NRC report recommends ways to overcome barriers hindering purchases of PEVs; vehicle cost, battery tech and consumer knowledge among others
Vehicle cost, current battery technology, and inadequate consumer knowledge are some of the barriers preventing widespread adoption of plug-in electric vehicles, according to a new congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council. Developing less expensive, better performing batteries is essential to reducing overall vehicle cost, and a market strategy is needed to create awareness and overcome customer uncertainty, the report finds. The report recommends a range of incentives that the federal government can offer to address these and other barriers.
The premise of the report—“Overcoming Barriers to Deployment of Plug-in Electric Vehicles”—is that there is a benefit to the United States if a higher fraction of vehicle miles traveled is fueled by electricity rather than by petroleum due to the resulting reduction in dependence on petroleum and reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases and criteria pollutants. The task of the committee of experts and stakeholders writing the report was (1) to identify market barriers slowing the purchase of PEVs and hindering the deployment of supporting infrastructure in the United States and (2) to recommend ways to mitigate those barriers.
The report focused on battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, categorizing them into four classes based on their all-electric range: long-range and limited-range battery electric vehicles; range-extended plug-in hybrid electric vehicles; and minimal plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.
|Four Classes of Plug-in Electric Vehicles|
|PEV Class||Description||Example (AER)|
|Long-range BEV||Can travel hundreds of miles on a single battery charge and then be refueled in a time that is much shorter than the additional driving time that the refueling allows.||2014 Tesla Model S|
(265 mi/491 km)
|Limited-range BEV||Is made more affordable than the long-range BEV by reducing the size of the high-energy battery. Its limited range can more than suffice for many commuters, but it is impractical for long trips.||2014 Nissan Leaf|
(84 mi/156 km)
2014 Ford Focus Electric (76 mi/141 km)
|Range-extended PHEV||Typically, operates as a zero-emission vehicle until its battery is depleted, whereupon an ICE turns on to extend its range.||2014 Chevrolet Volt|
(38 mi/70 km; total range = 380 mi/704 km)
|Minimal PHEV||Its small battery can be charged from the grid, but its AER is much less than the average daily US driving distance.||2014 Toyota Plug-in Prius|
(6-11 mi/11-20 km); total range = 540 mi/1001 km)
Despite the notion that range limitation is a problem for plug-in electric vehicles, the total range for each class—except for the limited-range battery electric vehicle—is similar to that of a conventional vehicle using one tank of gas, the report noted.
The purchase of a new vehicle is typically a lengthy process that often involves substantial research and is strongly affected by consumer perceptions. In evaluating the purchase process for PEVs specifically, the committee identified several barriers—in addition to the cost differences between PEVs and ICE vehicles—that affect consumer perceptions and their decision process and ultimately (negatively) their purchase decisions. The barriers include the limited variety of PEVs available; misunderstandings concerning the range of the various PEVs; difficulties in understanding electricity consumption, calculating fuel costs, and determining charging infrastructure needs; complexities of installing home charging; difficulties in determining the greenness of the vehicle; lack of information on incentives; and lack of knowledge of unique PEV benefits.
Collectively, the identified barriers indicate that consumer awareness and knowledge of PEV offerings, incentives, and features are not as great as needed to make fully informed decisions about whether to purchase a PEV. Furthermore, many factors contribute to consumer uncertainty and doubt about the viability of PEVs and create a perceptual hurdle that negatively affects PEV purchases. Together, the barriers emphasize the need for better consumer information and education that can answer all their questions. Consumers have traditionally relied on dealers to provide vehicle information; however, in spite of education efforts by some manufacturers, dealer knowledge of PEVs has been uneven and often insufficient to address consumer questions and concerns. The committee does acknowledge, however, that even well-informed consumers might not buy a PEV because it does not meet some of their basic requirements for a vehicle (that is, consumer information and education cannot overcome the absence of features desired by a consumer).—“Overcoming Barriers to Deployment of Plug-in Electric Vehicles”
The study found that the home is the most important location for charging infrastructure, followed by the workplace, in and around cities, and, least important, on interstates. The vehicle fleet spends a vast majority of time parked at home, and most early adopters of plug-in vehicles satisfy their charging needs there.
