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In survey after survey, range is one of the top reasons most consumers and businesses won’t consider buying electric vehicles (EVs). No wonder they only account for about 0.2% of light-duty passenger vehicles in use worldwide.
That’s bad news for municipalities and other governments that want to reduce carbon emissions by encouraging EV ownership. The good news? Although battery advances will continue to chip away at the range barrier, another technology can have an even bigger impact — and today, rather than five or 10 years from now. That same technology can also address other transportation woes that affect everything from the environment to safety.
It’s telematics, which is a subset of the internet of things (IoT). In this case, the things are vehicles and their components. Telematics collects information about a vehicle, such as its location and speed, how hard it has braked, fuel consumption and the condition of its drivetrain, to name just a few metrics. That information is relayed over wireless — usually cellular, but sometimes satellite — to the vehicle’s owner or an authorized third party, such as an insurance provider.
The third party also could be a government. For example, the U.S. Postal Service — which is the world’s largest civilian fleet owner — is considering sharing its telematics data with municipalities participating in the Smart Cities Initiative. Knowing where postal vehicles hit potholes, brake suddenly or are frequently stuck in traffic would help those cities pinpoint where to make repairs and upgrades. As a result, they could spend their budgets more efficiently while improving safety and the environment because vehicles would spend less time idling in traffic jams.
Knowledge Is Power — Literally
There are several ways that municipalities can use telematics to encourage more people and businesses to switch to EVs. One is by enabling more EV owners to use government-owned charging stations. Although Toronto and Seattle are among a growing number of cities that offer public charging stations, demand far outstrips supply. This exacerbates the range problem because EV owners worry about not being able to find an empty charging station.
Telematics, for instance, would be able to identify in real time when an EV is finished charging, which could then prompt the charging station to send a text message or notification to the vehicle owner so the EV would not be left sitting there for hours, taking a spot that another EV could use. Once the EV disconnected, the charging station could broadcast its availability to other nearby owners by text or with a mobile app. Some businesses, such as Geotab, provide charging stations for their employees and customers so that they can leverage telematics for their EVs in the same way.
If finding a charging station becomes less of a concern, businesses such as taxi companies are more likely to consider switching more of their fleets to EVs. When they do, they can use telematics to track the battery status of each vehicle. This data helps dispatchers and automated dispatching platforms make informed decisions, such as identifying which vehicles have enough power to make it to a certain destination and back.
Telematics also enables fleet owners to track their EVs’ battery health. One example is identifying which ones no longer hold a charge like they should, or which batteries are running hot, so they can be brought in for replacement before they break down. Another example is building a historical database to identify which battery models last longer or shorter than average so that they know which ones to buy or avoid when they’re updating their fleet.
Businesses and governments can also use telematics to determine how to begin transitioning their fleets to EVs. Many already use telematics to track their conventional vehicles for reasons such as dispatching and driver safety. That same historical information can be used to identify which routes are near charging stations, which would ultimately determine that they’re the ones where it makes sense to start using EVs.
Finally, EV owners — both fleets and consumers — could share anonymized versions of some of their telematics data to help identify where charging stations should be added. This data would also help electric utilities identify where their infrastructure needs to be upgraded to stay ahead of demand. That’s critical because an average household uses about 2 kW, while a home with an EV or two can use as much as 10 kW at night. Telematics provides the trend data that helps utilities pinpoint which neighborhoods have a rapidly growing number of EVs so that their transformers and lines can be upgraded first.
No More Circling The Block
EVs aren’t the only way governments can use telematics to wring the most out of their budgets, further their green initiatives and benefit their constituents. Municipalities, for instance, can use data from their vehicles, plus any that private fleet owners and citizens will share, to build a holistic view of parking conditions. Although many cities already know when each metered parking spot is occupied, telematics provides additional and deeper insights, such as how long vehicles spend circling before finding a spot in a particular area.
This information also enables cities to identify exactly where to add parking garages or how many parking spaces may be required at new developments. Like the charging station example, this data also could be used to support an app that tells drivers when there’s a vacant spot just a block away. All of this benefits citizens by reducing the congestion and hassle of circling to find a spot, the pollution that comes with it and the need for tax increases, all because the city can better manage traffic and parking. It also can help encourage people to shop and dine in urban areas by making it easier for them to park.
These are just a few examples of how telematics will fundamentally change transportation, communities, business and the environment. Best of all, the technology isn’t years off.