The Reality of Electric Vehicles: ‘Range Anxiety’ Remains a Barrier to Widespread Use

If you’re a baby boomer, you know that every depiction of the future in the 1950s and ‘60s promised flying cars. According to the futurists, we all would soon be George Jetsons, zooming to and from work through cluttered skies.

That was fantasy.

Today’s reality is the electric car.

Electric vehicles, or EVs, have been on the road since the 1800s. Between 1900 and 1912, it is estimated a third of all vehicles on American roads were powered by electricity. Henry Ford’s affordable gasoline-fed Model T brought an end to EV development, and it was not picked up again until General Motors developed a prototype for an urban electric car, which the company displayed at the First Symposium on Low Pollution Power Systems Development in 1973, during the oil shortage in America.

While plug-in electric cars have often been cited as the cars of the future, Consumers Energy is not expecting any spike in the number of electric vehicles in Michigan, according to a report in Michigan Capitol Confidential.

In June, the utility released its plans for changes to its electricity generation and distribution through the year 2040. Consumers estimated there are 8 million total registered vehicles in Michigan, and electric vehicles account for a mere 0.2 percent of total registered vehicles in the company’s service territory. According to the report, 12,500 to 15,000 electric vehicles were registered in the state in 2017.

So why is growth in plug-in vehicles so slow? The Michigan Agency for Energy reported there are 423 charging stations across the state, providing a total of 722 charging ports for battery-powered cars.

That question might be answered by the distribution of those charging stations in both peninsulas. Solving EV reported there are 180 charging stations within 30 miles of Detroit, Lansing has 48 stations within 30 miles and there are 67 stations within 30 miles of Grand Rapids. Niles has access to 168 nearby chargers. Monroe, on the other side of the state, has 170 stations within 30 miles.

The west side of the state has a significant number as well. Traverse City is within range of 15 chargers, Ludington has access to five stations and 66 are within 30 miles of Muskegon.

Even drivers at the tip of the mitt have access to charging stations. Petoskey has access to seven stations, Cheboygan is within 30 miles of three chargers and Gaylord has access to four stations.

Drivers along the east coast of Michigan are not so fortunate. Solving EV shows three stations within 30 miles of Tawas City, but not one near Greenbush, Alpena or Rogers City. Drivers in the Upper Peninsula also have a lack of plug-in stations. St. Ignace is near two stations, Escanaba has access to four chargers, and both Houghton and Copper Harbor are within 30 miles of just one charger.

The Detroit Free Press reported in May that too many drivers might have “range anxiety,” which is the worry that electric vehicles might not have enough juice to get to their drivers’ destination. Supporters of electric vehicles believe range anxiety is a major barrier to widespread public acceptance of electric vehicles. Consumers Energy said the state should have almost 1,100 public chargers and 60 fast chargers for the number of electric vehicles on Michigan roads.

According to a report compiled by M.J. Bradley and Associates, If Michigan plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) adoption follows the trajectory assumed by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, the net present value from greater PEV use in Michigan will exceed $8.6 billion statewide by 2050. If projections from Bloomberg for national EV sales are achieved in Michigan, which would result in even greater PEV penetration, the net present value from greater PEV use in Michigan could exceed $31 billion statewide by 2050.

Aside from plug-in technology, several companies, including Qualcomm and WiTricity,  are developing wireless vehicle charging, according to Charged magazine. The process involves parking an electric vehicle over a ground charging pad, which would communicate with technology beneath the car and restore battery power without cords or adapters. The power will originate in a stationary control unit mounted near the ground pad.

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