By Molly Taft
This week, group of economists released an analysis that attempts to answer how much the average American drives their electric vehicle. While it shows people drove electric cars fewer miles than gas-powered ones, the results might not reflect the rapidly changing electric vehicle landscape.
Currently, California, where roughly half the electric vehicle users in the U.S. live, measures usage by collecting individual data from drivers who elect to install a special smart meter—that happen to cost a cool $10,000 to $15,000.“You can imagine it’s not the average U.S. household” reflected in this data, said Fiona Burlig, a University of Chicago economist and one of the coauthors of the National Bureau of Economic Research analysis.
To solve this problem, Burlig and a team decided to try and use a whole host of data to get a charging sample that was more representative of how normal Americans may use their electric vehicles. They created an intricate comparison system using PG&E service ranges, DMV registrations, data from public charging ports, energy use data from different car models, and smart meter data from before and after an EV arrived in the home to try and extrapolate just how much average people were charging their cars at home. All in all, Burlig said, the analysis captured data from 350,000 individual electricity meters, encompassing around 64,000 electric vehicles.
The findings were surprising: It looked like electric vehicle owners just weren’t using their cars that much. The analysis found that electric vehicles traveled “substantially lower” distances than gas-powered cars in the same areas at just 5,300 miles (8,530 kilometers) per year, and used less than half of the energy estimated by state regulators due to this lower use time. The authors said that more work is needed to determine why this number was so low, but speculated that range anxiety—the fear that your car will run out of juice on the road—as well as electric vehicle owners owning multiple cars could play a role.