Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Range Anxiety" Presents Opportunities - Not Limitations

This past Friday during Sustainabili-City's Weekly Review, I briefly talked about range anxiety and how it can adversely affect sales of electric cars.

For those that don’t know what range anxiety is, a brief explanation is that electric cars have approximately a 40-50 mile driving range before the car needs to be charged again. This has been striking fear at the heart of potential electric car consumers, and on the surface it is understandable.

Is the Tesla expensive? Yes.
Awesome? Definitely.
Worth it? Maybe not (yet).
The numbers vary depending on the source, but the average American drives between 30 and 40 miles per day. This means that at the initial level of technology these cars are being released at, the battery capacity is just bordering on the limit of a day of driving (not true for the Nissan Leaf which boasts 100 miles of battery capacity).

However, I believe that as you begin to dig deeper into the issues, range anxiety becomes less of an issue for the following reasons:
  • I would argue that range limitations present at the release of these electric cars will actually lead to more innovation. These innovations will range from ‘charging stations’ that mimic gas stations to the newer concept of charging your car as you drive in special lanes which is being demonstrated by HaloIPT.
  • The fuel cell industry is one of the most dynamic technology industries today, and as electric cars are introduced into the marketplace, competition to develop a more efficient and longer lasting battery cell will grow and the electric car’s driving range will benefit.
  • Many of these electric vehicles that are going to be released contain a small gas engine in the event that you do run through all of their battery’s capacity, which would either enable you to make it home (or an ‘electric station’) where you can then recharge your vehicle.
  • At running the risk of repeating what I said yesterday, sometimes sustainable products require us to change our consumption behavior.  If the biggest problem with electric cars is that people need to be more responsible when planning their driving routes to the grocery store or work, then I say that is a small price to pay when trying to reduce our country's dependency on oil.
It is easy to just hear the term ‘range anxiety’ and decide that you aren’t going to make the transition to a (cleaner, smarter, cooler) electric car.  However, I believe after taking the bullet points above into consideration these concerns of ‘range anxiety’ are mitigated and consumers shouldn’t let these things deter from making the transition.

Also, aside from the obvious clean benefits of driving an electric car, other clean industries will benefit from the release of electric cars:
  • Solar
  • Wind
  • Fuel Cell
  • Smart Grid
                              ...but more on that later.


  1. Isn't the whole point of electric cars so you don't have to rely on a gas engine? The third bullet point you outline seems like it contradicts the whole concept of this movement...

  2. Good point (kind of). Eventually this will be the case with electric cars, but it is too soon to think that oil is going to disappear.

    The fact is that the electric cars that will have a backup gas engine will use an incredibly small fraction of the gas that traditional vehicles use right now.

    I would also be shocked if the backup engines get used more than once a month, if that. People will become very good with judging how far they are going to drive and when they need to charge their vehicles which will ultimately lead to more efficient energy use.