This summer, ZERO has the pleasure of hosting Tommy Hayes as an intern. Tommy used to work for the American environmental organisation Natural Resources Defense Council (http://www.nrdc.org) and is now pursuing a masters at Yale.
Probably my biggest takeaway from the Zero Rally was experiencing the importance of charging infrastructure. I must admit that I was previously somewhat skeptical of the “range anxiety” issue, or the worry that an electric vehicle (EV) will run out of juice and strand you somewhere you cannot recharge. In a gas car, it takes some serious human error to run into this problem (“I’m sure we can make it!”), and I figured I would be immune to the supposed stress. True, the distance range of most EVs on a full charge has not yet reached the range of most internal combustion engine cars on a full tank, but I thought the hullaballoo about EV range anxiety was, to some extent, an irrational fear. Not so, I would now argue, but fortunately there is a cure.
Having now been at the wheel while watching the battery miles (kilometers) click down, I can testify that the security of knowing there are charging options between points A and B is crucial to the driving enjoyment of an EV. By contrast, seeing the “low gas” warning come on in a typical car as the fuel tank approaches empty is more an annoyance than cause for concern. Since there are gas stations near almost every highway exit or major intersection, you’re rarely in trouble. But when your EV tells you how much farther it can take you, you don’t lament the inconvenience of having to stop at a station – you may wonder if there is one. To avoid searching aimlessly, at least in the United States, you can consult the DOE’s comprehensive map of electric charging stations or use one of the many available smartphone apps, such as offerings from Recargo or ChargePoint.
Better Safe than Sorry
You don’t want just enough charging stations to make the journey feasible – you want more than what would be minimally sufficient, as unexpected circumstances may require it. Let’s say, hypothetically, you forgot to charge completely the night before, or couldn’t resist driving aggressively on the hills. Perhaps you got lost and drove extra miles backtracking and searching for your destination, and maybe you failed to put the Nissan Leaf into “Eco” driving mode to extend its range. OK, imagine you did all of these things (maybe I did, maybe I didn’t…) and quickly you’ll see the benefits of having ample charging stations available. It will still take some time to figure out the optimal ratio of EVs to charging stations, but for now we should continue efforts to get the first pieces in place, as the Scandinavian Green Highway has done, and make sure there is a margin for errors in drivers’ range calculations.
Creating Range Assurance
It bears repeating what has been pointed out by many other voices on EVs: battery electric cars on a full charge can already meet the typical daily driving needs of most people. Charging an EV overnight to full power will enable most people to enjoy an all-electric, round trip commute plus ordinary errands without needing to plug in. Efforts in places like California, which recently announced big plans to roll out electric charging infrastructure, will directly address the issue of range anxiety while making the state “EV-ready”. Charging stations which dot streetscapes and parking lots can enable EV owners to top up while working or shopping, whereas fast charging along major highways will lend the freedom to drive hundreds of miles away from home. Has somebody coined the term “range assurance” yet?