Supposedly an electric car owner is always getting stuck at the side of the road after running out of power. Electric car owners look silly, having paid a premium price, for a special kind of car, only to get stuck at the side of the road. That's the stereotype, and the truth is rather different.
Don't gasoline car drivers get stuck on the side of the road? Isn't that why every gas car driver carries a gas can in the trunk? In other words, the problem is not limited to electric car owners. Further, these limiting beliefs have little reality to show for them, but stop many from buying electric cars.
Yes electric car drivers can (and do) get stuck without power. It's called the Flatbed of Shame as the person is towed to a charging station. Gasoline car owners can end up in the same situation.
Just like a gasoline car owner has to know how to gauge gasoline vehicle driving range, an electric car owner must know how to gauge electric car driving range. It's the same problem in both cases - when on a trip longer than the vehicle driving range, it's necessary to stop and recharge or refuel the car. The driving range dictates how frequently you stop for refueling.
The flip side of knowing the driving range of a given electric car is knowing how to find public charging stations, how to access the public charging stations, and the charging rate required to successfully take the trip. A gasoline car owner has the same questions, but enjoys a mature ubiquitous refueling infrastructure and a 5 minute refueling time.
How much electric car driving range is required to avoid range anxiety?
With gasoline vehicles we're used to having a 300+ mile driving range and a 5 minute recharge. Many think electric vehicles should do the same, and are waiting for that combination. Gasoline car drivers have had that arrangement for 100+ years, and don't realize that electric vehicle behavior allows for a different usage model.
The key is that most of us only take long trips a couple times a year.
Instead drivers travel 40 miles or less per day (the USA national average). Even an 80 mile range electric car, that's recharged every day at home, can handle that daily commute, especially if it's charged at the office. A 300+ mile range with 5 minute recharge is way beyond what's required for typical daily driving, so long as the car can be recharged at home.
Electric car drivers have the advantage of charging at home, and the luxury of always having a fully fueled car. Gasoline car drivers are at a disadvantage in this regard.
Believing that a 300+ mile range and 5 minute recharge is an absolute requirement, is a limiting belief. Meaning it is a false belief (for most of us) that stops those with that belief from owning an electric car. Most of us don't actually require that range and charging time, except for the occasional road trip.
Solving electric car range anxiety
The first step of solving a problem is to recognize its shape.
- The majority of electric car models (late 2015) are rated for an 80-100 mile driving range. In 2017 the affordable 200+ mile range electric cars are starting to be sold. In 2019 several manufacturers are selling 200+ mile range electric cars in the $35,000 MSRP range, and it's expected more are coming shortly.
- Most electric car owners charge solely at home. Their driving radius is 1/2 the driving range of their electric car - they can drive outbound 1/2 their range, and must then return home to charge.
- Those who charge at home and at work have slightly more autonomy. Their electric driving range is limited to an oval encircling their home and workplace.
- Those who charge at home, at work, and at public driving stations, can drive any distance they like within the limitations of charging station availability, charging time, and their willingness to wait for charging to finish.
- Driving really long distances is more difficult, because of the lack of electric charging stations, but can still be done in some cases. The fast charging networks are being built out and will enable us to drive long distances on electricity.
In other words driving around town in an electric car is fairly easy. Charging at home is easy and convenient and is a much cheaper fuel than gasoline. Driving further distances means using other charging stations. There are a few simple skills to learn to navigate the process of locating and using charging stations, and calculating a route using available charging.
Electric vehicle autonomy, or the freedom to drive wherever we want
As EV adoption progresses, and charging networks mature, long-range trips will become easier and easier.
While many people are happily charging their electric car solely at home, those electric cars aren't fulfilling their entire potential. The more we drive our electric car, the more benefit (both economically and environmentally) we get.
Tesla electric car owners have the easiest time. Tesla Motors has had the foresight to build the Supercharger network to enable Model S and Model X owners to take proper electric car road trips. Even so, owners of the 100ish mile range electric cars have taken long trips. Some have even taken the Mitsubishi i-MiEV (60ish mile range) on really long range trips, thousands of miles from home, relying on CHAdeMO fast charging. At one time I had a converted 1971 Karmann Ghia (beautiful car) with a 50 mile range, with which I took several 200-mile-a-day trips. I could have gone further in a day if I'd focused on covering distance.
The key to easy electric road trips is using fast charging stations. Good quality fast charging infrastructure makes it possible to take Road Trips on electric power. This has been proved again and again by the many Tesla Model S and Model X and Model 3 owners using the Supercharger network. It's not just owners of Tesla cars, because owners of CHAdeMO and CCS cars have also done so.
In the meantime we must confront these limiting beliefs. They're keeping us from fully using our electric cars.
Seattle to San Francisco electrically
To prove the point - with the right infrastructure, long range electric car trips are possible - let's consider a very difficult (at this time) trip.
The route between Seattle and San Francisco is over 800 miles long. It crosses multiple mountain ranges, and passes through many largely uninhabited (but beautiful) areas.
Multiple people have taken that trip (and further south) with electric cars. For a long time the biggest hurdle was the lack of charging infrastructure between the Oregon-California border and the Sacramento region. Folks making this trip made-do with stopping at RV parks or campgrounds because RV owners frequently use NEMA 14-50 outlets, meaning an electric car owner can carry a 6 kiloWatt charging station to charge at an RV park.
Now that it is 2019 and the charging networks are improving, there is now sufficient charging infrastructure between Sacramento and the Oregon-California border.
North of the Oregon-California border, up to Seattle and Vancouver BC is the West Coast Electric Highway. It has fast charging stations spaced every 50 miles or so along the highways.
Even so, multiple people have driven through the stretch between the Sacramento area and the Oregon-California border.
How does a car like the Nissan Leaf, with an 80 mile range in optimal conditions, and more like 60-70 through serious mountains, make it through an area lacking charging infrastructure? The distance from the Oregon-California border to Sacramento is over 200 miles with over 100 miles of rugged mountainous terrain. In the past had zero charging stations, but people made it through that region.
The trick is stopping at RV parks. Many have 240 volt 50 amp power outlets. While they're meant to be used by RV owners, with the right adapters you can carry a portable 6 kiloWatt charging station and refuel your electric car at any RV park.
Lesson If the public charging infrastructure lacks, by picking the right EVSE you can carry your own charging infrastructure.
The second trick is that slowly the situation is changing, with fast charging stations being (slowly) installed in that region.
Other areas have even better electric vehicle infrastructure. A look at the East Coast charging station maps in early 2016 shows it's feasible to travel pretty freely throughout the heavily populated corridors along the East Coast, especially between Washington DC and Boston. Europe has its own areas of great charging infrastructure, especially in the Netherlands.
In our modern world electricity is available pretty much anywhere. Unfortunately not all areas have charging stations, at this time. Driving through a No-Charging-Station-Region just means being inventive about finding power outlets, and carrying your own charging station. Over time the charger-less areas have to disappear, of course. See Can you drive an electric car away from charging network coverage areas?