The psychology of placing EV chargers along roads less traveled
Gil Tal lives in Davis, California, where winter daytime temperatures are in the mid-50s and annual precipitation is well below the national average. But the Sierra Nevada mountains are two hours away, so Tal made sure his last car was four-wheel drive. “One day I will go to the snow,” he said.
It turns out that’s how Americans think about buying vehicles. They buy trucks because they strength you have to haul something someday – or SUVs because, what if every kid wanted to take a friend on a trip? The same is true for electric vehicles, says Tal, director of the UC Davis Plug-In Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Research Center. Despite advances in battery technology, which allow some electric vehicles to travel hundreds of miles between charges, surveys suggest that range anxiety still scares off potential buyers. Which, according to participants in Tal’s survey, means people want to know that there will be chargers on every possible route, even if they don’t usually stop, he says.
This explains why the federal government last week told state and local governments to use $5 billion from the infrastructure bill to place EV charging stations approximately every 50 miles along designated sections of national highways; stations do not need to be on the side of the road, but must be within a mile. And this despite the fact that the average American drives less than 35 miles per day (even before the pandemic), and which the vast majority of today’s EV owners charge at home.
The chargers are a critical part of the Biden administration’s plan to build 500,000 public fast-charging stations over the next eight years, to support what it hopes will be a flood of electric vehicles on the road. The United States currently has 47,000 public charging stations, according to the Department of Energy, of which less than 6,000 are fast chargers that can charge an EV in as little as 30 minutes. This administration wants half of new car sales by 2030 to be zero emissions, up from 4% last year. In California, where 9.5% of new vehicle sales last year were electric, the governor wants to eliminate sales of new gasoline vehicles by 2035.
But why put charging stations in remote areas where they may be little used? In a word: psychology.
Paul Stern, president of the Institute for Social and Environmental Research, which studies how people make decisions related to sustainability, says just seeing electric vehicle charging stations on a map could provide some relief. anxiety of some potential buyers about finding a place to charge. A network of highly visible charging stations along busy highways could also draw drivers’ attention to electric vehicles, Stern says.
“People think, ‘It must be something other people are doing,'” says Nicole Sintov, a psychologist who studies electric vehicle adoption at Ohio State University. In a new paper (still in development), she examines the relationship between the density of charging stations in an area and the willingness of its inhabitants to adopt electric vehicles. She concludes that as the number of charging stations in an area increases, residents’ anxiety decreases and they become more willing to go electric.
Given the limited amount of funds available – the $5 billion, plus funds that states are required to invest, are expected to finance tens of thousands of four-port charging stations— any decision on the location of charging stations will be full of uncertainties. States deciding where to build these stations “will not be able to predict where the charging stations should be because we don’t know how people are going to change their behavior,” says Laura Schewel, founder and CEO of StreetLight Data, a transportation company. analysis company. In some ways, she points out, the government is acting like a tech startup. “If you’re driving innovation, that’s how you do it: fast,” she says.
Of course, these bus stations will not be the only ones built. The federal government has an additional $2.5 billion to distribute in grants to install chargers in disadvantaged and rural communities. And many cities and states are offering incentive programs to bring more public charging stations to cities. Utilities have pledged to spend billions to support stations, and EV advocates hope other companies will also get involved in building stations (although the charging economics can get risky).
Certainly, even with integrated charging networks, car buyers will still have many psychological gaps to navigate, such as accepting the higher cost of electric cars, jumping through hoops to claim government rebates or benefit from incentive programs, and find a new qualified technician to work on the electricity.
But just seeing more electricity could cause electricity. “Life is complex, and humans learn very well from each other,” says Thomas Dietz, an environmental sociologist at Michigan State University. “So naturally, when something new comes along, part of our process is to see how people like us react.”
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