According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US transportation sector accounts for 28% (the largest source) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To put it in perspective, that’s more than the commercial, residential, and agricultural sectors combined. As the largest contributor to GHG emissions nationwide, the transportation sector has the unique potential to dramatically decrease GHG emissions through the acceleration of electric vehicle (EV) adoption. Research suggests that meeting GHG reduction goals will require replacing about 350 million internal combustion engine vehicles with EVs (or about 90% of the existing US fleet) by 2050 Despite climbing EV sales, there will need to be an exponential increase in consumer adoption to meet these goals.
Strong policies at the federal and state level that support EV adoption are critical to meeting these ambitious GHG targets. In fact, 15 states have already established plans to phase out combustion vehicles as early as 2030. Beyond the added push from lawmakers, Car and Driver recently covered that automakers are also showing up with bold commitments to deliver EVs across multiple vehicle platforms. Electric utilities are another key stakeholder that will play a critical role in accelerating the EV market. Their access to large groups of customers affords utilities a singular opportunity to provide information and education to encourage EV adoption at scale. As infrastructure providers with years of experience, utilities are in a unique position to increase access to reliable charging infrastructure as well as deliver rates that help consumers realize the benefits of low-cost fuel compared to gasoline and diesel.
Portland General Electric (PGE) is one of the utilities in the US spearheading this transition to EVs. Since 2019, Opinion Dynamics has been conducting an evaluation of PGE’s Transportation Electrification Pilot Programs, which was featured in the World Electric Vehicle Journal. The article covers findings from the first two years of a five-year embedded evaluation Opinion Dynamics is conducting of PGE’s Transportation Electrification Pilot Programs, which included:
Outreach, Education, and Technical Assistance Pilot: To increase adoption of EVs, PGE provides technical assistance to businesses and organizations interested in installing charging or electrifying fleets, sponsors informational kiosks at auto dealerships, conducts vehicle ride-and-drives for general customers and ride-hail drivers, and partners with vehicle manufacturers to offer incentives that reduce the purchase price of EVs.
Community Charging Infrastructure Pilot: PGE has installed six Electric Avenue charging locations throughout its service territory (a total of 14 Level 2 chargers and 26 DC fast chargers). Locations include areas with limited existing fast charging and high proportions of multifamily properties.
What We’ve Done
Through our embedded evaluation approach, Opinion Dynamics provides results to PGE throughout the pilot implementation as opposed to at the end of the pilot. This approach allows PGE to access information to track progress and help refine or adjust the pilot based on evaluation findings. Opinion Dynamics is deploying multiple research methods over the course of this five-year evaluation. This includes surveys, focus groups, and analyses of how customers use utility-owned charging stations.
What We’ve Learned
Key findings from the three research activities conducted during the first two years of the evaluation include findings from the General Population Survey, a focus group with ride-hail drivers, and a utilization analysis of Electric Avenue chargers.
General Population Survey
Results from our consumer survey indicate there has been an increase in customer awareness and acceptance of EVs since the Baseline survey was conducted. Alongside the rising awareness and acceptance, we found significant growth in the percentage of respondents who intend to buy an EV in the near future (from the time of the survey). Specifically, 24% of Wave 1 survey respondents intend to purchase an EV within the next five years—up from 17% of Baseline survey respondents. Our findings reveal a shift from the number of EV considerers (those who indicated they were considering purchasing an EV in the next five years) to the number of EV intenders (those who were planning to purchase an EV in the next five years) is largely responsible for this upswing.
Despite improved awareness, acceptance, and number or EV intenders, we found barriers to adoption were still widely prevalent. The purchase price of an EV as well as concerns about vehicle range were the most commonly shared barriers to adoption. A large majority of survey respondents reported that the purchase price of the vehicle was a major concern, increasing from 79% in the Baseline survey to 84% in the Wave 1 survey. Concern with vehicle range and availability of public charging has decreased, however, from 61% to 50% inside PGE’s service territory and from 69% to 61% outside of the PGE service territory since the Baseline survey. The sweet spot for vehicle ranges is around 200 miles; two-thirds (62%) of the respondents who reported concern with vehicle range indicated that the range would need to be over 200 miles to alleviate their apprehensions.
Our analysis uncovered that environmental justice communities and/or renters are more likely to indicate access to charging, fuel and maintenance costs, and vehicle reliability were major concerns to purchasing an EV along with the EV purchase price. Environmental justice community respondents also showed greater levels of concern about the cost of charging EVs. These results suggest that, although EVs have significantly lower maintenance and fuel costs compared to internal combustion vehicles, renters and members of environmental justice communities exhibit less understanding of these major advantages of owning an EV.
