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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Turning Range Anxiety Into Range Confidence - A Conversation

Why Nissan's EZ-Charge & "No Charge To Charge" programs are a step in the right direction


A conversation from 2013:

Her: How do we solve the range anxiety issue? 

Me: First, we stop talking about anxiety. 

Her: It has to be addressed; what do we call it? 

Me: We want to build people's range confidence.

Her: How do we do that? 

Me: They have to learn that the infrastructure is there. Here in Oregon, we have plenty of it, but most people are blind to it until they have plugged in (Baader-Meinhof phenomenon of observational selection bias). New drivers need to be able to find and use the infrastructure. This means: 

   1) It has to be operational 
   2) It has to be easy to find
   3) It has to be easy to use

Let's elaborate on these three points. 

Operational 

Having unreliable EV infrastructure is in many ways worse than not having any at all. If there were no documented infrastructure, you would not make trip plans that relied upon it. However, if you think there is a series of charging stations that can take you on a 500 mile trek and it turns out that you coast into a station with a depleted battery, only to find that it is not working, this can be an infuriating experience. 

Easy to Find

If you want to find charging stations, you need two things: a smartphone & the Recargo Plugshare app. Plugshare is by far the best app out there to find charging stations. You can look at the recent check-ins and see if the last few charge events were successful, what comments people are leaving, and more. This will let you know not just what the supplier is telling you about the station's status, but also what other drivers are saying. 

Portland has a lot of EV charging infrastructure
In dash nav with charging station locations is convenient, but it is not as up to date as a crowdsourced app and they don't give you the hints needed for the hard to find stations (e.g., on what level of the parking garage should I look for it?). 

Easy to Use

This one is the hardest of the three. Through my advocacy work, new EV drivers often ask me which charging networks they should join. This is a complex question. It depends on many factors. Where do they intend to drive, are they going on long distance treks... 

It would be a lot easier if there were a single card that can be used at all of the major charging networks. 

Too many EVSE Network Memberships Complicates Charging

Even if new drivers had a single card, it is more important that they get a period of time when it is free to use this public infrastructure. Continuing the discussion above, I then told the story of how for the first two years (2011-2013) that I drove my 2011 Nissan Leaf, I would seek out charging stations. It was a fun game. I wanted to know where they were, I wanted to know which ones worked with my car. I liked driving my new car and this was a reason to do so. If there is a charging station within 40 miles of my house, I have probably been there. 

For me, during these two years, all of the infrastructure use was free. The networks were new and just getting built out. As soon as the fees began, I stopped looking for new stations. It was cheaper to charge up in my garage. But by then, I knew where the stations were and I was comfortable using them. I knew that if my range was getting low, that there were dozens of places that I could stop to grab a few Watt-hours. 

New drivers need a similar free experience to encourage them to explore. Once they know the infrastructure is out there, they will be confident in the safety-net that it provides. 

The Dealerships Must Step Up

The above outline is easy to say, but to make it happen, the dealerships will have to drive it. You often see "free oil changes for 3 years" or similar offers for new cars. EV charging is even cheaper. If the auto dealers are serious about selling EVs, they cannot ignore the infrastructure. They have more skin in that game than I think they realize. 

Robust, healthy EV infrastructure makes plug-in cars more usable and more comfortable. It removes that uneasy tinge that many new EV drivers feel.

How can the auto-makers help make this happen? They could roll out their own charging network like Tesla is doing. Or for the major EVSE providers, they should make an investment in the company and get a seat on the board of directors. From there, they can push for quality, reliability, and "uptime" metrics. These data should be in quarterly earnings reports.




Conclusion 

I like to think that the above conversation led to the creation of the EZ-Charge and "No Charge To Charge" programs that started in July of 2014. It is not free charging for life, like the Tesla superchargers, but it is long enough that new drivers will be old hands at using public infrastructure by the time their free period expires. This is what is needed to move from range anxious to range confident.