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Growing Electric Vehicle Ownership Requires Access And A Behavior Shift

Desmond Wheatley is President and CEO of Beam Global, an electric vehicle charging technologies company.

As car buyers transition in large numbers to electric vehicles (EVs), many still cite range anxiety as a concern, despite the large numbers of EVs that make it to and from their destinations each day without range issues. Manufacturers report regularly on electric vehicle range to reduce EV ownership hesitancy based on range anxiety, and others suggest that various forms of range extenders will solve the issue.

Yet greater range, while sometimes important and desirable, is not the crucial factor in growing EV ownership, in my opinion. The issue to overcome is not one of range but a lack of understanding about EV “fueling” behavior. The fact is this: EVs are far easier to refuel than their gasoline-powered predecessors.

Letting Go Of ‘Fueling As An Activity’

Owners of gasoline-powered cars are used to the idea of making a special trip to fill their tank when it nears empty. The availability of gas stations has made this a routine chore that consumers take for granted. A near-empty tank may demand our attention but not necessarily induce anxiety about running out.

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It wasn’t always so. In the early days of gasoline-powered cars, gas stations were rare, and drivers had severe range anxiety. Early 20th century drivers often strapped gas cans to their vehicles because they couldn’t know when or where they would next be able to fill up. EVs are markedly different from ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles. Instead of waiting to reach empty and then visiting a gas station once a week, EVs should be constantly “topped off” like a smartphone.

With EVs, it’s not advisable to follow the old-school practice of “emptying the tank” and then filling it to the top. The average U.S. driver travels just 29 miles a day, though many of us assume it’s far more. Moreover, electricity is ubiquitous, meaning that on the vast majority of days, most EV owners should be able to top off in a convenient location like work, at school or at a store as they go about their normal activities. EV fueling happens in the background, not the foreground, and that’s a behavior shift for new EV drivers.

Need For Innovation

This electric paradigm shift requires easy access to a sufficient number of appliances (EV chargers), along with greater availability of electricity from producers.

Our national power grid is already stressed, as people in Texas are intimately aware. Vulnerabilities from weather and cyberattacks are a constant threat. To utility grid operators, every new EV is the equivalent of adding an average-sized home to the grid in terms of energy consumption. An EV plugging into a heavy-duty Level 3 DC fast charger, which is trying to mimic the gas station experience of “filling up,” impacts grid operators in the same way as turning on 500 homes simultaneously.

We don’t need electric gas station replacements; what we need are a lot of smaller and slower Level 2 EV chargers in locations where peoples’ EVs already dwell. The infrastructure spending package signed into law by President Biden that allocates $7.5 billion could help expand the number of EV charging points of all types across the U.S., but many other considerations beyond cost come into play.

Grid-tied chargers will take time to install, and operators will find that location matters. Trenching and wiring are expensive. Level 2 chargers will often be installed close to supply lines rather than where people actually need or want them.

A charging network that includes decentralized, sustainable, scalable and mobile solar-powered EV charging systems can, and must, be a part of the solution. Solar-powered charging units don’t require connection to the grid, so they can be placed where people find them most useful. Furthermore, as needs change, including unforeseen events like blackouts or pandemic-related shifts in travel patterns, solar-powered charging systems can be repositioned very quickly.

Public Education Needed

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Getting to this future will require encouragement and education from multiple sources. City, county, state and federal governments will need to step up their efforts to inform the public about the benefits and practices of EV charging. EV automakers and infrastructure providers must also participate. A recent study found that Ford, Tesla, Toyota and BMW rank among the most trustworthy brands; their standing with the public, along with their commitment to an all-EV future, puts them in an ideal position to educate vehicle owners about the differences in EV charging via multi-faceted information campaigns.

Embracing A Better Future

To fully grasp the benefits of EVs, companies must help people abandon the gas station habit and relearn what it means to fuel their personal transportation as they go about their daily lives.

Our days are filled with examples of new habits that are more agreeable and easier than what existed before. Running across a room to catch a phone call, putting a letter in a mailbox and standing in line at the bank are all things of the past thanks to technology. Who can imagine life without online shopping, paying at the restaurant table or scanning QR codes?

Soon the easy and simple charging of EVs will create that same sense of “Why did we ever put up with that?” when remembering gas stations. There is now an opportunity for those in the EV industry to educate people how and why to let go of the gas nozzle, and with it, their old habits. Once they do, they can understand how clean, efficient, inexpensive and, most of all, convenient EVs can be.

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