By: Bruno Idini

Battery range remains a cause of concern for many potential electric vehicle (EV) consumers. This particular worry, called “range anxiety” in the industry, has not been successfully tackled by either the private or the public sector. This is the result of two main factors: EVs on the market have shorter ranges than internal combustion engines (ICEs), and charging infrastructure is inadequate.

What is range anxiety?

Oxford Languages defines “range anxiety” as the “worry on the part of a person driving an electric car that the battery will run out of power before the destination or a suitable charging point is reached.” This problem has been approached in two ways: on the one hand, manufacturers strive to produce vehicles with longer ranges, and on the other, governments are deploying more charging points (either directly or through contracts awarded to private companies).

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Longer ranges can benefit consumers by providing more autonomy on the road. But this does not solve the charging problem, it only spaces out charging stops. Moreover, if batteries become ever larger without a fast-charging infrastructure in parallel, the solution to range anxiety might turn into a problem if drivers must spend more time at charging points, crowding sites and further discouraging EV uptake.

The current state of (insufficient) charging points also fails to comfort consumers, mainly because they come with their own problems. Drivers often report lack of spaces available to charge their cars, plugs malfunctioning, or being out of service. Right now, many EVs are priced at a premium to ICEs. If price alone does not deter consumers, a variety of factors, including range anxiety, comes in to finish the job.

Range anxiety is most common among urban dwellers without their own EV charging point. The message put out by EV advertisements is problematic; all car advertisements portray vehicles with the illusion of a gracefully driving car in deserted cities. For EVs, these advertisements become much more of an illusion when at the end of the spot the car is seen elegantly recharging its battery in the driver’s garage.

A fair response to the above is obvious: you do not have a charging point at home, just as you do not have a petrol pump. But it cannot be overstated that charging stations do not operate like petrol stations right now.

How can range anxiety be minimised?

Longer battery ranges can be expected as technologies steadily improve. But faster and better charging could be the real game-changer to promote EV uptake. Public and private sectors need to work together to make charging points fast, reliable and accessible. Ergo, they need to operate just as petrol stations do: be open 24/7 and with fast charging stops. But how fast is fast? Petrol pumps can deliver up to 400km of range per minute to an average fuel-economy car. This is light-years away from the most common range per minute that “fast” 50kW charging points can deliver: about 5km per minute.

The fastest chargers on the market today have reached 350kW, able to deliver over 30km per minute. This is still a fraction of what petrol pumps achieve, but the speed of innovation on this front has been remarkable. The UK for instance saw its first 60kW charger installed in 2018 and today the country is already deploying 350kW chargers.

In Europe, the average car trip is about 20km, so despite range anxiety there is limited utility from cars with ever-longer ranges. The charging experience should be made not only faster and more reliable, but also more comfortable. If consumers must wait while charging their cars, they should do so in stations with cosy seating areas flanked by a shop or food court with an internet connection, so they can work or be entertained while their vehicle is being recharged.