Learning the ins and outs of charging your car

Easy availability, cost certainty are key concerns

OVER THE NEXT few weeks, thousands of motorists will be traveling the highways of Massachusetts and beyond to see friends and family for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Amidst the multiple stops for fuel and snacks will be the occasional range anxiety that occurs when one is driving with a dwindling fuel tank while hoping to see a gas station.

As more electric vehicles hit the market and our roads, that range anxiety is unfortunately not going away. In fact, it’s a barrier to our widespread and needed adaptation of electric vehicles – the idea of taking a road trip and not knowing where to find a charging station.

Imagine being in traffic on the Mass Pike in an EV. You fueled up in your driveway overnight, but this is one of the times you’re taking a multi-hour trip that will require re-charging along the way. Not to worry – you have confidence you can easily find a charger – and a quick one – without much of a wait. That is our vision for the future of our Massachusetts roads, a day that is coming, but one that will take a collective effort to achieve.

We all need to understand that gas will be the past and the electrification of vehicles is the future. While few will argue going green is good for the environment, “range anxiety” remains a persistent roadblock. And that’s where utility leadership, in collaboration with state and federal action, comes into play.

While Massachusetts is a leader in the nation when it comes to the number of active charging stations, many more are needed.  And with just 40,000 EVs on the road, Massachusetts is nowhere near its goal of 1 million by 2030. The two issues go hand in hand: drivers aren’t buying EVs because there aren’t enough charging stations to ease concerns of running out of juice.

At National Grid, we have installed 1,400 charging ports in Massachusetts, with half of them in environmental justice communities, cities, and towns where environmental and socioeconomic factors contribute to environmental health disparities.  But it’s not enough. The new infrastructure bill will send $63 million to Massachusetts to build more charging stations. The money helps but a change in mindset is just as critical.

If we’re going to get serious about EVs and their necessary infrastructure, we will have to be ahead of the curve, and that means knowing where charging stations must be built before we even need them. A recent initiative provides a helpful blueprint.

In the United Kingdom, leaders brought together a coalition of politicians, electric network owners, original equipment manufacturers, car owners, rest stop owners, highway administrators, and charging companies. These stakeholders funded a three-year study that assumed the following:

  • Total electrification of all cars at some date in the future
  • Charging stations would utilize fast chargers, allowing vehicles to charge in 10 – 30 minutes
  • Ability to charge all cars within 30 to 40 miles of their home

The study found England and Wales would need 120 strategic charging locations that would be able to charge cars in a few minutes to 20 minutes, depending how much power a car needed. The price tag?  $120 billion Euros, or about $135 billion. Now, the United Kingdom and utility companies like National Grid, have a roadmap to make charging EVs on the go a reality.

The UK study also found that 80 percent of driving is local – from home to work, the supermarket, gym, or errands. We also know that most people don’t drive more than 20 to 40 miles per day and will charge almost exclusively at home or locally within their neighborhood. Electric vehicle ranges will soon average 200 to 300 miles per charge. With that being the case, drivers won’t likely need to charge more than once a week.

That understanding can go a long way in converting the hesitant. So can the idea of cost certainty: not only is electricity cheaper than gas, but drivers can obtain better rates if they purchase at certain times of the day or accept other conditions. Imagine holding off on charging your car until the price goes below a certain amount per kilowatt. With gas, you’re forced to pay whatever the price is at the pump. And because electric cars are much simpler machines, you won’t need to spend money again on engine repairs.  Additionally, a “Time of Use” electric rate could be implemented that would incentivize drivers to put their car on a timer and charge at certain times when electric costs are lower (for example, overnight costs from home are cheaper than powering up during the day). This will lead to overnight charging when there is less demand on the power grid.

Until drivers can confidently travel 200 miles per charge and easily find a place to rapidly charge their vehicle when away from home, they will remain hesitant to switch to electric. No one wants to wait an hour for a slow charge or bide time for a charger. Ubiquitous EV charging, including at home, in the community, and significant numbers of fastcharging options along highways will ensure a seamless road tripping experience.

We know this is a critical decade for our planet. The sooner we populate our roads with charging stations, the faster we can put range anxiety in the rearview mirror.

Meet the Author

Brian Gemmell

Chief clean energy development officer, National Grid
Meet the Author

Jake Navarro

Director of clean transportation products, National Grid
We just need the drive to get there.

Brian Gemmell is the chief clean energy development officer and Jake Navarro is director of clean transportation products for National Grid.