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Sunday May 14, 2017 – Range Anxiety – I read a couple of interesting articles this week about range anxiety so I thought that it was time to revisit this topic as it is often cited as a major reason why people are not buying electric cars.
In truth, limited range is slowly loosing pull as a reason that people are not buying electric cars as advances in battery technology means that the new crop of vehicles have significantly longer range than the earlier vehicles. Where cars like the first generation Nissan Leaf had a range of around 80 miles, more recent models like the Hyundai Ioniq have an all electric range of 110 miles. The average driver does 30 miles per day so basically the additional range of the latest electric cars give an additional day of driving before needing to charge. Cars like the Chevy Bolt, with an EPA estimated range of 238 miles have started to push the range even further giving most people plenty of range for their day to day driving.
One of the articles I read said that range anxiety is something unique to electric cars but this is not totally true. The worst case of range anxiety I ever experienced was traveling across the desert with no other cars in sight watching the fuel gage drop lower and lower then finding that the only gas station for miles around was closed, now that's range anxiety. I experienced this many years ago driving my old Chevy. I was able to stretch out my available fuel and make it another 20 miles to an open gas station but it was the most nervous I have ever been in a car, gas or electric.
The real problem is not really the range of the car but the time it takes to charge. Even with a level 2 charger the Chevy Bolt is going to take at least 10 hours to charge and people worry that they have to wait for 10 hours to charge their car making long distance travel take an extended length of time. Fortunately a lot of new cars also come with a fast charging option which allows the car to fill up in a much shorter time. For the Chevy Bolt I understand that it takes about an hour on most fast chargers to get up to 80% charge which gives you plenty of time to get a meal or do some shopping while waiting for the car to fill.
Using a fast charger is still a lot slower than filling up an ICE car and this is really the issue that is pushing some companies like Toyota, Honda and Hyundai into experimenting with fuel cell cars. Gas cars tend to have a much longer range than electric cars, although my old Chevy with its V6 engine and relatively small gas tank was lucky to give me 175 miles around town. Still, the convenience of spending just 5 minutes at a gas station to fill up for another 300 miles of driving is compelling for many people, especially those who don't know the convenience of waking up each morning with a full tank.
For the average driver, a 10 hour
overnight charge from a 110V outlet will cover the average 30 mile drive.
For a car like the Hyundai Ioniq Electric that would mean making your regular 30
mile drive each day and having 80 miles of additional range in case you needed
to run errands during the week.
There is another issue that was also brought up this week triggered by a BMW i3 driver in Canada who was very upset that he wasn't getting the 200 KM range advertised by BMW. This is partly due to the European manufacturers over-promising on range because they initially measure range on the very lenient European test cycle. The EPA test cycle gives a range that is somewhat closer to real world driving and for the BMW i3 the range is 81 miles (130 KM). It shouldn't be surprising that someone expecting a 200 KM range who is only getting 130 KM would be upset.
Real world range is another reason that people would get range anxiety. Range tends to vary quite a bit depending on conditions and driving style. This is true of gas cars as well as electric but becomes a lot more noticeable in an electric car. With a gas car, you typically get a fuel gage that measure the amount of fuel in the gas tank. If you turn on the air conditioner it isn't going to change the level of fuel in the tank so you would have no idea that your range just dropped quite a bit. Only if you track your fill-ups would you really notice the difference in mpg.
In an electric car it's quite different. Most cars provide an estimate of miles remaining based on the state of charge of the battery pack. In my Prius Plug-in, when I turn on the AC my miles remaining is immediately going to drop by about 20% which is really going to freak out someone who is already close to the limits of their range. Of course in a plug-in hybrid I know that the gas engine will kick in when I run low on charge so I wouldn't be worried but in a pure electric this could be cause for concern.
In the case of running the AC it might be the difference between making it to the destination and needing a charge before you get there. Of course the miles have not been consumed by turning on the AC, the estimate just changed to reflect the higher current draw on the batteries that is created by the AC. If I turn off the AC the range would go up by 20% again, so I could drive home without the AC even though this might not be as comfortable as the driver would like.
There are other things that affect range too. One of the worst is the need for heat in cold environments. ICE cars get their heat by using the waste heat created by the engine but there is very little waste heat for an electric car, not enough to heat up the cabin on a sub-zero day. EVs are usually equipped with either heat pumps or electric heaters and both these pull a lot of juice out of the battery. In really cold climates this can suck as much as 40% of the range out of the batteries and this has to be taken into account when choosing an EV. Plug-in hybrids usually get their heat from running the ICE engine so they are much less impacted by cold weather.
