Range Confidence: Charge Fast, Drive Far, with your Electric Car

By David Herron

Last Update: April 21, 2019

With gasoline cars we became accustomed to "needing" a 300+ mile range and a five minute refueling time. Holding electric cars to the same standard means we won't buy an electric car. But a careful assessment of real needs will show an electric car charged with a slow home charging station can easily handle typical daily commutes.

What's the most common trip you take? For most it's the daily commute to their job. For others it might be driving around town, shuttling kids from place to place, shopping for groceries, running errands, etc. The majority of this is around-town driving. For most the long distance road trip covering 700 miles a day is rare.

It's estimated the typical person drives 40 miles or less per day. That job might be 10 or so miles away, meaning a 20 mile round trip. Add in a couple stops along the way, picking up or dropping off dry cleaning, or grocery shopping, and it might increase to 30 miles.

Each person has their own needs, which is why step one of the range confidence process had you map out your frequent trips. This gave you a list of places you frequent, and more importantly the distance between each. That list lets you calculate with pencil and paper, or maybe a spreadsheet, your likely daily driving needs. By the time you get to step three, and are driving an electric car around town, you're really just verifying the daily driving estimates you made with pencil and paper.

Obviously some people drive more than 40 miles a day. The 40 miles/day figure is an estimate made by the US Department of Transportation calculated by adding together daily driving of a large number of people.

Your daily commute might be over 100 miles each way, or your work-day may be spent driving a car around. Others have a 1 mile or less daily commute, and barely need a car. You have to judge your own needs, and choose accordingly.

Why must we assess daily driving needs to own an electric car?

Should you spend more on an electric car with longer driving range? Should you spend more to get a higher power electric car charging station?

Your money was earned by the sweat of your brow, so to speak, doing whatever job you hold. You need to know how to best spend that money. Don't you want to make good use of that money?

If, like most, your daily driving is less than 40 miles a day, and your long range trips are only once a year, won't a 100 mile range electric car be perfectly fine? An inexpensive low power charging station easily handles charging 40 miles of range at home, which can save you a couple hundred dollars on buying a less expensive charging station.

How much electric driving range is required for your daily commute?

We've already made the case that most of us drive a short distance every day. Unless you've already mapped out your driving, you might be thinking this is nuts. Let's walk through fairly typical daily driving scenario.

  • Home is 10 miles from the office where one works
  • Drive to the office in the morning, stay there all day except for a quick jaunt out to grab lunch, and drive home. That's a 20 mile round trip, plus 2 miles for the lunch trip
  • Side trips are often made while commuting, that might add another 10 miles
  • The extended urban area might be 100 miles in diameter making occasional 200 mile round trips a possibility to attend special events
  • Weekends might be typically spent at home, or doing other shopping around town.
  • Weekends are the typical time for longer trips, most of which will be within the region and therefore might be 500 miles round trip
  • Truly long distance trips of 1000 miles or more round trip are likely for the yearly vacation, or holiday time travels to visit relatives

Of course there are exceptions to all that, but it seems fairly typical.

A 100-150 mile range electric car can easily handle the typical daily driving, plus the occasional weekend trips. For the 500 miles per weekend trip, look for fast charging support in the car. For the truly long distance trips the powers-that-be are starting to implement charging rates of 250 kiloWatts or more, which will make those trips possible with on electric car.

How often do you take a truly long trip?

The idea that our car absolutely NEEDS 300+ mile range and a 5 minute recharge is based on our experience with gasoline cars, and the inconvenience of having to drive out of your way to find a gas station. With a gasoline car you cannot refuel the car at home, and therefore must refuel by finding a gas station and taking time from your day to handle refueling. To minimize the times we have to refuel gasoline cars, the automakers settled on the 300+ mile range as a good target.

The 300+ mile range plus 5 minute refueling combination also allows us to take truly long distance road trips.

While some folks do long distance trips all the time, most of us do not and stay closer to home.

As we saw in the previous section the charging time for current electric cars is a challenge for taking long range trips. It's not so much of a challenge for a 200-300-500 mile trips, especially now that affordable 200 mile range electric cars are becoming available. Traveling 500 miles round trip with a 200 mile range electric car means 3ish charging stops spread throughout the trip.

Range Confidence is Copyright © 2016-17 by David Herron

About the Author(s)

David Herron : David Herron is a writer and software engineer focusing on the wise use of technology. He is especially interested in clean energy technologies like solar power, wind power, and electric cars. David worked for nearly 30 years in Silicon Valley on software ranging from electronic mail systems, to video streaming, to the Java programming language, and has published several books on Node.js programming and electric vehicles.
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