The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and Southern California Edison (SCE) designed and implemented a survey to characterize consumers' perceptions of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and their expectations of their electric utility as a supplier of transportation energy and associated services. The objective was to develop and test a survey instrument and associated analytical methods that could subsequently be used by utilities and other entities to inform local stakeholders about consumers' perceptions. Additionally, EPRI envisions that the combined survey responses will provide a rich source of data to address issues related to preparing electric utilities as they accommodate PHEVs and other types of electric vehicles.
EPRI has been at the forefront in characterizing how PHEVs—and electric vehicles in general—will affect the electricity sector. Much of that research concerns understanding critical features and operating characteristics of the batteries used in electric vehicles. Those factors will influence when and where PHEV owners are likely to recharge their vehicles. Those choices will influence the design and operation of the electricity infrastructure, the cost of recharging, the overall economy, and environmental quality.
Market researchers and customer service staff will find the results helpful in anticipating changes in the nature of customer electricity usage as PHEV usage grows. Public policy analysts will find useful the characterizations of customer expectations for infrastructure, such as public charging plans and locations. Utility forecasters and rate designers will benefit from the revealing portrayals of when and where charging is likely to occur under a variety of time-varying charging plans. Survey results will contribute to understanding how social networks will contribute to creating a market that is conducive to PHEV adoption and use.
Survey findings are easily dismissed if rigorous statistical and tactical protocols are not followed. EPRI combined the capabilities of two professional research organizations with the experience and perceptions of the market research and technical research staffs from two utilities (Southern California Edison and Salt River Project) and its own analytical staff to identify and deploy accepted survey design and administration practices.
The survey was administered electronically to about 900 residential customers of SCE. Respondents were recruited from commercial Internet panels and were required not only to pass screening criteria, such as excluding employees of SCE, employees of market research firms, and recent survey respondents, but also to establish an intent to purchase or lease a new vehicle in the next five years. Over half of those selected for the survey indicated that their acquisition would occur within the next two years, and over 80% stated their intent to acquire a new vehicle within the next three years.
The survey findings provide for characterizing consumer perceptions about six factors that will influence the ultimate impact of PHEVs on the electricity sector:
- Consumer charging preferences. Virtually all respondents indicated that they expected to charge their PHEV primarily at home.
- Accessibility of at-home charging locations. Almost two-thirds of respondents indicated that they had a conventional (120 V) outlet within 25 feet of where they park at home.
- Vehicle acquisition interest. Over 50% of hybrid owners, compared to 28% of conventional vehicle owners, indicated that the next new vehicle they acquire would probably or definitely be a PHEV.
- Gasoline prices. As gasoline price rises to $4.00 per gallon (from a reference price of $3.00 per gallon), consumers stated intentions to acquire a PHEV also rise.
- At-home charging plan preferences. Nighttime charging was acceptable to over 80%.
- Social networking influences. The vehicle acquisition decision is influenced more by what co-workers, friends, and neighbors drive than by dealers or promotional materials.
Application, Value and Use
EPRI envisions that the survey instrument will be used by utilities and other entities to create a clearer portrayal of localized customer wants and needs for PHEVs and related services and to tailor development of the PHEV market and related infrastructure accordingly. Moreover, pooling results will facilitate comparisons of customer expectations across markets, regions, and jurisdictions and will rationalize different approaches to fostering PHEV acquisitions and related services. It also will provide a robust database for addressing a wide range of research issues.
EPRI provides a panoramic perspective on how adoption of PHEVs will change the way people drive. Consumer research, such as that described here, influences and directs technical research to create a better understanding of how the electric sector will be impacted by the introduction of electric vehicles, both initially on a small scale and, perhaps eventually, on a very large scale.