Electric vehicles have many advantages over combustion-engine vehicles, including less maintenance and lower fuel costs. However, the average EV can’t go as far between fueling as the average combustion-engine vehicle. This causes the phenomenon of “range anxiety” — the fear that your car’s battery will run out before you reach your destination.

However, newer EVs have more capable batteries that let you go farther between recharging, making EVs a viable option for many more people.

These aren’t your father’s EVs

Many early EVs had very limited ranges, and range anxiety could set in for anything more than running a few errands around town. But automakers knew that limited range was a significant barrier to EV adoption, so the race was on to provide affordable EVs with reasonable ranges. Between 2011 and 2017, the median electric car range increased by 56 percent.

In 2018, a number of EVs boast ranges that allow not just commuting to work without charging but driving a good part of the way across a state. For example, the Tesla Model 3 range is 310 miles, the Chevrolet Bolt is 238 miles, and Nissan Leaf is 151 miles. Good range doesn’t have to come at a high price; three EVs priced at less than $30,000 have ranges between 115 and 150 miles. Dealer and government incentives can make these cars cheaper than $20,000.

Satisfying daily needs

The most common way to charge an EV is to plug it in at your home overnight. (You don’t need to wait until the battery is low — just as you plug in your cell phone every night regardless of the battery state.) The next morning, the car is ready to go with a full battery. Thus your range requirement is based on how far you need to drive in a day.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average American in 2018 drives 37 miles a day. This means that most EV owners can get where they need to go without range anxiety.

On the drawing board

Though EV range can be increased by multiple factors (like better aerodynamics), automakers have sought the biggest gains in EV range by either increasing the battery size or increasing the energy density. Increasing battery size is less desirable because it also increases the car’s size, weight and cost, leaving energy density as a focus.

Typical EVs use lithium-ion batteries, but tweaking the chemistry and packaging of battery cells affects the battery’s energy density. For example, the Tesla Model 3 battery has greater energy density than the Chevrolet Bolt, one factor in giving the Model 3 greater range.

New EV battery technologies (such as solid-state batteries) are the subject of intense research and development. Researchers predict that these batteries will not only increase energy density but will reduce both charging time and battery cost.

Getting a charge

When you are using your EV for routine driving, you typically charge at home overnight. You can even plug your car into a grounded 120-volt outlet (yes, the same kind that powers your toaster), which adds about 40 miles of charge in 9 hours. For a faster charge at home, you can plug into a 240-volt outlet, which adds about 26 miles in an hour. (One caveat: earlier-model EVs require that special charging equipment be attached to the outlet).

But what if your daily commute exceeds your car’s total range, or you need to make a longer trip? Charging away from home has become increasingly easy as more charging stations are installed. California currently has over 17,000 public charging stations, with some providing “fast charging” that let you add miles when you are on the road. For example, at a 50 kW fast charging station, a Chevrolet Bolt can add 90 miles in 30 minutes.

When you are out and about, your EV keeps track of the battery’s state and continually updates the estimated number of miles remaining. Well before you need additional charge, you can locate charging stations that are within range. Many EVs have built-in apps that locate nearby stations and can then navigate to those stations. Smart phone apps may yield even better results. For example, the PlugShare app shows you in real time the locations and types of charging stations near your present location. The website will even tell you whether a station is available or is currently in use.

What if you don’t have a garage with an outlet for plugging in your EV? PG&E is preparing to install 7,500 charging stations, with priority given to workplaces, condominiums, and apartment complexes. This program will make charging accessible to a new group of potential EV owners.

On the bandwagon

Many of your neighbors are already enjoying the advantages of owning or leasing an EV. Approximately 1140 plug-in electric and fuel cell vehicles are now present in our community, which means that we’re 46 percent of the way toward the city of Davis goal of having 2,500 such vehicles by 2020.

Check out the Cool Davis Drive Electric web page for updates to this figure. Davis residents have benefited from 671 California Clean Air Vehicle rebates as of August 14, 2018, totaling approximately $1.5 million dollars in savings.

Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise

Published online September 11, 2018
Printed September 12, 2018 edition page A8