Overcoming EV Range Anxiety

Sales of electric vehicles (EV) and plug-in hybrids (PHEV) in the UK rose by 27% in 2017, year on year, and the latest figures, released in April 2018, show that around 146,000 plug-in vehicles are currently driving around on our roads. It’s estimated that by 2022, that number will hit 1 million. What is stopping the take up being even higher? Surveys suggest that range anxiety plays a big role in people’s hesitance to jump in with both feet when it comes to making the switch from the conventional combustion engine vehicles to EVs.

What is range anxiety?

Range anxiety with electric vehicles is simply the worry that the car won’t make it to your destination without running out of power. The ‘fear of the unknown’ is what sets EV range anxiety apart from the classic fuel worries when you are driving a petrol or diesel car. On a longer journey that can’t be done on a single full charge, perhaps into areas or regions that you don’t know well, will you be able to find enough EV chargers on the public network to get you to your destination? What if a public charger you need to use is faulty or in use by another EV and you don’t have enough range to get to another one?

Most people have enough experience of using petrol stations that they don’t worry about running out of petrol.  However, with most people not having experienced using a public EV charger before, it’s an unknown factor – and one that can influence the decision whether to get an electric car or not.

Is range anxiety about EVs well founded?

The distance range that EVs can cover on a single full charge varies considerably, with some older makes and models having a range of well under 100 miles, but some newer EVs are able to do 200+ miles with ease between charges. The reality is that most EV owners will charge their vehicle primarily at home, at work, or both, with just 8% of charging expected to take place using public chargers over the next decade, according to new research. With 98% of car journeys being under 50 miles in distance, most EVs will be able to handle the day-to-day driving with ease, but what about longer journeys that will require the EV to be charged using public chargers? Or what about those who don’t have off-street parking at home for straightforward charging, or rent their homes and can’t install a home-charger, but still want to drive an EV?

There are currently around 15,000 public EV charger connections in 6,000 locations across the UK. These range from points at motorway service stations to town centre multi-storey car parks. This is in addition to around 105,000 private home and workplace charger grants that have been claimed via government schemes so far. Whilst this number may be sufficient for the number of EVs currently on the road, will it be able to grow in line with the number of people driving electric cars in 5-10 years’ time and beyond? The charging operators seem to think so. Chargemaster, one of the biggest public charging operators in the UK, estimate there will be 70,000 public charging points by 2020, which should ease some of the fears about there not being enough chargers to go around.

What happens if you do run out of juice? It’s not as simple as walking to the nearest petrol station to fill up a can when you drive an EV! There are now roadside assistance schemes in place for this eventuality; for example, the AA offer a tow to the nearest charge point for their members, and some roadside assistance vehicles have chargers on board.

Worst case scenario apart, it seems that most of the current real-world stories of people driving EVs on long and potentially problematic journeys (from a charging point of view) result in fairly trouble-free travel, especially as drivers become more used to the various types of charger and different providers available. There are also ways to make things a little easier for drivers that are perhaps unfamiliar with the area they are travelling to, or are worried about chargers being out of use when they arrive. They can spend a few minutes preparing for a longer journey using the incredibly handy free Zap-Map route planner, which shows not only the location and last known status (i.e. working or otherwise) of all UK public EV chargers, but can also plan a route for you that takes into account the real-world range for your specific make and model of EV and gives you charge stops along the way so your battery need never run worryingly low.

Public EV charging infrastructure

Whilst the UK’s major motorway network may be fairly well-serviced with charging points as things stand, does that also apply to our towns and cities? This is an important factor for those who either can’t charge at home for logistical reasons, or those that travel frequently around the country for work or leisure and need access to chargers in a number of different locations.

In 2016, the UK government set aside a fund to help local authorities across the country to pay for public charger installation in their towns and cities. This means that, in partnership with various charging network operators, charge point manufacturers and installers, local councils can essentially install a number of charging points around their cities or towns at little or no cost to themselves, providing much-needed charging for residents and visitors, whilst helping to develop a more robust infrastructure around the country and contributing positively to emission reduction targets in our town and city centres.

Joju recently installed 30 EV charge points for Southampton City Council across five different locations, which you can read about here.

Range anxiety – the end is nigh

As EV and battery technology develops, EVs with longer and longer ranges will be produced, helping to reduce worries around even long journeys. Alongside this, the public charging network in towns, cities and along the motorway system is destined to continue expanding, along with the number of EVs on the road in the UK, to help put range anxiety to rest, once and for all.

When smartphones first came out a decade ago, people were worried about keeping them charged, and it was quite common to carry round spare battery power packs to alleviate this fear.  Now, USB chargers are available almost everywhere – on trains, in cafes etc. – so people are no longer worried about running out of battery as they know they’ll be able to charge up if they need to.  We expect to see a similar rend with EV charging over the coming years.

Further Reading

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