Majority of Consumers Ready to Consider Buying Plug-in Electric Vehicles

But an accompanying report concludes that consumer preferences for charging PEVs could increase the cost and complexity of managing the electricity grid and charging infrastructure.

‘Plug-in electric vehicles: changing perceptions, hedging bets’, a study of over 7000 people in 13 countries, found that 60 percent of consumers would consider buying a PEV for their next car purchase. 68 percent would probably or certainly do so within the next three years (23 percent certainly, 45 percent probably). Respondents in China are by far the most enthusiastic, 96 percent of them probably or certainly considering a purchase in the next three years.

Consumers’ preferences for charging PEVs, however, could challenge utilities and charging service providers by increasing grid congestion and peak time electricity demand.

Two thirds (67 percent) of consumers are not willing to let charge point operators limit when they can charge their PEV. A further 20 percent would only accept limits if they fell within time periods they had chosen. This would reduce the scope to manage electricity demand and avoid grid congestion.

62 percent would reject battery swapping, where empty batteries are quickly replaced at service stations for fully charged ones, preferring to plug in their car to recharge the battery. This could limit the opportunity for charging off peak, when battery swapping companies would most likely refuel batteries.

55 percent would only plug in their PEV when they need to charge up, rather than whenever they park. This behavior could result in less predictable charging patterns and could reduce the demand for public charging infrastructure.

Consumers would also need more supportive charging infrastructure in order to adopt fully electric PEVs. Only 29 percent of car drivers would buy fully electric PEVs. 71 percent would prefer plug-in hybrid EVs (PHEVs), which run on gasoline / diesel once the battery runs low. 85 percent say fully electric PEVs have insufficient battery range to cover their daily driving needs. But 83 percent cite the insufficient availability of charging points and 70 percent think charging times for full plug-in EVs are too long.

“As drivers get behind the wheel, they may become more open to fully electric vehicles and battery swapping services. But denser charging networks and fast charging units will be required if utilities want to drive up demand for all plug-in electric vehicles,” said Matias Alonso, global managing director, Utilities, Accenture. “The uncertain demand for plug-in electric vehicles and their impact on the grid means that energy providers must choose between running the risk of network overload and the need for large infrastructure investment, or early deployment of smart technologies that proactively manage local electricity demand and supply.”

Cost not the only factor of adoption

The fuel source of electricity is important to car drivers. 80 percent would want to know the source of the electricity used to charge their car. 45 percent say that the fuel source would have an impact on their decision to buy a PEV. Of these, 85 percent would be encouraged to buy a PEV if the fuel source was renewable. Nuclear and fossil fuel generated electricity would discourage 48 and 51 percent respectively from buying a PEV.

The cost of PEVs is not currently the only key factor of adoption. 51 percent of consumers would be motivated to buy a PEV for their next purchase if the total running cost was lower than for a conventional vehicle. More important, however, would be the availability of charging points (63 percent) and the battery range being equal to a full tank of a conventional car (53 percent).

When asked what incentives would encourage them to switch to a PEV, 65 percent of respondents cite free parking, 44 percent point to toll discounts and 43 percent to the availability of priority lanes as potential incentives.

“The cost of buying and running plug-in electric vehicles will be a major factor determining take up, but city authorities and energy providers will have to motivate drivers in non-financial ways if they are to push up adoption,” said Matias Alonso. “Stimulating demand for plug-in electric vehicles at the lowest possible cost to investors and taxpayers will require the public and private sectors to segment the market and offer a range of non financial incentives. For instance, young urban drivers may be attracted by the availability of parking concessions and the guarantee of renewable fuel sources.”

Competition for charging services

Utilities may face strong competition in the charging services market. When asked who they would prefer to buy charging services from, 79 percent put utilities in their top three choices. 71 percent listed gas/ diesel service stations in their top three. Retailers and local governments fare less well on 51 and 48 percent respectively. The vast majority of car drivers would want to pay as they charge, as they do for fuel today, requiring utilities to consider changes to their revenue and billing systems if they are to service the market.

Recommendations for energy utilities

1) Reach consumers through commercial alliances with automotive distributors: this will help monitor local demand for PEVs and their impact on infrastructure. It will also give them advantaged access to new customers as they purchase PEVs.

2) Optimize infrastructure through collaboration with distribution network operators (DNOs): This includes investing in smart charging to automate charging at times and speeds optimal to the grid and generation capacity. Utilities should also use analytics to exploit consumer usage to better determine patterns of demand and supply.

3) Engage consumers through market segmentation: Target customer groups with different offers to increase margins as adoption rises. Utilities should also ensure the focus of PEV pilots covers the customer experience as well as technology issues.