Over the past few years, electric vehicle (EV) drivers have faced their fair share of struggles while going about their daily business. While the gas-powered brothers to electric vehicles have been around for over a century, the EV has only come to fruition in the past few years.
Because of this, there are a lot of aspects of travel and commuting that are taken for granted by drivers of gas-powered, or internal combustion engine (ICE), vehicles due to the extended timeframe during which a national (and international) system of gas stations were developed.
When a gas light goes on, there is no sense of panic, no fear of being stranded, however when the inconspicuous low battery light starts to blink, nerves begin to pulse. This is what EV drivers face on a regular basis. In order to combat this, they have to know exactly where the different chargers are, when they are available, and be confident that they will be able to charge there. This confidence does not exist in most cases.
Why is this? Because the number of electric vehicles on the road is skyrocketing exponentially, however the number of charging stations is not seeing nearly the same growth and is therefore unable to support the burgeoning EV market.
For the past thirteen months, the adoption rate of electric vehicles has continued to rise. This past October, for instance, the number of EVs sold exceeded the total number of EVs sold in all of 2015. This just goes to show how the market is here to stay.
No longer are we in the days of the EV1. We are in a world where people want to see the market succeed and will fight hard to make that vision become a reality. This is not just a trend in the United States either. Many other countries are ahead when it comes to electric vehicles and implementing green technology. Globally, there was a 42% increase in electric vehicle sales in Q1 2016, and that trend has continued to this day.
This is all well and good. The EV market is growing, but as mentioned, there are not enough chargers to serve the market. So what does this mean for EV drivers? Well, there are two primary pain points that come up. We like to call them ‘range anxiety’ and ‘charge anxiety.’ You can call them whatever you want, but at the end of the day, it is inhibiting the EV market.
Range anxiety is the fear that the electric vehicle does not have enough capacity to travel anywhere that is far away. This means no EV road trips, no leisurely drives through the mountains, potentially even no cross-city travel. Yes, EV range is continuing to grow, but it is nowhere near the range of it’s gas powered equivalent.
Charge anxiety, on the other hand, is the fear that once you do end up arriving somewhere there will be no available place to charge. This is primarily due to two factors. One is the lack of charging stations which is a point I have probably overdone by now. The other is the culture surrounding EV charging, such as certain drivers hogging a charger or simply forgetting to move and allow others to charge.
Let’s take a deeper dive into range anxiety. Ranges need to improve, but that’s not the only part of the story; the price paid for that increased range can’t be so incredibly expensive. Currently, drivers are paying around $350 per kWh in their battery (for comparison, a 2016 Leaf ranges from 26-30kWh).
Projections say that by 2020, this price will be around $120 per kWh if another, newer, more efficient technology hasn’t taken over market by then (source: Business Insider). This is all amazing news and the market is definitely heading in the right direction, given the impending release of the Tesla Model 3, Chevy Bolt, and others which have over a 200 mile range at less than $40,000.
Bloomberg even suggests that as soon as 2022 electric vehicles will be the same price as their gas counterparts. While this might seem like a lofty goal, especially knowing that batteries make up for about a third of the cost of an electric vehicle, it is not the bottleneck in the market. That is that charging infrastructure.
Sure, pretty soon you will be able to drive 300+ miles in an electric vehicle without charging, but what happens when that battery runs out? Well, odds are that you would have to stop at a charging station (if there is one in the proximity) for a few hours to recharge your car. The ideal would be to stop for no longer than it takes to fill up a tank of gas, but that is a bit impractical in the coming years.
The equipment to deliver that much power in a short period of time is few and far between. DC Fast Charging exists, which can charge a car from 0-80% in 30 minutes, but that time will only increase with larger batteries. What does this mean then for range anxiety? It will eventually transfer from being a fear of getting where you need to be at all to getting to where you need to be in enough time.
If it takes 14 hours to travel from Atlanta to Manhattan in a gas powered vehicle, it could take upwards of 20-25 hours in an electric vehicle. At least, this will be the case until the rate of charging increases and the additional cost for that ability decreases.
Ok, so range anxiety might just be a function of the cost of the infrastructure and the cost and efficiency of the car batteries themselves. How about charge anxiety? Is there something we can do right now to assuage this fear without having to rely on the growth of the battery or power electronics industry as they pertain to EVs?
Before we answer that, let’s look at charge anxiety in a bit more detail, see what it is, how it impacts drivers’ daily lives, and why it exists in the first place. There are a few key factors involved; total number of chargers available, the locations they are installed, driver behavior, and electrical grid capacity.
As mentioned many times over in this blog post, there are not enough chargers. To the drivers, this is a key issue faced. If there are not enough chargers, the odds are simply not in favor of the drivers to find one. The bigger issue is the location of the chargers currently on the market. The majority have been placed at locations that are not the most convenient to get to, and that inconvenience is multiplied by the fact that the car has to charge for around 2 hours at each of these locations.
