EV Range Anxiety: It Really Is All In Your Mind

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EV range anxiety will seem like a quaint reminder of days gone by, after new ultra-long range solid-state EV batteries hit the mass market. For the here and now, though, range anxiety can be a bad experience for EV drivers, especially those trying it out for the first time. The question is whether or not there are any solutions that new drivers can deploy today, and a research team has just come up with an answer.

The Cure For EV Range Anxiety

The short version is that EV range anxiety is more likely to kick in when drivers try to apply conventional refueling habits to new electric technology.

The long version is described in the new study, “Mental models guide electric vehicle charging,” in the journal Energy, produced by a research team from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden and the University of Delaware here in the US.

The researchers classified three behavioral models for filling a gas tank and recharging an EV battery. Only one model is both unique and optimal for EVs, so let’s get to that one first.

The research team found that experienced EV drivers deploy an event-triggered model to avoid range anxiety. It can be as simple as remember to hit up their workplace charging station as soon as they get to work. Making a habit out of using a home charging station is another common option. After a while the behavior becomes automatic and routine, requiring little or no thought let alone anxiety.

“There is a lot of emphasis on the time it takes to charge an EV, but if you do it overnight, it is just the time it takes to plug it in,” explained study co-leader Professor Frances Sprei of Chalmers University of Technology.

That seems simple enough, though the research team cautions that even with drivers who have routine access to charging stations there is a “substantial mental shift” involved in transitioning from the liquid fuel mindset to an EV range mindset.

Still, interviews with drivers indicate that EV range anxiety can be strategized out of the picture when event-triggering habits are available.

“From the interview data, it can be seen that adopting event-triggered charging improves two oft-cited user concerns with EVs,” the research team explains. “Event-triggered charging will reduce the frequency of ‘range anxiety’ in daily driving because the EV is predictably filled every day; users directly reported that this mental model ‘reduced anxiety.'”

“Event-triggered charging also alters the perception of slow charging because users select, as trigger events, times when the car will be plugged in for long periods of time and the user is doing other activities,” they add.

We’re thinking that other routines can also accommodate longer charging times and fit into the event-triggering model, for example charging stations located at schools and mass transit centers. If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.

Planning Ahead To Soothe EV Range Anxiety

The event-triggered strategy does not cover all circumstances, of course. Sprei notes that long distance trips require advance planning. Gig-work drivers, households with extracurricular activities, and other drivers with variable daily routes have to plan trips around public charging stations. That is not always achievable, with inoperable or occupied public charging stations being one obstacle to EV ownership.

Nevertheless, planning ahead is another of the three models the research team identified that relate to EV range anxiety. While the plan-ahead model does require some thinking, it does not necessarily involve stressful thinking.

The third model involves which EV drivers who wait until their battery runs low before scouting for a charging station, is the one likely to trigger stress. Like a gasmobile driver who constantly checks their fuel gauge until it creeps up to the red mark, EV drivers who monitor their battery on the go are more likely to experience range anxiety.

“Novice EV users drew from their existing mental models for petrol refueling and misapplied them to EV charging,” the research team explains.

“Most experienced users had developed new mental models appropriate for the physical and temporal realities of EV charging — they are adapted to diverse rates of charge, EVs’ longer energy filling duration, co-location of EV charging with certain user activities, and EVs drivers’ shorter equipment engagement time,” they elaborate.

In contrast, applying the liquid-fuel model to EVs can have a negative ripple effect. In addition to contributing to EV range anxiety, the research team notes that EV manufacturers are overcompensating with larger batteries than most drivers need.

The EV Charging Infrastructure Factor

The study also brings up some interesting points about the strategic placement of  public EV charging stations, and how they fit into a sustainable mobility landscape that makes more room for alternative transportation.

As much as we love EVs here at CleanTechnica, the focus on large four-wheeled vehicles can distract from a holistic approach to decarbonization, particularly in cities where space is limited.

The University of Chalmers notes that cities in Europe tend to focus on public roadside charging. That can suck space away from pedestrians and cyclists. The focus on public charging stations for individual vehicles can also distract attention from mass transit solutions, including urban, suburban and long-distance routes.

The research suggests that the strategy for EV charging infrastructure needs to be re-thought in a way that provides for more event-triggered charging.  “In order for people to be able to use EVs in the best possible way, policies need to adapt to ensure that people have access to charging infrastructure close to their home or workplace where possible,” Sprei explains.

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EV Range Anxiety Solutions

Here in the US, building out the nation’s network of public fast-charging stations has been prioritized as a key pathway to avoid EV range anxiety. Fast-charging stations — and fast-charging batteries — are part of the solution, but the research team points out an outsized emphasis on widespread access to rapid charging strategy simply fits the EV charging experience into the conventional gas station mindset.

They advocate for a more holistic approach that leverages the unique aspects of electrified mobility to push EV range anxiety into the background, and accelerate the pace of EV adoption.

Incentivizing the placement of more slow-charging stations where drivers can deploy an event-triggered mindset is one strategy. The study also indicates that EV manufacturers, dealers, and/or third-party stakeholders can do a better job of helping new EV buyers assess their access to event-triggered charging and select a vehicle that matches their situation.

In addition, the research team notes that experienced EV drivers tend to use event-triggered charging times that are both convenient for them, and beneficial for grid stability. A more thorough understanding of that mindset can help inform grid planning models.

Accelerating The Pace Of EV Adoption

As a final thought, EV range anxiety and other forms of resistance to electrification are not unique to automobiles. The research team takes note of other studies showing that the application of old mental models to new devices has been identified as a common obstacle to the march of technology. They point out that the old models will continue to present hurdles unless they are addressed up front.

“This would mean, for example, information campaigns and educational interventions will be more effective if they target the disadvantages of using the monitor-gage model for EV recharging, and lay out the steps for using the event-triggered model,” they observe.

“In short, these data lead us to conclude that the EV transition will occur more rapidly, and will reach more of the population, if public education and infrastructure design take into account the way people conceptualize, experience, and organize EV charging,” they conclude.

Bringing down the cost of EVs would also help push things along. We’re keeping an eye on that mysterious/not-mysterious “skunkworks” affordable EV project over at Ford, so stay tuned for more on that.

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Image (cropped): More public charging stations will help reduce EV range anxiety, and other solutions are also emerging (courtesy of US Department of Energy).

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