EV charging infrastructure is important if we’re to support the adoption of electric vehicles. However, there’s a lot more we can do to allay drivers’ concerns.
The truth about range anxiety
Before we get to how crucial range calculations are and EV routing is, it’s important to fully understand how range anxiety manifests. We need to consider what our anxiety is rooted in and ask: “What are we actually worried about?”
As van den Berg points out, having enough charge day to day shouldn’t be an issue, on average.
Figures from the International Energy Agency, show that in 2020 the average EV was capable of driving 350 km (220 miles) on a single charge. Today, that figure is closer to 400 km (300 miles) and is likely to further increase over the next few years.
What’s more, the US Federal Highway Association estimates that the average daily mileage of an American driver is just 37 miles (59 kilometers). Most drivers would only need to charge twice a week and could be fully serviced by a home charger or one at work – given that a car spends 95% of its time parked, it has plenty of time to recharge.
In this context, it’s easy to wonder why we experience range anxiety at all, why we’re so keen on fast chargers, and why we dream of EVs that can drive more than 500 miles on a single charge. On the surface it sounds like we have it good enough already.
This line of thinking is too theoretical, though. In the real-world, predicted EV ranges aren’t always accurate and that brings significant uncertainty for drivers. It’s as if they can’t trust their EV’s fuel gauge and are therefore anxious they might run out of charge when they think they have more than they do.
“Having a too simplistic approach for range estimation will actually cause heavy fluctuation and increases in that anxiety,” van den Berg said.
What’s more, while averages work as generalizations across large groups, the reality is that some drivers drive a lot and others drive very little. When this is averaged out, it makes it sound like EVs work for everyone, but for those high-mileage and regular drivers, that’s not the case.
TomTom’s EV routing product manager, Hanno Spijker, says that even driving in the Netherlands, a country with a great EV charging network when compared to most other countries, it’s still possible to experience range anxiety.
Even brand new EVs are far from perfect. Spijker recalls driving 20 km but seeing the vehicle’s range indicator drop by 40 km. When blindsided by a poor range calculation, finding the correct and closest charger for your car is not a trivial concern.
We also need to consider route optimization. How fast you drive, the elevation gain and loss on a journey and the weather, all affect range. In terms of decreasing the overall journey time, when you charge is as important as where and for how long.
EV batteries have what is called a charging curve. This curve is the result of a protective measure and is a characteristic of the battery. Essentially, how much charge your EV has when you plug it in will affect how fast it can add any additional charge. The “emptier” it is, the faster it will charge.
Generally speaking, charging from 5% to 50% will take much less time than charging from 50% to 95%, all other things being equal. So, if getting from A to B as quickly as possible is important, when we charge relative to current energy levels, the car’s charging curve and distance from our destination, shouldn’t be ignored.