Renters and environmental justice community respondents were also all more likely to say their current parking situation is a major concern in their decision on whether or not to purchase an EV in the future. This indicates that respondents within these demographics were all less likely to have an electric service outlet available where they park their car at work and home.
Ride-and-Drive Surveys and Ride-Hail Focus Groups
Driving an average of four times more than the general public, ride-hail drivers are ideally situated to reap the monetary benefits of owning or leasing an EV—but their needs and concerns differ from the general public. Findings from the ride-and-drive surveys reveal vehicle battery range and charging needs vary between the general public and ride-hail drivers. According to our intercept survey findings, 80% of general public survey respondents drive 200 miles or less each week. In contrast, 55% of ride-hail driver respondents reported driving over 400 miles weekly for their ride-hail rides, suggesting these drivers need long-range EVs coupled with easily accessible public charging.
Vehicle test drives appear to be an important tool in increasing consumer acceptance of EVs, especially with ride-hail drivers. Most intercept survey respondents, both general public (93%) and ride-hail drivers (83%), reported they would be somewhat or very likely to purchase or lease an EV within the next five years. About one-third (40%) of the general public and two-thirds (67%) of ride-hail drivers indicated that the ride-and-drive event increased their likelihood of purchasing or leasing an EV a great deal.
Given their increased driving over the general public, it’s not surprising that ride-hail drivers indicate the key benefits of leasing or purchasing an EV are lower fuel and maintenance costs. Participants estimated they could save between $400 and $625 in monthly maintenance and fuel costs by switching to an EV and using the $25 Electric Avenue unlimited charging subscription offered as part of this pilot. One ride-hail driver estimated their fuel and maintenance costs would reduce over $600 monthly—from $750 to $125.
Electric Avenue Charger Utilization and User Group Analysis
In 2020, we conducted an analysis of how drivers were using PGE’s Electric Avenues, plazas of public Level 2 and DC Fast Chargers. Through the analysis, we studied charger utilization data to determine how a $0.19/kWh surcharge during PGE’s peak system hours (3:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m.) impacted charger usage and how utilization varied across three user groups: ride-hail subscribers, monthly subscribers, and non-subscribers. The study indicated that a usage surcharge is an effective means of reducing charging demand during PGEs highest usage hours (peak demand) across all three demographics: ride-hail monthly charging subscribers, other monthly charging subscribers, and non-subscribers. The Electric Avenue charger utilization data shows that the peak pricing surcharge between 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. shifted an estimated 14.2 MWh (2% of charging load during the study period) or 39.1 kWh/day (3% of daily charging load).
Our findings also provide a clearer understanding of how ride-hail drivers utilize public charging. While ride-hail drivers make up the smallest share of public-charging users, they have the highest per customer energy consumption most months. This is expected as rideshare vehicles travel more miles than personal vehicles, but the data are still striking. Ride-hail drivers consume 1.5 times more energy each month than other monthly subscribers and 2.9 times more than non-subscribers. Unsurprisingly, ride-hail drivers are also high users of public fast charging when provided access and clear, easy-to-understand pricing models.
The Road Ahead
The findings from the embedded evaluation of PGE’s transportation electrification pilots thus far show that utility programs can effectively support EV adoption. Utilities, like PGE, play a critical role in increasing awareness of EVs for the general population as well as more targeted groups, such as ride-hail drivers. Further, this research highlights opportunities for utilities to address misconceptions (like the unfounded concern that EVs have higher maintenance and fuel costs than combustion engine vehicles) and increase awareness of the benefits of EVs for environmental justice communities. In addition to awareness, these pilots have provided reliable access to charging that is responsive to utility grid needs—an important component of supporting the transition to EVs for high-mileage, ride-hail drivers.
Opinion Dynamics will be continuing to support PGE’s transportation electrification pilots as part of our five-year evaluation. We launched Wave 2 of the General Population and EV Owner survey last month, which will help uncover new and continuing trends between those considering and intending to lease or purchase an EV. The survey will also further examine the needs of current EV owners and compare how the market has been evolving since 2018. In 2022, we will be conducting a second round of ride-hail driver focus groups, this time with EV owners to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and benefits when transitioning to EVs for this impactful consumer segment. We look forward to sharing the results of this research and continue our work helping utilities across the US support the transition to EVs.