored in proprietary databases. And, unlike the stations which stay in a fixed location, the vehicles travel between and within utility service territories, underscoring the need for a national database to support national travel.

When efforts to aggregate charging data began, no industry standard existed that would enable charging station operators to share data. We now have a solution to this challenge: the Open Charge Port Protocol  (OCPP). Charging networks such as Electrify America, Greenlots, EV Connect, SemaConnect, and many others are now using this protocol, which standardizes how data can be shared and increasingly allows PEV drivers to “roam” between networks using their charging network membership. An industry standard is a big step forward, but a shared database would turbocharge the value of the data being collected.

Now we need to fill in the gaps and protect privacy

The next step is to establish federal incentives to install networked chargers only, require data sharing as a condition of receiving funding, and establish a secure database.

In building a national database of charging activity, precautions are needed to protect individuals’ and businesses’ data. Any national charging database should be restricted from storing personally identifiable information (PII), as many PEV drivers would not want the locations where they charge to be tracked or shared. Charging network operators and individual station owners may not want the performance of a specific location to be disclosed, so the data would need to be aggregated to a sufficiently broad geography (e.g. zip code or county). Similarly, the database should preclude disclosing the performance of any individual charging network or company (for example, a chain of grocery stores or hotels), as some companies sell this type of data or view it as proprietary.

Data could be collected daily, and ideally would include information from commercial and residential charging equipment, plus data from PEVs’ telematics systems (stripped of any PII). Data from vehicles themselves is necessary to complete the charging picture since the vast majority of charging currently occurs at home, where an intelligent charging station that can share data is rarely in use.

A national charging database would provide benefits to policymakers, utilities, and entrepreneurs (and society by decarbonizing) that far outweigh the costs. First, stakeholders that provide data could receive monthly reports about the volume of charging regionally to compare themselves to industry averages. Second, they would understand vehicle charging requirements with much greater granularity to minimize their investments and maximize profits by more precisely anticipating the future needs of the PEV market. Finally, the macro trends in charging would be shared with the public, which would inform investors about the viability of the charging market and assure automakers that sufficient charging infrastructure exists for them to continue rapidly electrifying their vehicle programs.

A shared database of charging information will illuminate real costs and opportunities, demystify market risk, and spur an influx of capital, paving the way for the electric future of transportation. 

John Gartner

Senior Manager, EV Programs

John has been involved in sustainable transportation for nearly 20 years as an author, analyst, manager, and thought leader. He works with government, automotive, utility, and other clients on expanding the market for EVs and deploying charging infrastructure. He has written hundreds of articles on…

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