Another factor affecting range is how heavy footed you are. Jackrabbit starts can be a lot of fun for torque junkies and an EV can usually out-accelerate and ICE by quite a margin but this does negatively impact range. High speed also has consequences. Driving a Chevy Bolt on the freeway at 80 mph will yield significantly less than 238 miles of range. Again this is not isolated to EVs, anyone who drives an ICE on the freeway at 80 mph will also see their mpg significantly reduced.
To make EVs long range cars there is an ever growing number of chargers being installed across the country. There are several issues with the charging station networks at the moment that need to be considered when buying an EV.
The first is the nature of these charging locations. They tend to be distributed around urban areas where there are a significant number of electric vehicles on the roads. Here in Southern California there are lots of level 2 charging stations scattered around so you can usually find one wherever you go. In some areas of the country though chargers are few and far between making long distance travel very difficult unless you have someone at the other end who will let you plug in at their home. Charger networks are being built out slowly and it does make sense to put chargers where the cars are and as EVs become more commonplace the EV charger networks will expand to incorporate more remote areas.
Fast DC chargers, also known as Level 3 chargers are more of an issue. The biggest problem is that there are 3 incompatible standards for Level 3 charging. Tesla has its well known network of Superchargers that are well distributed along major highways allowing Tesla drivers to travel coast to coast with little more effort than an ICE driver. The Japanese carmakers use their own standard called ChaDeMO which is used on cars like the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV. The US and European manufacturers use a third standard called Combined Charging System (CCS) which is the charger type used on cars like the BMW i3 and Chevy Bolt.
The problem with multiple standards is that this just makes it harder to get more coverage. Typically Tesla goes its own way although they do now offer an adapter that will allow Teslas to use ChaDeMO chargers. while the other companies rely on charger network providers like Chargepoint and.EVGo to set up chargers. This sometimes means a location will have just ChaDeMO or just CCS so a driver has to plan carefully when he wants to travel long distances. This does lead to range anxiety and discourages many from risking longer distance travel with their EV.
The biggest driver of range anxiety is worry about getting to a charger and finding it in use or blocked. Last time I was at Westfield's Century City Shopping Center I found all 8 chargers were in use and there was already a guy in a BMW i3 waiting for a charger. Fortunately Westfield's is planning to add more chargers as part of their expansion of the Mall which should be completed by Fall of this year. My biggest beef is going to a charger location and find that somebody has parked in one of the charging bays but isn't charging. Tesla drivers are the worst offenders here but I've seen lots of other plug-ins blocking chargers. Getting to a charger when your range is getting low and finding it blocked can really spark an attack of range anxiety.
Earlier this week on Twitter I saw someone complaining about Plug-in Hybrids hogging the chargers. Chelsea Sexton had a good comeback for this pointing out that the chargers are there to maximize electric miles driven and so it is beneficial for plug-in hybrids to be able to charge. I can understand how it might be worrying for an EV driver to get to a charging station and find all the chargers being used by plug-ins and this is another trigger for range anxiety. Personally I'm in favor of more 110V outlets rather than a limited number of Level 2 chargers. It takes a lot longer to get a full charge at level 1 but it is quite enough for many PHEVs which could then leave the faster Level 2 chargers to the EVs.
There are solutions coming down the pike to address range anxiety. The first one is faster Level 3 chargers so that an EV can fill up in 5 minutes instead of 60 minutes. I think that it will be a while before such chargers become available but higher voltage Level 3 chargers are already starting to appear that will cut charging time down to about half what the current models take. Another solution is destination charging. Given the growth of plug-in cars I find it amazing that charging stations are not becoming commonplace at hotels everywhere. The availability of even Level 1 charging at a hotel would make travel much easier. On the last trip I took there were no chargers at any of the local hotels with the exception of Pechanga Hotel-Casino which has about 8 Level 2 chargers most of which were in use on the couple of times I visited. I finished up charging at one of two locations provided by the city of Temecula in Old Town.
Range anxiety shouldn't bother people who want to use an EV for things like a daily commute and running errands around town. Unless someone has a really long commute a simple overnight charge should provide more than enough range for most people's daily needs. Where range anxiety kicks in is when you need to take that EV on a long distance trip. For some this is just not feasible but for many all it takes is a little extra planning and a little extra time. As EVs improve over time this will become less and less of an issue.
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