Real-world data more important than faith in boosting electric cars


2017 Nissan Leaf

2017 Nissan Leaf

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"Big data" is often discussed as a useful tool for everyone from policymakers to corporate marketing departments.

But could it also be used to help increase electric-car adoption?

Last November, the Obama administration held the first-ever "Electric Vehicle Datathon" with that very goal in mind.

CHECK OUT: Electric-car 'datathon' to be hosted by White House tomorrow (Nov 2016)

One of the administration's last policy actions in the area of electric cars, the "datathon" involved electric-car stakeholders as well as the Department of Energy and its four national research and testing laboratories.

Participants convened to "review currently available data, identify opportunities for improvement, and discuss new data sets and approaches that can enable EVs going forward," the White House said at the time.

The event identified multiple current data sets and research projects relevant to electric-car adoption, according to a recent Navigant Research blog post.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

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The Idaho National Laboratory made recommendations for expanding electric-car charging infrastructure, based on data from research projects dating back to 1994.

Argonne National Laboratory offered its Downloadable Dynamometer Database, which includes energy-consumption data for plug-in electric cars, as well as internal-combustion vehicles, in cold, average, and warm temperatures.

ALSO SEE: McKinsey suggests ways automakers could kick-start electric-car demand

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory contributed its Transportation Secure Data Center, which includes numerous regional travel surveys and studies with data from individual driving trips.

This could be used to compare the habits of electric-car drivers to drivers of internal-combustion cars to determine usage patterns, the NREL suggested.

2017 BMW i3

2017 BMW i3

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Finally, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics includes both travel and fuel-consumption data for different vehicle types.

Following the "datathon," the DOT announced grants totaling $300 million for the nation's University Transportation Centers, which will fund projects that will likely contribute to the electric-car data cache.

MORE: How can automakers sell more electric cars? Sierra Club report has suggestions (Aug 2016)

In December, the Energy Department also announced $18 million for research into electric cars and alternative-fuel vehicles.

The already substantial trove of real-world data for electric cars appears set to grow, then.

The question is what policy initiatives will emerge, and which parties might use it to attempt to answer questions on strategies of electric-car adoption.

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