The Participatory Science Platform supports collaborative projects that bring together communities and scientists or technologists on research investigating a locally-important question or problem.
New Zealanders are collaborating on a world-first research project that tracks their electric vehicles.
Owners of electric vehicles (EV) across the country are helping to answer questions like ‘how many kilometres do we get for each battery charge?’ and ‘how much money is my car earning back?’ as part of a new research project known as Flip the Fleet.
To help answer these questions, already 140 electric vehicle owners are uploading their car’s distance, energy efficiency, charging patterns and battery health readings onto the Flip the Fleet web app every month, which has been dubbed the ‘Fitbit for EVs’.
Not all owners of electric vehicles bought them because they’re eco-friendly and cut carbon emissions, though. Some prefer the performance and the quiet ride, while others appreciate how much money they save.
Already, these early adopters can compare how their car is faring against the combined average from other participants’ submissions.
“One of the main aspects we’re investigating is how quickly the battery health – the amount of power a battery holds when charged – declines over time” says Henrik Moller, an ecologist at Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability, who runs the project with Dima Ivanov at PowerStats in Auckland.
“We saw one person’s battery dip in its charge holding capacity and then rise back up to 98%. Yet someone else’s has dropped to below 75% with no sign of coming back up, so they’re clearly doing something different that’s making their overall battery lifespan shorter. We want to find out whether this is linked to their battery charging behaviour.”
Electric vehicles are still relatively new in the global market, so there is not much data out there. Of the data that is available, most is from overseas.
Pam McKinlay, co-founder of the Dunedin EV Owners group, has contributed to the growth of electric vehicles in Dunedin over the past year. She and her husband Tom own a first-generation Nissan Leaf.
“This project is great because it gives us the hard data we need in order to answer questions about how our electric cars are performing here in this country,” she says.
It also means New Zealanders’ contributions can potentially help make global data more realistic. For example, this country isn’t impacted by the extremes of hot and cold temperatures, which can affect battery range.
Australian data shows that leaving a car with a fully-charged battery sitting in temperatures hotter than 35 degrees Celsius can be bad for battery health. In Norway, winter temperatures can drop to the minus twenties, in which some charge from the battery is needed to maintain a baseline working temperature.
For Pam, the highlights from Flip the Fleet have been seeing how her car pays for itself and how eco-friendly it really is.
“You can see how much money you’re not paying for fuel each month and use that to pay off the car," she says. "I also like how, after driving my car for just 18 months, I have saved the same amount of greenhouse gases emitted by a long-haul flight to the UK.
“I think it’s exciting that this is a community of people who are going to be working collectively to find some answers. That’s what scientists do – so to be able to do that as a community of normal people is pretty special.”
Henrik says that they’re aiming for Flip the Fleet to have a thousand participants from different backgrounds who drive all types of electric vehicles – from businesses that want to keep a close eye on the performance of their fleets, to car design enthusiasts, through to environmental advocates.
“The more data that streams in, the better the science, and the louder our collective voice can be to encourage better policies and infrastructure for electric vehicles,” Henrik says. “We want to accelerate the EV revolution in New Zealand. Bring it on!”