Therefore, these stations are all but obsolete when it comes to being relied upon for commuting and those crucial times of need. These stations, commonly found at retail locations, grocery stores, etc., are not being used for regular charging so much as ‘topping off,’ which will become obsolete as battery ranges continue to increase.
We at TEQ Charging believe that charging should be integrated into the routine of the driver, rather than be a hassle and extra thing to remember. By placing the charging stations at places you are already parked for a long period of time, there is much more practicality and ease to driving an electric vehicle. These places include condos and apartments, airports, workplaces, hotels, etc.
However, even in these locations, there are still issues that cause charge anxiety. Namely, will the space be available when I get there or will I have to trust that the driver in front of me in line will move their car in a timely manner so that I can plug in? This question and fear exists because, even in the substantially more convenient locations listed above, the high cost of charging infrastructure results in not enough chargers being installed, if at all.
Simply put, the value received for the cost of the charging station does not balance out in the eyes of the property/parking lot management. Without enough chargers, the culture around driving changes and drivers will sometimes do anything to ensure they get their car charged. We have heard stories everywhere from cars being unplugged before they are finished charging to getting keyed because the next driver is frustrated with not getting their charge.
If a car is blocking the charger from your use, whether they are charging currently or otherwise, it could result in you not being able to make it back home in time for your kids, not able to run your errands on the way home, or even not being able to make it back home at all.
At this point, one might wonder why people won’t just charge at their homes. After all, as cars get longer and longer ranges, there would be less need to charge at work and just refill at home, right? Well, not exactly. It sounds good in theory, but as cars get longer ranges, they will take longer to charge. As it is right now, there is not enough time to fully charge an electric vehicle using just a 120V outlet in the garage. In order to charge quickly enough, you will have to pay to install a Level 2 charger.
Great, problem solved. Except for one problem, the residential electrical grid was not made to handle the loads of an electric vehicle every night. Currently, some drivers are forced to decide between charging their car or running their dryer. Others are competing with their neighbor, whom they share a transformer with, to charge their cars.
As the number of vehicles continue to grow exponentially, the ability for the residential grid to support those loads will dwindle. This means that people will be forced to charge their vehicles elsewhere if they want to be guaranteed a charge.
Now let’s look at a different kind of residential; multi-family dwellings such as apartments and condominiums. These are generally located in more urban environments and do have the potential to charge enough electric vehicles given that they pay to upgrade their electrical panel. However, a lot of these complexes have deeded spaces, meaning that only the person at that space would be able to charge.
This isn’t exactly fair if everyone in the building pitches in for one person’s charger. So, what’s the solution? If you want charging, you pay for it. This is all well and good for the first couple people who maybe have to pay $1000 for the station and install. What happens after that when the incremental cost jumps to $100,000 due to the need to expand electrical panel and/or transformer space? Well, they just don’t install chargers.
The apartment building is at an impasse and so is the driver. That’s where TEQ Charging comes in. Using our patent-pending queuing technology, we can connect multiple chargers to one power line and queue the power from one car to the next throughout the day so that third person doesn’t get stuck with a $100,000 bill. Even when the TEQ system maxes out on capacity to charge all cars overnight, the impending $100,000 investment can be spread across the plethora of new stations that can be installed rather than just one.
I’ve talked a lot about problems that exist in the market today, but how about some of the solutions? Are the up to par to take on the challenge and solve the pain points?
Let’s look at range anxiety first. Take the Tesla supercharging network. This is an amazing feat, and the technology that runs it is absolutely stunning. However, it still takes half an hour to charge, but that is the least of its worries. At a half hour wait and with nearly half a million Tesla Model 3s to enter the road next year, there is no way that everyone can just pull up and get a charge. That is exactly why Tesla has announced they will start charging for use of the supercharger network next year.
Luckily, the US has announced that they are in the process of creating charging corridors across the country for electric vehicles. While the market is still growing, this seems like a promising solution for range anxiety, especially as DCFC charging becomes more commoditized and faster.
That leaves us with charge anxiety. We already addressed the potential for longer battery ranges. Sure, that alleviates a lot of the pain points, but the issue still exists of needing a charge eventually and that charge taking longer than a gasoline refuel. Charging stations will not become obsolete with the increase of battery ranges.
In Atlanta and a few other cities, utilities are creating what they call charging islands. This seems like an amazing idea at first; a corollary of Tesla superchargers applied to city commuting. However, the problem remains of increasingly long lines and wait times at the islands as ranges increase and the number of cars increase. The risk of arriving and not having an open station is also a reality, so this ultimately will not prove to be a long lasting infrastructure play.
Well, if you’ve made it this far, hopefully you have a better understanding of the difference between charge anxiety and range anxiety, at least from the view of TEQ Charging. If nothing else, the biggest takeaway is that this market is constantly changing, iterating, growing, and moving, so these predictions may be obsolete in a few months.
We are continually trying to stay ahead of the game when it comes to the electric vehicle market, and we will continue to update this blog with our findings, thoughts, and predictions. Charge on!