Theory/How far do we drive?/ 1. Introduction

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Over the last century, the car has become the primary means of transportation for the developed world, as well as an icon of wealth and culture. Trillions of dollars were invested in the refueling infrastructure for cars, which now supplies about nine million barrels of gasoline per day to the U.S. alone (EIA, 2010). Today however, the auto industry is at the tipping point of the greatest transition it has ever experienced.
The automotive and oil industry are experiencing two growing forces that limit their business: 1) air pollution prevention and 2) depletion of fuel resources. The first has evolved from a discussion about the harmful NOx, CO and hydrocarbon emissions in the 70’s, to a more global issue relating to the inevitable emissions of CO2 in the combustion of hydrocarbon fuels. The emissions that impacted health were mostly mitigated by the invention of the Three-Way-Catalyst (TWC), which successfully converts the harmful flue gas pollutants to less harmful ones. The second limiting force has been tried to overcome by using alternative fuels, like biomass-based (methanol/ethanol) or other fossil fuels (like the liquefaction of coal) as a feedstock. These however have a limited capacity due to cost constraints, a high investment risk due to the fluctuating oil price and some face ethical issues when edible food is used to make fuel.
With these limiting forces and no tangible solutions on the horizon for combustion-powered vehicles, engineers started (re)implementing a variety of propulsion systems that require other energy sources than oil. Virtually all of them depend on electric motors as the apparatus to drive the wheels. Believed to be the most promising configuration is the Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV), a configuration that has been around since the invention and implementation of the internal combustion engine (ICE) into cars. At the end of the 19th century, the electric car was actually more popular than the gasoline powered car. However, because of their limited range and the availability of cheap gasoline, the electric car lost the head-to-head competition with its gasoline counterpart. Now, the electric car is on its way back, with many car manufacturers adopting this ‘retro’ propulsion system.

Still, the main barrier to electrification of the car industry is the electric car’s limited range. The fear of getting stranded on the side of the road with an empty battery, first observed in General Motor’s EV1-project is named: ‘Range Anxiety’ (Acello, 1997). Besides this barrier on the consumer’s side, electricity grid operators and independent researchers have expressed their concerns with the additional load from electric cars on the grid, especially during peak hours on hot summer days (IRC & KEMA, 2010), (PGE, 2009), (Papavasiliou, 2008). This study aims to provide insights into these issues by characterizing driving behavior in the United States using a dataset published by the Federal Highway Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The hypothesis is that people overestimate the EV-range that they find necessary for their daily driven needs. All data and results are available from the website and can be used as a backbone for further research on range requirements and grid integration of electric vehicles.

In the first part of this study, a statistical analysis is conducted on the distances driven by the U.S. population. The results are projected on typical range bins seen in the portfolio of electric cars that are available as of 2011. The second part covers car usage patterns on an hourly basis for weekdays and weekends, which are in turn used to assess when cars are connected to the grid and available for charging. This may benefit Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) studies and other Smart-Grid initiatives.

Research Questions

Part 1: Driving Range Requirements (on both National and State level)

  • What is the distribution of distance driven for individual car trips?
  • What is the distribution of daily driven distance for a single vehicle if it is used on that day?
  • How far do people commute to work by car?
  • What household characteristics affect the answers to the above questions (urban/rural, household ethnicity)?

Part 2: Usage Patterns for grid integration

  • From all cars surveyed, at what time during the weekday/weekend are they being driven?
  • For how many trips are cars used during the weekday/weekend?
  • When are cars used for commuting during the weekdays?

Before the methodology and results are covered, some background around EV implementation phases is given, which will introduce the range bins used in the results. Then, a more detailed description is given on ‘Range Anxiety’, experienced by current and future EV-owners.

< Home ••• 2. The implementation of Electric Vehicles >

Your comments



U.S. Energy Information Administration. (2010). Annual Petroleum & Other Liquids. July 28th, 2011. Retrieved from

Acello, R. (1997, September 1). Getting into Gear with the Vehicle of the Future. San Diego Business Journal. San Diego.

IRC ISO/RTO Council, & KEMA. (2010). Assessment of Plug-in Electric Vehicle Integration with ISO / RTO Systems. Retrieved from

Pacific Gas and Electric Company. (2009). “The Perfect Storm for Electric Vehicle Market Growth in California” Smart Grid Workshop. California Public Utilities Commission Smart Grid Rulemaking. San Francisco.

Papavasiliou, A., Lee, A., Kaminsky, P., Sidhu, I., Tenderich, B., & Oren, S. (2008). Electric Power Supply and Distribution for Electric Vehicle Operations. Retrieved from


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