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Study finds EVs are traveling less than half the US fleet average

New data suggests that electric vehicles may not be an easy future substitute for the gasoline-powered fleet, as EVs currently travel less than half as much as the US fleet average.

A team from the University of Chicago, University of California, Davis, and UC Berkeley combined billions of hourly electricity meter measurements with address-level EV registration records in California—home to about half of the EVs in the United States. They found that the arrival of an EV in a household increases household electricity consumption by 2.9 kilowatt hours per day—less than half the amount assumed by state regulators.

Adjusted for the share of out-of-home charging, the electricity consumed translates to about 5,300 electric vehicle miles traveled (eVMT) per year—roughly half as large as EV driving estimates used by regulators and also half as large as vehicle miles traveled in gasoline-powered cars.

They reported their findings in a working paper published on the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) website.

There’s still so much we don’t know about the costs and benefits of EVs, so it seems appropriate to have some humility around this energy transition. Approaches that leave multiple technology pathways open are desirable; bans and mandates seem premature.

—co-author David Rapson, an associate professor at the UC Davis Economics Department

The takeaway here is not that EVs should never or will never be our future. It’s rather that policymakers may be underestimating the costs of going fully electric.

—co-author Fiona Burlig, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy

The research also studied different types of EVs and found that Teslas consume almost twice the amount of electricity per hour than the others studied. This is likely due to a combination of factors, including Tesla’s higher battery capacity.

Future research should seek to test a variety of potential explanations for the apparent low utilization of EVs. First, buyers of EVs to date may not represent the broader vehicle-owning population. Second, the marginal utility of eVMT may be lower than that of travel in conventional vehicles. This may be true for a variety of reasons, including an absence of sufficiently dense charging networks, range anxiety, or other attributes of the EV travel experience. Third, EVs may be complements to gasoline-powered vehicles, rather than substitutes for them. The vision of transportation electrification rests on EVs leading to a substitution of VMT away from conventional cars. If, instead, EVs are primarily owned by households with multiple cars, it will be important to understand why. Fourth, low eVMT may be a natural response to high electricity prices in California. While recent evidence suggests this may not be the case (Bushnell, Muehlegger, and Rapson (2021)), the influence of both electricity and gasoline prices on demand for and usage of EVs remains an area requiring further research. This paper demonstrates how pairing rich data on household-level electricity consumption with vehicle registration information can help answer these and other questions.

—Burlig et al.


  • Fiona Burlig, James B. Bushnell, David S. Rapson & Catherine Wolfram (2021) “Low Energy: Estimating Electric Vehicle Electricity Use” NBER working paper 28451 doi: 10.3386/w28451


ron ingman

.......test a variety of potential explanations

How about.......

EV's are expensive.
Expensive items are purchased by the rich.
The rich don't work.
Those that don't work, don't drive.

David Parker

Did the study take into account the correlation between EV ownership and domestic solar panel installation? The correlation globally is 40%, in some countries it is higher. If you are measuring increases in household consumption, it may be hidden by the solar output. Our output in 2020 with 8 panels (wish I had more!) was 2,150 kWh, enough to drive 14,800 km in our Kia e-NIro. OK, not enough to cover our annual 20,700 km but our electricity bill was not much higher last year as a result. The other thing to consider is that if an EV is the second car, what is the reduction in household fossil fuel use from having the EV.?.. I know someone here in France who has an old Nissan Leaf which has limited range but does most of the work, leaving their fossil car for the occasional longer trip


Lot of those maybe not the latest longer range EVs. We drove my 1st EV, a 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV 12000 miles per year, much more than the 2nd car , a VW TDI, as it was so much cheaper to operate and maintain and was ideal for 99% of trips. Finally replaced them both with newer EV's.

The "if an EV is the second car" is a good point.

It would be good to look at how much % energy is save by all the low usage EV's. With the short around town trips, the EV's get 4X to 5X better MPGe on average.


Building a "2 car PHEV" out of two cars is IMO a very good idea. You'll already have the ICE car, all you need to add is a low (<= 25 kWh) EV such as a Leaf mk1 or MIEV as described above by both Gdb and Dave.
It means you do not need to wait for long range EVs to appear or wait to be able to afford one.
Additionally, you might be able to use a neighbour's ICE for the odd long trips.
What is needed here is support from governments and insurance companies.
You should be able to have both cars on one insurance policy, such that you can only drive one car at a time. Ditto for road tax and car inspection services. (Say you have a golf tdi that you use a few times a year and put up 2K miles, on top of a Leaf that does most of the driving, you shouldn't need to get a full check on the Golf every year.

I’m glad to see the team from UC Davis studying this issue, but the methodology seems flawed, and the conclusions likely in error for the reasons pointed out above.

Get mileage figures from DMV registration and service record data. Get Tesla mileage figures directly from telemetry data. Fleet Karma can do the same for the rest (yes, a utility or other funding source will have to foot the bill).

250+ mile range vehicles from manufacturers other than Tesla are a very recent addition to the fleet.

Of course people with an 80 mile range Leaf are going to drive less, that’s who bought these cars - folks who had a matching lifestyle.

“Teslas consumes almost twice the amount...” surprise, surprise.

Keith D. Patch

@David Parker--

Read the article. It says: "We observe that EV households are much more likely to have solar, multiple electricity meters, and consume more electricity per hour. " So try to find another fault in the study...

Read the article. To get the largest sample size, they used a "sampling frame over-weights households in Census Block Groups that have high EV penetration..." Etc. So instead of using select manufacturers' data, they attempted to synthesize a look at a state fleet of EVs, based on one utility's service area.


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