This month's EV Corner column is written by Chuck Hayward, EV Infrastructure Designer & Analyst. Next month he will do a deeper dive into the equity issues discussed below.
When we talk about electric vehicles, there’s a lot that can seem confusing or even scary. One of the biggest concerns for people considering EVs is range anxiety.
Range anxiety is the fear that an electric car won’t be able to travel far enough to get you where you’re going, or at least not without having to wait a long time to recharge. This anxiety stems from America’s fascination with the idea of the road trip and because we’re assuming that we’ll “fill up” EVs the same as we do gas engines. We’re struggling to grasp how EVs will actually fit into our daily routines.
Granted, there are some places where public EV chargers aren’t available and we can’t get there in an EV. But there are many state and federal programs that will address this over the next few years. Unless we spend a lot of time in rural areas, the more common concern with range anxiety is that it can take 30 minutes or more to recharge an EV battery, even at a fast charger.
We assume that we’ll be trading our quick five-minute stop at the gas station for a half hour or more of sitting in our car and waiting at a charger. However, we need to consider how EVs fit better for the ways we really use our vehicles. Sitting at a public charger for a half hour to recharge won’t be nearly as common as many people believe. Why?
The answer for most people is only a couple of times per year. It’s rare that we drive so many miles in a single day that we use an entire tank of gas. Most gas vehicles get somewhere around 200-300 miles on a full tank, and the average American only drives 30 to 40 miles per day. So a full tank of gas usually lasts us a week or so.
Driving an EV changes our experience because we essentially have a gas pump anywhere there’s an electrical outlet. Most EV drivers plug in at home and top off their battery every night, starting every day with full range — the equivalent of a full tank of gas. Unless we’re going to drive more than 200 miles that day, we’ll just charge again that night and start the next day with a full charge again. Many EVs come with a charge cord that can be plugged into a standard outlet in the garage and doesn’t require any electrical upgrades. It’s a slow charge, but even that can replenish about 35-40 miles of range in 8 hours overnight for most EVs. Conveniently, that’s the exact amount most of us drive in a day!
You’ll notice I’ve said “most” a lot. That’s because all of this doesn’t apply 100% of the time. Let’s explore some of the challenges:
Public EV charging stations at Saddleback Mountain in Maine. Cold weather can reduce an EV’s range considerably – up to 30%! Yes, that sounds scary. But assuming the car has a low-end starting range of 220 miles, that means it will still have 150 miles of range in cold weather. Even if we can’t charge every night, that’s enough to get the average driver through about a week of daily driving.
For a variety of reasons, many people don't have the luxury of charging their EV at home overnight. That doesn’t necessarily mean we have to sit and wait to charge. With public chargers becoming more and more common, we’re starting to reach the situation where we can charge wherever we park.
We might be able to charge our battery while we’re grocery shopping, visiting the park, sitting in the dentist’s chair, or working — all places in New England where ReVision has installed chargers! Imagine if our car fueled itself while we strolled through the park or got our shopping done, instead of having to go to a gas station!
ReVision-installed DC Fast Chargers at the I-95 rest stop in Kennebunk, ME.If we’re taking an occasional long trip, we might have to sit and wait to charge while we’re on the road. But with EVs easily going 150 miles between charges, we’ll probably want to stop for a short bathroom or snack break every few hours anyway. And for those trips where EV charging isn't realistic, we can always rent or borrow a gas car. Many multi-car households will likely still use a gas car for these kinds of trips for another few years while our charging infrastructure continues to expand. Outside of these rare trips, it’s likely that the range of most EVs will be completely sufficient for our daily driving needs.
So the real question is...
If you need some help, EVNavigation.com is a route planning tool that helps show how far you can get with different EVs. It will even help plan charging stops and account for factors that can affect range like weather conditions or the number of people in the vehicle.
So what if you can't plug in at home every night? It is not always simple to install a charger or use an existing outlet for those who rent, live in a shared building without dedicated parking, don’t have electricity at the parking lot, or can’t afford to install a charger. Not everybody has easy access to charge at home.
The obvious solution is to make chargers available at work or other public places. But as a recent study pointed out, access to public charging is not equal – EV chargers are much more common in white, affluent neighborhoods.
There’s no question that the current benefits of driving electric are not equitable. In next month's EV Corner, we’ll address some of these problems and explore efforts to help make EVs more equitable, including purchase incentives, charging installations, and electrification of other forms of transportation beyond personal vehicles.