Electric Vehicles Are Driven Less Often Than Policymakers Think – 1/2 As Much as Conventional Cars

Electric Cars Charging

By studying electricity meter measurements and electric vehicle registration records in California, researchers found that state regulators are overestimating how often people drive their EVs.

Research indicates electric vehicles are used half as much as conventional cars.

As the Biden administration pledges to move the country toward electric vehicles (EVs), and states like California work to phase out the sale of new fully gasoline-powered cars, a key question still looms: How much are consumers actually driving them?

Far less than policymakers think, according to new research co-authored by a University of Chicago scholar.

“The takeaway here is not that EVs should never or will never be our future, but rather that policymakers may be underestimating the costs of going fully electric,” said Asst. Prof. Fiona Burlig of the Harris School of Public Policy, whose research focuses on energy, environmental and development economics.

In a new working paper, Burlig and co-authors from UC Davis and UC Berkeley combine 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 find that the arrival of an EV increases household electricity consumption by 2.9 kilowatt-hours per day—less than half the amount assumed by state regulators. Having 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.

“The takeaway here is not that EVs should never or will never be our future, but rather that policymakers may be underestimating the costs of going fully electric.”

Asst. Prof. Fiona Burlig

“Regulators have been using unreliable information,” said David Rapson, an associate professor at UC Davis. “They have traditionally extrapolated eVMT from surveys or from a tiny number of dedicated EV meters that are unrepresentative. We used a large sample of households that is representative of EVs in California.”

“There are several potential explanations for why EVs are driven much less than conventional cars, and unpacking these reasons is next on our research agenda,” said James Bushnell, a professor at UC Davis, who also noted that California’s high electricity prices may be a factor. “It is important to understand why EVs are being driven so much less in order to properly weigh the costs and benefits of EV policy and maximize environmental benefits.”

The research also studied different types of EVs and found that Teslas consume almost double 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.

“Along with incentivizing people to purchase and drive EVs, policymakers should be investing in the infrastructure needed to ensure that EVs take full advantage of renewable sources of electricity,” said Catherine Wolfram, the Cora Jane Flood Professor of Business Administration at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business. “Doing so ensures that EVs follow through as a vital pathway for pollution reduction.”

Reference: “Low Energy: Estimating Electric Vehicle Electricity Use” by Fiona Burlig, James B. Bushnell, David S. Rapson and Catherine Wolfram, February 2021, National Bureau of Economic Research.
DOI: 10.3386/w28451

2 Comments on "Electric Vehicles Are Driven Less Often Than Policymakers Think – 1/2 As Much as Conventional Cars"

  1. I don’t know what the situation is in California. However, here in Ontario, Canada, whenever we renew an automobile license (yearly), we are required to provide the odometer reading. This is an easier way to determine how much a car has been driven.

  2. I can drive much farther in a gasoline vehicle on one tank and can refill in few minutes. The cost of electrical charges in one’s total electricity home bill (Never mind on the road)is crazy. Driving an electric vehicle anywhere other than a local area is just too mind oppressive as one is limited on where a charge can be found and always worrying about a charge location. My life has only a given time and I do not want any of it spent whiling away that limited time during a trip vehicle charge. And I do not want to be inline waiting for a charger just like I remember from gasoline shortage times. And California and it’s rules..well it does seems that “getting out of CA” is on many peoples agenda. That said who I vote for and that individuals inclination of a too quick mandate on electric vehicles will be a priority when I vote both state and federal. The idea that all vehicles will be electric by 2030 or whenever soon thereafter is off the wall. Ain’t going to happen no matter what legislatures envision. Let’s not go into the limited availability and geographic limitation of public transportation.

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