The psychological logic behind filling the most remote and lightly traveled roads with EV chargers

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As a child —and not so young— surely you asked yourself more than once, half jokingly, half as a scientific and philosophical reflection: What came first, the chicken or the egg? In a twist of that dilemma, we can now consider another one, more adapted to the 21st century: What comes first, electric vehicles or charging stations? Psychologist Nicole Sintov, from the ohio university, provide a key which can help us to resolve the issue. Without stations, it will be difficult for us to see how electric cars succeed; but not because we are not really going to be able to load them. No. The explanation is in our own brain. If we don’t see them, we feel less safe.

Sintov’s conclusion revolves around a fundamental and well-known concept in the industry: autonomy anxiety. Or, what is the same, the fear that our vehicle will run out of charge halfway, an idea that caught on especially with the first models, equipped with batteries that lasted just over 100 kilometers. It is not a minor issue. Although the data indicates that we are increasingly willing to make the leap to electric mobility, there are purchase intention studies which show that two of the main reasons that still hold us back are the lack of charging places and low autonomy, even above the price.

The weight of “what if…”

The Research Center for Electric Vehicles and Plug-in Hybrids of the University of Davis, in the United States, has confirmed the same problem. As I recently explained to Wired its director, Gil Tal, drivers simply want to know that they will find chargers along their trips, on all possible routes. Even though, “they usually don’t stop.” The logic is basically the same that leads us to buy an SUV in case one day we go on a trip with the whole family or to use SUVs for the two weekends a year that we make a getaway to the mountains. We want to be safe. The crushing weight of “what if…”

Aware of this handicap and despite the fact that electric vehicles offer increasingly greater autonomy —the Volkswagen ID.3 and Skoda Enyaq iV 80, for example, exceed 500 km by far—, the United States has set to work to reinforce your map of charging stations. The idea is simple: that we can see more points scattered along our path or on the map, when planning routes, something that – experts note – would relieve drivers’ anxiety.

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To achieve this, Joe Biden’s team wants to build 500,000 electric chargers during the next five years, a considerable figure if one takes into account that today only 100,000 points are distributed on US roads. The goal is for users to be able to meet a stall every 50 miles, the equivalent of 80.5 kilometers. The idea is not only to provide drivers with a dense network of “electrolineras” at street level. In addition to being dense, the US government wants it to be extensive, which is why the Biden team has already pointed out that it wants chargers both on the roads that serve the cities and on the secondary ones.

“The network of chargers for electric vehicles must be fully accessible to all users, regardless of whether they live in an urban or rural area“, influences the Executive, which already has an investment plan. In total, it plans to dedicate 7,500 million dollars to the initiative, of which 5,000 are already available to the states that present projects. The 50 states of the country, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico will have until August to request funds from the federal government and detail how they will install their chargers. The remaining 2.5 billion will be channeled through a supplemental grant scheme to be launched later.

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In addition to the federal plan, other local and state administrations offer incentives with the same purpose: to increase the network of chargers and, ultimately, that electric cars take an increasingly larger share in the afternoon of sales. The goal of the Department of Energy is that in 2030 half of the new car sales will be zero emissions, although there are states, like the one in Californiawhich have set the bar higher and directly aspire to completely eliminate sales of new gasoline vehicles by the middle of the next decade.

The United States is not the only one that has jumped into the race. In Spain, the Government approved at the end of last year an initiative of 525 million euros which partly shares the same purpose: to reinforce the deployment of chargers. The goal here would be to achieve at least 100,000 points deployed on public roads before the end of 2023. To supply the more than 130 million electric cars that are estimated to be on Europe’s roads in 2035, it will take, according to data from EY and Eurelectricmore than 65 million additional chargers.

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The charging points will not only serve to tackle the anxiety of drivers, their fear of being left lying in the middle of the road. Paul Stern of the Institute for Social and Environmental Research in the United States, shared with Wired Another equally curious idea: the greater the number of stations, the more present we will also have the option of electric mobility and the less strange it will seem to us. From the logic of “and if I get stuck…” we simply pass to that of imitation. “People think: ‘This must be something other people do,'” psychologist Nicole Sintov agrees.

Because in the end it seems that dilemmas, even if they are complex, always offer a way to tackle them. Yes too the riddle of the chicken and the egg that took away your sleep as a child.

Images | Tommy Krombacher (Unsplash) and Ed Harvey (Unsplash)

As a child —and not so young— surely you asked yourself more than once, half jokingly, half as a scientific…

As a child —and not so young— surely you asked yourself more than once, half jokingly, half as a scientific…

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