The Fuse

White House Initiative for EV Charging Corridors to Significantly Reduce ‘Range Anxiety’

by Matt Piotrowski | November 08, 2016

The number of EV charging stations is about rise further, making the issue of range anxiety even less pertinent, particularly for long trips on interstates.

“Range anxiety” has been often cited as a major barrier to the adoption of electric vehicles. Consumers have been hesitant to buy EVs because of their limitations on how far they can drive on one charge, and stations to recharge vehicles were sparse. Other issues, including the relatively high initial costs of EVs and a dramatic drop in gasoline prices, have also deterred adoption. Range anxiety might have been a legitimate worry when EVs first became available at the beginning of the decade, but today those fears are overblown. Automakers have improved battery technology while also bringing down costs by an enormous 70 percent. But beyond the cars themselves is the fact that charging infrastructure has proliferated.

EVchargingstations

The number of charging stations is about rise further, making the issue of range anxiety even less pertinent, particularly for long trips on interstates. Last week, the Obama administration announced that it has designated 48 corridors along U.S. interstates where motorists will have access to charging stations. This initiative has the potential to alter consumers thinking about EVs given that they would be able to recharge easier on long-distance travel and even cross-country trips. The Department of Transportation (DOT) says the routes with EV charging stations will cover almost 25,000 miles in 35 states. The corridors will run along 55 interstates, where signs will alert motorists to the next charging outlets, similar to existing signs that show where gas stations are. The charging stations will be about 50 miles apart.

DOT will receive some help from private partners and state and local governments for the EV projects. Companies such as GE, GM, BMW, and Nissan, along with 28 state governments, will assist with the charging corridor development. At the same time, DOT also plans to put together two studies to determine best ways to deploy charging states at the national level. Also as part of the EV initiative the administration announced last week, 24 state and local governments agreed to boost the number of EVs or plug-in hybrids in their fleets.

“Giving EV drivers access to high-speed charging stations along the national interstate highway system is a vital component of the United States’ electrified transportation future.”

ChargePoint, a leading EV charging company, applauded the Obama administration’s plans: “Giving EV drivers access to high-speed charging stations along the national interstate highway system is a vital component of the United States’ electrified transportation future.”

Questions over funding

Although the program is poised to bring together a consortium of public and private partners, it’s unclear where the funding will come from and how long it will take to construct the charging stations. The White House’s press release did not specify how much the stations will cost and how the investment will be structured. All parties involved—DOT, state governments, and private companies—will remain in a wait-and-see mode until the issues over funding are clarified.

Although the program is poised to bring together a consortium of public and private partners, it’s unclear where the funding will come from and how long it will take to construct the charging stations.

Nonetheless, the announcement comes on the heels of other actions the Obama administration has taken to promote the use of EVs. Earlier this summer the White House said, in a sign of its willingness to collaborate with industry, that it was providing some $4.5 billion in loan guarantees to support commercial distribution of EV charging stations. The Obama administration also signed the FAST Act last year, legislation that will provide more than $300 billion in infrastructure funding. A portion of the money is set to boost infrastructure for alternative vehicles, which includes EV charging stations.

Not all news is positive on the EV charging front, however. Tesla said on Monday that its customers who buy its vehicles after January 1, 2017 will have to pay for using its fast-charging network, called Superchargers, after their first 1,000 miles. This announcement comes as a bit of a shock since current customers will get free life-time charging. CEO Elon Musk had even at one point offered unlimited lifetime free charging to owners of his Tesla’s cars: Drive for Free. Forever. On Sunlight.In its blog post with the announcement, anticipating criticism of its move, Tesla reinforced that the Superchargers are meant for long trips, not daily charging. For everyday charging, drivers should recharge at home during off-peak hours.

EVs still have plenty of hurdles

Despite the growing progress of EVs throughout this decade, in technology, sales, and infrastructure, their penetration of the vehicle fleet is occurring only slowly. In 2011, Obama stated his goal of having 1 million EVs on the roads by 2015—as of last month, only 500,000 have been sold. Still, sales have surged this year even with gasoline prices remaining low. For the third quarter, roughly 45,000 plug-in EVs were sold, up an enormous 63 percent year-on-year. The numbers dipped significantly in October to 11,300 units, but that was still higher than the same time in 2015.

The good news is that both developments in the private sector and the public sphere are heading in the right direction for the EV market to continue to grow. As noted above, range anxiety, while a legitimate concern on long trips, has been an overstated fear. Battery technology has improved: For instance, Tesla’s Model X has range of 250 miles on one charge, while the Chevy Bolt is at 200 miles. Most conventional gasoline cars can travel around 350 miles before depleting a full tank of gas, but even though an internal combustion engine vehicle has “greater” range than an EV, it shouldn’t be an issue for consumers given that most motorists drive less than 50 miles in one day. A study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) over the summer said that 87 percent of vehicles on the road today could be replaced by an EV without disrupting day-to-day driving patterns even if there is no opportunity to recharge the vehicle during the day.

Despite improvements on charging infrastructure and battery technology, consumers may still be hesitant to buy EVs based on outdated preconceptions.

Despite improvements on charging infrastructure and battery technology, consumers may still be hesitant to buy EVs based on outdated preconceptions. Many buyers make decisions based on emotion when purchasing a car and then justify their purchase based on cherry-picked details after the fact.

With that in mind, worries about range anxiety won’t go away easily. Moreover, the high costs of EVs serve as a barrier to large-scale purchases. The growing number of EV chargers, the result of both public and private initiatives like the one the Obama administration announced last week, will not nix all anxieties consumers have about EVs, but they could be a big help in contributing to a longer-term move toward the electrification of the car fleet.

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