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Why range anxiety could become a thing of the past

Range anxiety worries many would-be electric vehicle owners. So what is it, and should you be concerned?

Electric cars are the future of transportation, but there’s one significant barrier that continues to stop some Australians from joining the EV revolution: range anxiety

With fast-evolving technologic improvements and government funding, we’ll explore how this fear may end up being a thing of the past.

The case for electric cars in Australia

The travel range of electric cars is growing with every new model. While some short-range models offer around 200–300km per charge, many of the long-range vehicles like the Tesla Model S, Jaguar I-Pace and Kia e-Niro provide a range in excess of 450km. According to the Electric Vehicle Council, the latest EVs under $50,000 have a 480km range.

This is great news for city drivers, with the average Australian commuter clocking around 40km daily in metro areas. However, living in a large country with huge distances between major cities means most of us naturally factor in the potential need to cover big stretches of road at a time. And this can ultimately lead to range anxiety.

What is range anxiety?

Range anxiety is the fear that your electric car won’t have the capacity to reach your destination – or make it back for the return trip – without a charge. The worry that an exhausted battery could leave you stranded is quite scary.

The good news is the federal government recognised Australians’ appetite for EVs by announcing a $6 million funding injection to build a series of ‘intercity’ charging stations at least every 200km. Those stations can already be found in shopping centres, airports, hotels and tourist spots.

That investment grew significantly in August 2019 with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) pouring another $15 million into the $50 million country-wide project, which plans to roll out 23 of 42 operational charging stations in its first year – powered entirely by renewables.

New technology is helping the EV cause

In addition to government support, the EV industry is investing heavily to reduce – and ultimately eliminate – range anxiety.

Woman plugging charger into EV in front of garage

Larger battery packs are an expected evolution, but when combined with widespread access to public charging stations and futuristic bi-directional charging, driving an electric car around Australia will soon be no different to travelling in a petrol car.

What needs to happen to eliminate range anxiety completely?

We’re already seeing alignment on the major concerns around buying a petrol car versus an electric car. According to a recent Autolist survey, range is no longer the only most important factor when thinking about going electric. Cost is also becoming a significant influencer for buyers of petrol vehicles.

But this doesn’t mean range anxiety has disappeared entirely. There are factors that need addressing for the Australian public to be truly won over by the power of electric cars:

  • Minimum range: The current disparity between older and newer EV models needs to be consolidated. There might be less worry from buyers if, for example, a minimum range of at least 300–400km was enforced under agreed national standards.
  • Faster charging: The time required to charge an EV remains a barrier, but faster charging is closer than we think. Engineers at Penn State University in the US are developing an EV battery that gives drivers a minimum of 320km in a single, 10-minute charge, placing standard recharges on a level-playing field with fueling up a petrol car.
  • Destination charging: Australians would be more comfortable to take road trips and travel long distances to holiday destinations if they had the ability to charge an EV at any hotel, holiday park, winery, ski resort or similar destinations around the country.
  • Recharge lounges: Like airport lounges, creating a relaxing space where EV drivers could spend their 30 to 90 minutes of charging time would make the idea of long-distance travel more palatable. Already, areas of California have their own supercharger customer lounges, which could provide inspiration for similar designs in Australia.
  • Harness the power of AI and machine learning: Installing built-in technology that maximises AI and machine learning capabilities would allow GPS and trip planners to ‘learn’ from every instance of driving. Weight, air-conditioning use, weather, stop frequency and average speed would all help the technology better estimate the battery power needed for a trip – making running out of range nearly impossible.

Australians are becoming more receptive to the financial and environmental benefits of electric cars, as well as the simplicity of their park-and-charge battery systems. And while range anxiety remains a concern, the power of new technology and additional government funding is helping consumers see the long-term benefits in choosing electric over petrol.

Figures and information provided in this article are true and accurate as of 30/12/19.

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