Electric vehicles (EVs) are important pieces in the Smart Grid puzzle.  EVs will play an increasingly important dual role in transport and energy storage.  This role change has consequences that impact consumer lifestyles, wallets, and decision-making processes.  And unfortunately, there’s little being communicated to consumers at this point in time. 

For example, I recently attended an EV showcase.  Five manufacturers described their solutions, detailing power trains, their batteries and the pros and cons of these technologies, and other factoids.  I noticed two common elements to all EV cars and descriptions:

  1.  Not one car had a purse garage for women.  Apparently we can redesign cars from the engine out, but we can’t think about arranging a car interior oriented to women.
  2. More to the point of this blog, every manufacturer mentioned that consumers need to be educated about the differences between owning and maintaining an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle and an EV. 

Consumers need to LEARN how to manage an EV.  Think about it.  Remember history because it does repeat itself.  At one time, people had to learn how to manage a car instead of a horse. 

An EV means a charging station.  Most consumers will want Level 2 charging capabilities, which may mean scheduling a visit from an electrician to install a 3-prong plug like clothes dryers use to support charging an EV in a couple of hours instead of 8-12 hours.  Once you have that charging station, you avoid the inconvenience of filling gas tanks, and spend pennies instead of dollars to “refuel”.  And because an EV has fewer moving parts than an ICE, you may spend less time at auto repair facilities.  These are positive changes to lifestyles and wallets.  Are these positive benefits communicated on a broad scale to consumers?  Not really.  Many consumers will perceive an electrician’s visit to be an unwelcome additional expense or inconvenience.  And the majority of consumers suffer from “range anxiety” – figuring an EV could never support the daily distances they travel so they are not going to give it serious consideration.     

Let’s add in some more changes in the form of carbitrage.  The Smart Grid Dictionary (2nd Edition – June 2010) defines it carbitrage as “the capability for an EV or PHEV to communicate with the electrical grid to schedule charge/discharge activities based on conditions including pricing signals, tariff agreements, TOU, DR programs, and manual overrides by car owners.”  It’s a fabulous concept, and it means that one day my car can earn money for me while it is hooked up to the grid simply by selling back electricity at peak times.  This is a real game-changer, but not easy to explain in a sound bite to consumers. 

No matter the Smart Grid subject, if the technology is anywhere near the consumer, education is required.  We need coordinated communications campaigns to align consumer, government, and industry views of Smart Grid visions, realities, and most importantly, the benefits to consumers.  Consumers, taxpayers, and ratepayers need to understand what values they gain from making what will be some dramatic changes in their lifestyles. 

If EV manufacturers really want to sell EVs, they need to build educational campaigns to instill familiarity and confidence in consumers.  Stop spending marketing dollars promoting gas-guzzling SUVs.  Feature real-life EV owners and how they use their vehicles.  Every EV manufacturer should have a fun, interactive game on their website that engages consumers to enter info about their daily driving habits to learn just how often they would have to charge up an EV, and the cost comparison of their electricity charges versus avoided gasoline costs.  That would open a lot of eyes in the USA.