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Data from EVs could prove the difference between profit and loss, opinion

Dr Alana Zülke, battery electrochemistry expert, Altelium

A new type of customer has emerged, the super-savvy, super-confident. These are the people buying pure electric vehicles (EV) during a pandemic, giving double digit growth in a market which is otherwise hardly moving.

But with that confidence comes high expectation and demands and, I wonder, does the car market understand how to make most of the information it has available, to satisfy these clever consumers and their need for information?

For example, it is widely understood that in F1, winning the race can rely as much on having access to an amazing quantity of data (and the brains to apply it) as it does on having a brilliant driver. 

Every F1 car has sensors collecting data on brake temperature, tyre pressure, impact force etc., so that the team can achieve a few seconds advantage from a pit stop needed to win the race. 

Professor David Bailey wrote about this last month here in AM magazine. He explained how MacLaren uses this mass of data “to continually improve car performance and inform team strategy through its ‘predictive analytics’ expertise.” 

He went on to explain the enormous value to business and society that has been gained via McLaren Applied, as the firm’s technology has been extended to a wider range of other sectors including the health industry.

Wider applications for EV data

In a similar way, there is a wealth of information available about electric car batteries which can have both wider applications in the energy and renewables industry as well as very specific applications in the car market to give competitive advantage. 

My work as a battery electrochemist is to systematically test and model the ageing process (and associated risks) of commercial Lithium-ion batteries; imagine all the factors that can affect this such as driving style, temperature, road conditions, charging cycles, timing and so on.

By combining laboratory batteries with real life data and enhancing in it with AI predictive analysis we have a vast amount of data.

OEM’s need this information to support the development of financial products, as well as the continuous product development. For example, to offer a warranty and service programme you have to know with a high degree of certainty how that product will perform.

PCP or PCH plans are built on annual mileage, but is that the right metric for a pure electric car?

Should it perhaps be based on driving style or charging patterns, if one of these has the biggest impact on battery state of health (SOH), the battery being far and away the single most significant, expensive item in an electric car?

This is an example of how big data can inform decisions, and the type of information which should cascade down to the consumer so they can be informed and adopt their driving behaviour or buying decisions accordingly. Afterall, modern industries all really ought to become tech industries.

The wider applications of battery data are also important. 

Data: the key to EV viability?

For example, by knowing about battery performance at the level of an individual cell (lithium-ion batteries being made up of hundreds of individual cells) distributors will able to develop servicing and maintenance plans based on far more accurate information, reducing financial risk significantly.

Fleet managers could benefit in the same way. Both groups will also be able to sell on the batteries from used cars even if, in its entirety, the battery is no longer able to power the car.

Energy storage is fundamental to the growth of the renewable energy market, and this market in turn makes the electric car market statistics more impressive.

The more energy comes from renewable sources, the cleaner the electric car becomes because it is drawing its energy from clean sources. You only have to look at the handwringing going on in Germany to appreciate how important the source of power supply is to the reality of electric car ‘greenness’.

Soon we will be able to take the still functioning cells from lithium-ion electric car batteries and use them as part of a static energy storage system. This second life use dramatically extends the life of the battery, which improves the cars’ green stats accordingly.

The savvy consumer wants to see this sort of joined up thinking and action. The car market needs to use big data to reduce risk and achieve the incremental differences which make the difference between profit and loss.  

Author: Dr Alana Zülke, battery electrochemistry expert, Altelium.

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