Electric Cars — range doesn’t matter, getting home does
Reliable destination charging is possibly more important that superchargers enroute if we want to make EVs a realistic option.
When you say you own an electric car everyone’s first question is about that magic word “Range” — “How far can it go on a charge?”. Having owned an electric car for over six years now I can tell you that range is much less important than the ability to recharge at your destination. Let me explain why.
I rarely drive over 100 miles in a day, and even that is the exception and, unless you drive for a living or have a very long commute, you’re probably the same. I only drive more than that when I go somewhere, like on holiday, a weekend break, to visit friends etc. When I get there I’m done — the car just stands there.
The challenge comes when I want to go home again.
Here’s the thing; electric cars use up their battery even when they’re sitting still — some more than others. My Tesla Model S could use up to 20 miles of range overnight unless I put it in power saving mode, then it would use maybe 4. The newer eTron is better, (but then the connectivity isn’t as good). Cold batteries have less available energy than warm batteries. When you get to your destination the car is nice and warm but when you come to leave several hours later it’s gone cold and the range is lower.
Electric cars also use a lot more energy in the first few miles as everything warms up again. It’s the same for an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) car — you don’t get good efficiency until the engine is warm. The difference is that in an ICE car the heat is free — it’s a by-product of burning the fuel. In an electric car you need to use the power in the battery.
All this comes together to mean that if you have a car that has 250 miles of range and you drive 200miles, you’ll get to your destination with 50miles left. But the next morning that might be 40miles, and then by the time you’ve warmed the car up and driven a few miles you might be down to 20miles. Range anxiety has definitely kicked in by this point, unless you know exactly where you are going to charge (and that it is working and there is a free charger!).
Here’s an example from my recent experience of driving to a hotel 50 miles away. I started off with 204 miles of range and the car warmed up using the home electric supply. I got to the hotel with 155miles of range left — spot on! Next morning, after defrosting the car, that was down to 145miles and after 1 mile of driving in the cold it was down to 140. After 20 miles (and a 5 mile detour via Brighton) the range was down to just 95miles! Thereafter it was accurate, and I got home with 60 miles left.
But that return journey cost me 155–60 = 95 miles of range to do 55 miles!
The outbound journey was no problem because the car was already warm. Had there been a destination charger at the hotel I could have defrosted the car and warmed it up using the mains instead of the battery, and I’m sure the range would have been bang on again.
So, in my experience, to make electric cars a viable for most people, the ability to charge and warm up the car at your destination is more important than the absolute range of an electric car. Had I been going 80 miles instead of 50 miles I would have needed to charge on the return home, and that’s annoying. You would expect to be able to do an 80mile journey in one go.
Ah, but 50 miles is nothing, what about driving 500 miles I hear you say? Well, driving 200 miles on UK roads takes a long time! At least four hours. I can sit behind the wheel for 3 hours max and then I need to stop, and realistically more like 2. I’ve always needed to be recharged before the battery! And there are plenty of charging points around the UK now — it’s never been an issue to get where I’m going (yes, there needs to be a lot more, but the number is increasing so I think we’ll get there).
My issue has never been getting where I’m going, it’s always been planning the return trip. 500 miles is a long journey, and there’s no accessible electric car that can do that on one charge yet. You are going to need to stop at least once. And the bigger the battery, the longer it will take to charge, so, in reality, you will not fully recharge it on the journey anyway.
Obviously, this doesn’t apply to professional drivers who are driving all day, but for folks who drive somewhere and then leave the car sitting for a while, destination charging is the key to making it viable for the majority of people to cover most of their needs with an electric car.
Next time I’ll talk about charging costs [link]😊
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