Charging at workplaces—where vehicles are also parked for a substantial amount of time—provides an additional opportunity to encourage plug-in vehicle adoption and increase the amount of miles fueled by electricity.
The report issues a number of recommendations across a range of areas; together, these are:
As the United States encourages the adoption of PEVs, it should continue to pursue in parallel the production of US electricity from increasingly lower carbon sources.
The federal government and proactive states should use their incentives and regulatory powers to (1) eliminate the proliferation of plugs and communication protocols for DC fast chargers and (2) ensure that all PEV drivers can charge their vehicles and pay at all public charging stations using a universally accepted payment method just as any ICE vehicle can be fueled at any gasoline station.
To provide accurate consumer information and awareness, the federal government should make use of its Ad Council program, particularly in key geographic markets, to provide accurate information about federal tax credits and other incentives, the value proposition of PEV ownership, and who could usefully own a PEV.
The federal government should continue to sponsor fundamental and applied research to facilitate and expedite the development of lower cost, higher performing vehicle batteries. Stable funding is critical and should focus on improving energy density and addressing durability and safety.
The federal government should fund research to understand the role of public charging infrastructure (as compared with home and workplace charging) in encouraging PEV adoption and use.
Federal and state governments should adopt a PEV innovation policy where PEVs remain free from special roadway or registration surcharges for a limited time to encourage their adoption.
Local governments should streamline permitting and adopt building codes that require new construction to be capable of supporting future charging installations.
Local governments should engage with and encourage workplaces to consider investments in charging infrastructure and provide information about best practices.
The federal government should refrain from additional direct investment in the installation of public charging infrastructure pending an evaluation of the relationship between the availability of public charging and PEV adoption or use.
To ensure that adopters of PEVs have incentives to charge vehicles at times when the cost of supplying energy is low, the federal government should propose that state regulatory commissions offer PEV owners the option of purchasing electricity under time-of-use or real-time pricing.
Federal financial incentives to purchase PEVs should continue to be provided beyond the current production volume limit as manufacturers and consumers experiment with and learn about the new technology. The federal government should re-evaluate the case for incentives after a suitable period, such as 5 years. Its re-evaluation should consider advancements in vehicle technology and progress in reducing production costs, total costs of ownership, and emissions of PEVs, HEVs, and ICE vehicles.
Given the research on effectiveness of purchase incentives, the federal government should consider converting the tax credit to a point-of-sale rebate.
Given the sparse research on incentives other than financial purchase incentives, research should be conducted on the variety of consumer incentives that are (or have been) offered by states and local governments to determine which, if any, have proven effective in promoting PEV deployment.
In the conclusion, the authors of the report emphasized two points:
Vehicle cost is a substantial barrier to PEV deployment. Without the federal financial purchase incentives, PEVs are not currently cost-competitive with ICE vehicles on the basis of either purchase price or cumulative cost of ownership. Therefore, one of the most important committee recommendations is continuing the federal financial purchase incentives and re-evaluating them after a suitable period.
Developing lower cost, better performing batteries is essential for reducing vehicle cost because it is the high-energy batteries that are primarily responsible for the cost differential between PEVs and ICE vehicles. It is therefore important that the federal government continue to fund battery research at least at current levels. Technology development to improve and lower the cost of batteries (and electric-drive technologies) for PEVs represents a technology-push strategy that complements the market-pull strategy represented by the federal financial purchase incentives that lower the barrier to market adoption.
A significant body of research, however, demonstrates that having the right technology (with a compelling value proposition) is still insufficient to achieve success in the market. That technology must be complemented with a planned strategy to create market awareness and to overcome customer fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the technology.
Equally important to recognize is a recommendation that the committee does not make. The committee does not at this point recommend additional direct federal investment in the installation of public charging infrastructure until the relationship between infrastructure availability and PEV adoption and use is assessed. … Although some data have been collected through various projects, the data-collection efforts were not designed to understand that fundamental relationship, and the committee cautions against extrapolating findings on the first adopters to the mainstream market. Given the strain on federal resources, the suggested research should help to ensure that limited federal funds are spent so that they will have the greatest impact. “Overcoming Barriers to Deployment of Plug-in Electric Vehicles”
The study was sponsored by the US Department of Energy. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, independent nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to NAS in 1863. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.