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Study finds households manage charging of PHEVs without help from online tools

Households with plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) and smart meters actively managed how, when and where they charged their cars based on electricity rates but rarely took advantage of online feedback, according to a two-year study by a team at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI).

The study, sponsored by Toyota Motor Sales USA with the integral partnership of Xcel Energy, is one of the only of its kind, combining both household and vehicle data in a smart-grid context.

A total of 142 smart-metered households were randomly selected to participate from among early volunteers for Boulder’s SmartGridCity project. Toyota loaned 28 Prius Plug-in Hybrid demonstration program vehicles to the study and Xcel Energy installed smart plugs in the garages of study households. Each household used the car for one nine-week period.

Households had access to two websites. One served as a nearly instantaneous meter of vehicle electricity consumption when the car was plugged in. The other website gave delayed feedback on overall household electricity use. Approximately 90% of the households looked at the websites only a few times or less. Some never looked at the websites.

Although households had access to online feedback on electricity use, we were surprised that most were not interested in using it to control their vehicle charging. However, households still actively managed their charging in other ways.

—Barbara Farhar, principal investigator and senior research associate at RASEI

Households created distinct methods of managing their vehicle charging based on personal preferences, pricing and convenience.

Initially, approximately half the households were randomly assigned to an “unmanaged” scenario, allowing PHV charging through their in-home smart plug at any time of day. The other half were randomly assigned to a “managed” scenario, which meant their smart plugs were initially programmed to charge only from 10 pm to 6 am daily.

Households were shown how to change their charging scenarios from “managed” to “unmanaged” or vice versa and were free to alter the scenarios in any way they wanted. Approximately half of the households had standard and the other half had time-of-use electricity rates.

Most of those with standard electricity rates preferred the “unmanaged” scenario, and most of those with time-of-use rates preferred the “managed” scenario, many using a “set it and forget it” approach. Quite a few found the time constraints of the “managed” scenario inconvenient.

Electricity pricing appeared to drive charging behavior and time cost or convenience was also very important. People loved not having to go to the gas station.

—Barbara Farhar

Other findings of the study included a high level of satisfaction among households with the car, but a low level of satisfaction with its electric-only range, about 14 miles of cruising from a full charge, which took three hours in a regular 110-volt outlet.

The PHEVs averaged 68 mpg (3.46 l/100 km) on gasoline and were used for an average of 3.2 trips per day. Altogether, the cars used 27 megawatt-hours of electricity. It was less expensive to drive on electricity as a fuel than gasoline, even when paying higher on-peak electricity rates, according to an Xcel Energy analysis.

Some households charged at locations other than home. Using data from the vehicles, study investigators are continuing to look into where and when away-from-home charging took place.

The two-year study also allowed Toyota to test the PHVs in the Colorado environment including high altitudes, temperature extremes and mountainous terrain.

The RASEI study demonstrates the importance of testing new technologies with real customers in everyday circumstances. The results are often unexpected but help us understand the needs of potential customers and how to successfully introduce advanced technologies to the market.

—Bill Reinert, Toyota advanced technology vehicle national manager

Dragan Maksimovic, CU-Boulder professor of electrical, computer and energy engineering, was the study’s co-principal investigator. Alison Peters, managing director of the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship at CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business, was the senior manager.

RASEI is a joint venture with the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.



The refusal to micro-manage the charging suggests that the cognitive load of dealing with the planning and setting is too high.  Perhaps a smart-phone app would be better:
Car app:  "Are you going out again tonight?"
Human:  "No."
Car app:  "Very well, I'll defer recharging until late.  I estimate your savings as 70 yen.  You have saved 1445 yen this month."


Yes, and maybe the desire to micro-manage something as simple as charging the car battery is no greater than the urge to micro-manage the charging of their cell phone batteries.

When I have an EV, I would want a system to prevent leaving the car in the garage, driveway or street, not fully charged and not on the charger - because I jumped out thinking I would plug it in in a minute (or just flat forgot).

Mildly insistent alarms, in the car, the house and my phone would remind me that I might just be too stupid to even own a car.

It would also be nice (and simple) to have "WiFi like" detection of chargers. I would like to know from "blocks or miles away" where active, unoccupied public chargers were located, and help me home in on them.

I do NOT want to pay for some inductive charger that works only at one exact spot only at home and only if someone did not obstruct my sacred parking spot.

I do NOT want to pay for some inductive charger that works only at one exact spot only at home and only if someone did not obstruct my sacred parking spot.
Goodness, however do you deal with gas pumps?


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