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Is Range Anxiety for Real? by John R. Patrick

Some people forgo the temptation to buy an electric vehicle (EV) because of range anxiety, the fear his or her EV will not have enough battery charge to reach their intended destination, leaving its occupants stranded. The anxiety is particularly prominent when considering long-distance travel, along stretches of road where EV charging points might be few and far between. I experienced range anxiety once myself.

It happened in the Fall of 2015 shortly after I had gotten my first Tesla Model S. I drove to Washington, D.C. to attend a technology conference. On the way back to Connecticut, I stopped for a charge. I was confident I had plenty of juice to get me home. I have since learned how to plan trips and understand the effect speed has on the rate at which the car was consuming electricity. The Tesla app on the dashboard display showed my rate of consumption and the estimated distance remaining on the charge. I drove with a bit of a heavy foot and as the trip progressed, I observed my rate of consumption was reducing my remaining range at a faster pace than I expected. I began to become anxious. Anxiety increased a lot when I was about 50 miles from home with no charging stations nearby. The remaining range of the car was about 40 miles. I called Tesla. (Back then, Tesla tech support was easy to reach and very helpful). With my approval and my VIN number, the support tech knew exactly where I was and what my expected range was. He instructed me to slow down as much as possible without becoming a hazard to other drivers. I slowed down to 50 mph and observed the rate of electricity use declined. Anxiety was very high. I pulled into the driveway at home with 4 miles of remaining range. In the eight years to follow, I knew my Teslas very well and never once experience range anxiety.

My goal in this post is to paint a picture of what is going on with EV charging. The first alleviating point about range anxiety is where people charge their cars. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, about 80% of electric vehicles (EVs) are charged at home. My wife and I each have a Tesla and we share the charging unit mounted on the wall in our garage. The cable easily reaches both cars. Home charging is ideal for commuters. If you drive 50 miles to work, you only need to charge the car once a week. If you want to stay charged as much as possible, you can plug in the charging cable every day when you get home. You start the next day with a full charge. The range of my Tesla is 375 miles.

An issue on the horizon is the number of people who live in a single-family home with a garage. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2020, about 65% of Americans lived in single-family homes. This number has been declining in recent years, as more people move into apartments or other types of housing. According to a 2021 report by the National Multifamily Housing Council, about 11.6 million Americans live in high-rise apartments. Many multifamily condominiums with underground parking are planning to add charging stations, but this is a small number relative to the total. Many multifamily condominiums have no parking garage. This would be a big number. Over time, developers will plan to provide space for outdoor charging stations. They may even be required by law to do so. What do the millions of people without home charging do? For at least the short term, they will be dependent on public charging networks.

On September 24, 2012, Tesla opened its first Supercharger. This past week, they opened their 50,000th. They plan to continue to expand their Supercharger network around the world. I remember Elon Musk giving a speech many years ago about his vision to build a worldwide EV charging network. At the time there were hardly any EVs. I would say most people in the audience thought he was crazy. Tesla built a superior network. According to a J.D. Power study the average uptime for competing ChargePoint was 94%. Tesla Superchargers had an uptime of 99.9%. I have observed broken ChargePoint chargers multiple times.

Up until now, Tesla Superchargers were available only to Tesla EVs. As of September 15, 2023, nine car companies have announced support for Tesla Superchargers. The companies include Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo. These companies have all agreed to adopt Tesla’s proprietary charging port, known as the North American Charging Standard (NACS), for their electric vehicles. This will allow drivers of these vehicles to use Tesla Superchargers starting in 2024. Not all Tesla Superchargers will be compatible with non-Tesla vehicles. Only Superchargers which have been specifically modified to support the NACS plug will be able to be used by other automakers. However, Tesla has said it plans to modify all of its Superchargers to support the big and bulky non-Tesla plugs by 2025. I saw a Ford F150 Lightning at a Tesla Supercharger last weekend. The owner told me whenever he has a choice of charging stations, he always chooses Tesla. He said it was more reliable, easier to use with the Tesla app, and has faster charging. The app shows exactly how many miles you have added and the cost to be charged to your credit card on file with Tesla. The app also shows how much you saved compared to gasoline. The move to Tesla’s design is a major step forward in the effort to create a more unified charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. It will make it easier for drivers of all makes and models of EVs to find a place to charge their cars, and it will help to accelerate the adoption of EVs.

I will wrap up this post by sharing my charging experience of last weekend. Our trip was from Connecticut to The Chestnut Inn in Deposit, NY where we spent the weekend with friends. I could easily make it to the Inn without a charge but I decided to top off the Tesla so I could make it from the Inn to New York City after the weekend and then on to Connecticut the next day. My Tesla flat panel shows all the chargers in the vicinity. I picked Hancock, NY, which was about 15 miles from the Inn. This is where I saw the Ford F150 Lightning. Hancock has a population of 918, but they are all in for EVs. They offered a free shuttle to local shops and eateries while your car is charging. We chose to walk. In addition to the 8 Superchargers, Hancock had 8 Evolve NY charging stations. This is the first time I have seen two kinds of charging stations at the same location.

The remaining 20% of EVs not charged at home are charged at public charging stations or at work. These stations can be found in a variety of places, such as malls, parking garages, and gas stations. EVolve NY is a New York State initiative to accelerate the adoption of EVs by building a network of 1,200 fast, affordable, and reliable charging stations throughout the state. The program is administered by the New York Power Authority (NYPA). EVolve NY’s stated goals are to make EVs easy to own and operate in New York State, reduce the carbon footprint of the state’s transportation sector, and create thousands of jobs in the EV industry. New York is #12 out of the 50 states for EV adoption. California is #1 and Alabama is #50.

Range anxiety can be a major psychological barrier to the adoption of EVs. I believe the move toward Tesla’s plug standard and efforts such as Evolve NY will remove range anxiety as a purchase factor. You can see pictures from our trip here. More about the pictures in Current Events.