MIT Study Says Electric Car Range Anxiety Is Overstated

A study by MIT and the Santa Fe Institute published in the journal Nature Energy on August 15 finds that electric car range anxiety is overstated in most cases. The study analyzed the driving habits of drivers on a second-by-second basis. It concluded that 87% of vehicles on the road today could be replaced by a low-cost electric car even if there is no possibility of recharging it during the day.

Car-trip-distance-cumulative daily-distance-car-distribution_cumulative Daily-distance-car-distribution Distance-Distribution-Car-Trips

The finding confirms what we already know — the typical driver seldom drives more than 45 miles a day on a regular basis. That means even an electric car with limited range like an original Nissan LEAF has more than enough range to satisfy the needs of the majority of Americans.

In a note accompanying the study, Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware’s Center for Carbon-Free Power Integration wrote, “Most trips can be made in an EV with current battery size and an even higher fraction could be made if the battery size target set by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is met.”

Jessika Trancik, a researcher with MIT’s “Institute for Data, Systems and Society” and senior author of the study says the research combined hourly temperature data in different US regions, survey data about trip lengths, empirical data on the fuel economy of different cars, and GPS-derived data on the speeds of vehicles and how they vary on a second-by-second basis. It assumed a modestly priced electric vehicle such as a 2013 Nissan Leaf and daily overnight charging.

Cars-per-HouseholdThe study also gives a boost to developing carsharing models. Even though a car may be adequate for the majority of daily needs, drivers still want a car that can take them over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house occasionally, or camping, or for anything other than getting back and forth to work. A second car in the household could be used for that, but many believe in the future we may simply rent another vehicle to fulfill those occasional needs.

Expanding the network of fast-charging stations so people could recharge their cars while away from home would also reduce range anxiety significantly. The Obama administration is a strong advocate for expanding the public charging infrastructure.

Transitioning to electric vehicles would significantly reduce emissions in the US, which is a large part of the governmental push. “If that 90 percent adoption potential was reached, then one could replace about 60 percent of gasoline consumption. That would only reduce emissions about 30 percent, which is still a very significant number,” Trancik said.

Studies like this are important, of course, but people buy on emotion and justify their decision later with facts. In other words, selling is all about emotion. Studies may say a given car has enough range for daily use, but the general perception is that 200 miles of range is the irreducible minimum needed to get people to consider buying an electric car. (Or maybe 200 kilometers in Europe, or 300 kilometers.)

Of course, longer range means bigger batteries and bigger batteries mean higher cost. Higher cost means fewer potential buyers. It’s a vicious circle, one that will only be broken in time as more and more electric cars take to the highways. The changeover to zero-emissions transportation is a process and it will take decades if not generations to complete.

Source: Times Picayune of New Orleans

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.