Electric Cars: Range Anxiety? What Range Anxiety?

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Is range anxiety really an issue or is it an urban myth. If we look at the sort of journeys we do and the distances we travel, it would seem that range anxiety is an urban myth. Research in the UK has shown that if we did all the activities we use a car for in one day, the average distance travelled would be a little over 46 miles. Car manufacturers are producing electric vehicles (EVs) that are able to go approximately 100 miles on one charge so what’s the problem?

The urban myth of range anxiety

Range anxiety is the idea that we will run out of battery power before reaching our destination and be stranded without the ability to recharge the battery quickly to get going again. Dealing with range anxiety is about planning recharging stops when necessary just like planning to refuel a conventional car.

In 2011 there are about 350 public charging points in the UK, which means recharging an EV requires good forward planning. Fortunately, planning our charging stops will become easier as thousands more charging points are installed over the next few years. Charging points will be located in car parks, on-street parking areas and may take over old petrol stations as they close. One big advantage is that they are easy to put in place. They occupy a small fraction of street space and can be connected easily to a nearby electricty supply. In fact any building with an electricity supply could be a charging point.

Another issue that adds to the anxiety is the time taken to recharge the battery compared with refuelling a conventional car. Recharging an EV may take ten hours and only get you another 100 miles down the road. Refuelling a conventional car takes minutes and will get you several hundred miles down the road. Car manufacturers are dealing with this issue by providing quick charging options that can recharge the battery to 80% of its capacity in 30 minutes. In addition, if you don’t want to wait that long, there will be battery replacement centres that can automatically change the battery with a fully charged one in about three minutes.

Type of journey and distance travelled

Will we really need to plan our recharging stops in detail every day? Probably not. Research by the UK Department of Transport in their annual report on Transport Trends (2009) shows that for certain activities the average distances travelled by car are:

Shopping: 4.4 miles
Work: 8.6 miles
Education: 3.3 miles
Leisure: 9.1 miles
Business: 20.8 miles

When added together they give a total of 46.2 miles.

The mileage shifts between activities because we may not do them all in one day. For example, there may be more business miles, but no leisure miles. But even if we did all the activities it would still, on average, be within the 100 mile range of most EVs available today.

Type of driving

The type of driving we do is an important factor in the range we may get from an EV. A stop/start urban journey is better because the EV uses regenerative braking to help charge the battery. The range may be less on a longer journey with less braking and higher speeds such as on a motorway. Going uphill uses more power and may reduce the range whereas going downhill uses regenerative braking to help charge the battery. In addition, the range may be less if any ancillary equipment such as air con, lights or radio are used.

Electric car examples and their ranges

Listed below are some examples of EVs and their ranges. It shows that car manufacturers are hitting the 100 mile range according to New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) test.

Citroen c-zero, europeanised Mitsubishi iMiev: 93 miles
Mitsubishi iMiev: 93 miles
Nissan Leaf: 109 miles
Peugeot Ion, europeanised Mitsubishi iMiev: 93 miles
Renault Zoe: 100 miles (expected)
Smart Fourtwo: 84 miles (100 miles at 30mph)
Tata Vista: 125-150 miles (expected)

The NEDC test is designed to represent typical vehicle use in Europe. It’s made up of 4 urban or ECE-15 cycles and an extra-urban or EUDC cycle. Each urban cycle is a 2.518 mile journey with an average speed of 11.6 mph (18.7 kph) and a maximum speed of 31 mph (50 kph) over a 195 second period. The extra-urban cycle is used for 400 seconds once all urban cycles are complete and has an average speed of 30 mph (62.6 kph) and a maximum speed of 74.6 mph (120 kph). The test time is a little over 19 minutes is performed on a rolling road test bed with a cold engine and all equipment such as air con, lights, heated windows etc…, turned off.

In time battery technology will improve and will give EVs the same or greater range as a conventional cars. Then we really will be saying, “Range anxiety? What range anxiety?”

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