Loren Steffy, UH Energy Scholar
A few years ago, many experts believed consumer’s biggest concern in adopting electric vehicles was “range anxiety” — the fear that a car couldn’t hold a charge long enough to get you where you wanted to go and back home.
Car buyers, accustomed to gasoline engines and readily available filling stations, worried about being stranded by their EVs.
A few weeks ago, talking with Greg Bolino, CEO of DG Reimagined, a Michigan-based consultancy that specializes in EVs, I mentioned the term “range anxiety.” He told me it’s no longer accurate. As more charging stations have popped up across the country, range anxiety has given way to a different concern: “charge anxiety.” EV drivers are less worried about finding a charging station and more worried about how long a charge will take.
Of course, this is less of a concern for drivers who use EVs for commuting. Most can charge either at home, at work, or both, so – assuming their commute is within their car’s battery range – they don’t have to worry about running out of juice.
But what if they want to take their EV on a long trip? Sure, these days it’s easier to find charging stations along the way – there are even apps for that. But how long will they have to wait to charge en route? If it takes several hours, it can put a significant dent in travel time.
“Now, the predominant fear is that you’re going to wait a long time when you hit the road, i.e. that 5 or 10 percent of the time that you’re not going to work or traveling locally,” Bolino said.
Bolino noted new batteries coming out in the next year will charge to as much as 80 percent in 30 minutes, and some will charge to 50 percent in seven minutes.
“That’s like a stop at the gas station,” he added.
But automakers are beginning to think beyond the traditional motor-and-drivetrain arrangement to unlock more possibilities for EVs. For example, Bolino believes EVs of the future will have small motors – perhaps gasoline powered – that can recharge the battery if there’s no charging station nearby. The motor wouldn’t need to be strong enough to power the entire vehicle, but it could run while, say, the driver is eating at a restaurant. That would generate enough charge to replenish the battery by the time the driver returns.
These recharging motors wouldn’t have traditional cylinders and pistons but use rods to create a vibrating motion that would generate electricity. They would be quieter than leaving a full-size gasoline engine idling, and they would produce fewer emissions.
Such a system could even cut down on the need for additional batteries and reduce vehicle weight, Bolino said.
He believes the adoption of EVs will accelerate because of what he calls the three Ps: purpose, performance and practicality. People say they would choose an EV because they believe it’s good for the environment, and many realize that transportation contributes one-third of the carbon we produce nationally. As for performance, most EV motors are quicker and have more torque than their corresponding internal combustion engines.
“My Tesla Model 3 is faster than any car under $100,000 except the Corvette,” Bolino said. “People are surprised by the incredible torque and performance of electric motors.”
EVs also typically are quieter and have a smoother ride than vehicles powered by internal-combustion engines.
As people learn that EVs have many superior features, including better acceleration, handling and torque, and prices come in line with conventional automobiles, EV appeal will continue to grow.
Operating cost will become a significant factor once purchase prices are no longer a barrier for many consumers. EVs are far cheaper to own, require less maintenance, and obviously need no gasoline.
“It takes about 11.5 to 12 cents a mile to run a Cadillac,” Bolino said. “It takes about 4.5 cents a mile to run a Tesla.”
The longer people own EVs, the more those savings will become apparent, as the benefits of lower maintenance kick in.
“If you have a 10-year-old vehicle, so many things can go wrong,” said Mike Ramsey, an analyst who follows the EV market for Gartner
Neither Bolino nor Ramsey, by the way, are EV evangelists. In fact, Ramsey had been skeptical about the widespread of EVs, noting that last year they accounted for just 1.8 percent of the total U.S. automobile market. Range anxiety, high prices, and general unfamiliarity kept many consumers away.
But now that range is less of a worry and carmakers are starting to think more like software companies when it comes to added features, he believes EV ownership will rise to about 4 percent this year and 8 percent next year.
EVs also have the potential to provide power for more than just transportation. He sees a race between traditional automakers and tech-oriented startups like Tesla. EVs have fewer mechanical parts, and they’re more standardized across models. That sets up an interesting race. Companies like Tesla understand the technology and need to get better at making cars, while automakers need to get better at building software.
As I wrote last month, Ford is introducing an all-electric version of its F-150 pickup that has the capability to power an entire home for days. In the future, power grids may be improved to incorporate distributed generation from EVs, Bolino said.
It’s still years away, and it will require improvements in battery technology and cooperation from electric utilities and transmission companies, but Bolino believes the value could be significant.
“The value of a vehicle on the grid is a real thing,” he added. In Michigan, for example, he estimates that an EV could add about $186 a year in power to the grid. In places like Texas, where the value of energy spikes during peak demand, the value could be five times that amount, he said.
Many Texans might like the idea that their truck would not only get them where they’re going but keep the lights on once they get home.
Loren Steffy is a writer-at-large for Texas Monthly, an executive producer for Rational Middle Media and a managing director for 30 Point Strategies, where he heads the 30 Point Press publishing imprint. He is the author of five nonfiction books: “Deconstructed: An Insider’s View of Illegal Immigration and the Building Trades” (with Stan Marek), “The Last Trial of T. Boone Pickens” (with Chrysta Castañeda), “George P. Mitchell: Fracking, Sustainability, and an Unorthodox Quest to Save the Planet, The Man Who Thought Like a Ship,” and “Drowning in Oil: BP and the Reckless Pursuit of of Profit.” His first novel, “The Big Empty,” was published in May 2021.
Steffy is the former business columnist for the Houston Chronicle and previously was the Dallas (and Houston) bureau chief and a senior writer for Bloomberg News. His award-winning writing has been published in newspapers and other publications worldwide. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Texas A&M University.
UH Energy is the University of Houston’s hub for energy education, research and technology incubation, working to shape the energy future and forge new business approaches in the energy industry.