Understanding the Barriers and Challenges to Greater EV Adoption

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Samantha Gilman's picture
Communications Manager Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)

Samantha Gilman is the communications manager for the Power Delivery and Utilization sector at EPRI. Samantha has spent a decade in communications, public relations, and digital marketing within...

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  • Jan 24, 2023

The benefits of electric vehicles (EVs) can be so expansive it is difficult to communicate all of them. For individual drivers, the financial upside of a vehicle powered by electrons instead of gasoline are significant. For example, the cost to drive the average gas-powered light-duty car or truck 200 miles using unleaded gas priced at $2.78 per gallon (which would be a huge discount in many areas of the country) would be $22.24. 

By contrast, the average EV would cost around $8.90 to travel the same distance when charged at home at the average U.S. residential electricity price of just over $.13 per kilowatt-hour. Even the most expensive EV charging option – public DC fast charging – would still be cheaper than relying on gas for fuel.  

In large part, the financial advantage of using electricity to power a car or truck is simply a function of how much more energy efficient EVs are compared to their gasoline-powered counterparts. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), has calculated that between 77 and 82 percent of the electrical energy put into an EV is used to propel it down the road while only between 12 and 30 percent of the gas put into a conventional car moves it from place to place. 

The superior economics of EV fueling is just one of myriad benefits vehicle owners can reap. The fact that EVs have so few moving parts compared to internal combustion engine vehicles also translates into much lower maintenance costs and EV drivers also can enjoy a much quieter ride. Utilities, communities, and society also enjoy meaningful benefits that flow from increased EV adoption.  

Reduced greenhouse gas emissions have helped drive government subsidies and incentives to support both EV purchases and investments in charging infrastructure. In the U.S. transportation is responsible for almost 29 percent of emissions, meaning that encouraging drivers to switch to EVs can have a big impact on emissions. And as the grid incorporates more and more renewable energy, all EVs reduce their emissions because the power that charges them generates fewer and fewer carbon emissions. EVs also provide insulation from the huge price fluctuations that are a normal part of the global oil market and reduces America’s dependence on foreign oil while also powering job growth in the manufacture of EVs and their component parts. 

Building on momentum towards EVs 
Taken together, the benefits EVs deliver to individual drivers and society have created enormous momentum around their adoption. In fact, close to 200,000 battery-powered EVs were sold in the second quarter of 2022, a record number and an increase of over 66 percent from the previous year. Plenty of other projections expect EVs to make up a growing share of vehicle sales, and most auto executives are convinced that over half of new cars sold by 2030 will be electric.    

Nevertheless, barriers to even more widespread EV adoption remain and there is evidence that the pace of adoption underway will not achieve the U.S. government’s goal of reducing carbon emissions to 50 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 and ensuring that electric cars and trucks account for half of all new vehicle sales by 2030. According to one analysis, sales of EVs will account for about 30 percent of new car sales in 2030. 

EPRI recently launched a project to identify and address some of the most stubborn barriers that stand in the way of greater EV adoption. “We have optimism about EV adoption because the fundamentals are so strong,” said Watson Collins, an EPRI senior technical executive whose work focuses on electric transportation. “The fundamental underpinnings are there but we still have to address a number of nagging issues.” 

In fact, one reason Collins was eager to initiate this research – a root cause analysis into systemic challenges and barriers to consumer EV adoption – was because he was convinced that awareness of EVs alone was not sufficient to accelerate adoption. “The common wisdom was that we just need to get butts in seats, and when people try an EV, they will buy one. The mantra was that education and outreach and TV commercials would be enough to solve the adoption curve,” Collins said. “Today, there’s over 90 percent awareness of EVs, which to me says the problem is not awareness. The issue is how to move people along the sales conversion process from awareness to familiarity to consideration to purchase.” 

Uncovering the barriers standing in the way of greater EV adoption 
Identifying the specific barriers that are preventing more Americans from becoming EV drivers starts with understanding some of the broad barriers to adoption. These include the variety and cost of available vehicles, driving range and charging worries and general hesitancy to adopt new technology. A root cause analysis goes beyond generalized trends to gather a detailed understanding of the numerous, complex, and regionally specific factors standing in the way of greater EV adoption.    

“We wanted to go a step farther than the research that exists about consumer attitudes and motivations that limit EV adoption,” said Mariela Arceo, an EPRI engineer scientist whose research focuses on electric transportation. “We looked at everything we could get our hands on, including consumer surveys, academic literature, market reviews and our own interviews to come up with common themes and barriers.” 

The result of the research was the identification of six categories of barriers that are limiting EV adoption. The categories are: 
Charging familiarity Many Americans have a lot of questions about how and where EV charging takes place. In fact, 78 percent of Americans believe finding an EV charging station is difficult. There’s also confusion about the speed of different charging technologies and the connectors required for different vehicle brands.  

  • Consumer needs Drivers are accustomed to easily finding the vehicle features and aesthetics they desire. Today, there is frustration and uncertainty about a lack of EV choices that meet consumers demands and with a sales process that can be far more complex than for an internal combustion engine vehicle.  
  • Ownership experience Owning a vehicle is a long-term experience that only begins after a purchase is made. Lots of potential EV owners are simply uncertain about what that experience will be like, particularly when it comes to the range of EVs, charging, and maintenance and repairs. 
  • Consumer inertia Change is hard, especially when it comes to something as important as transportation. People generally only feel comfortable making such a big change when that behavior becomes a social norm. While awareness of EVs is high, 65 percent of Americans have never driven an EV or known anybody who owns one. This results in resistance and skepticism about considering a purchase. 
  • Supply chain inertia Just as consumers need to shift their mindsets to consider the purchase of an EV, manufacturers must also make big adjustments to provide a ready supply of the components that go into an EV.  
  • Costs Price is a big consideration in purchasing a vehicle. While studies have demonstrated that the average total cost of owning an EV is lower than a gas car, the fact that EVs still have a higher upfront cost deters some drivers from considering them. 

Digging deeper and identifying actions to address barriers 
The next step in EPRI’s work tackling the barriers standing in the way of greater EV adoption will be more detailed papers about each of the six categories. The aim of the next round of papers will be to identify specific action that EPRI and others can take to address these obstacles. “For each of the categories, we are going to identify which barriers have a high impact on the market and rank which ones EPRI can lead or collaborate in as well as influence and also point to areas where we think others can help,” Collins said.  

An EPRI board of directors’ initiative is also planned to address some of the adoption challenges as well. It’s an approach that can bring together a wide range of expertise. “We will have broader coalitions working on things, which is different from EPRI pursuing research and analysis on its own,” Collins said. “A coalition approach is really what is needed given how many different stakeholders can have an impact on EV adoption.”  

This article appeared in EPRI's Efficient Electrification newsletter. Sign up to receive future issues here

Founded in 1972, EPRI is the world's preeminent independent, non-profit energy research and development organization, with offices around the world.

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