The New Anxiety Disorder (RAD)
We’ve become familiar with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder), panic disorder, GAD (general anxiety disorder) and a host of other fears and phobias. Just when you thought there was a diagnosis and an acronym for just about every anxiety in the world, Joel Schechtman has gone and coined a new American ailment. Mr. Schechtman is a writer for The Detroit News and has added RAD to our long list of phobias. RAD refers to “range anxiety disorder” which is the fear and trepidation that an electric car owner feels while figuring out just how far he will have to travel before he can find a battery charging station.
RAD seems to be one of the main reasons that buyers shy away from electric vehicles. This concerns auto manufacturers and Washington politicians. According to Mr. Schechtman, only a few hundred public chargers exist right now and, as we sit upon the eve of introduction of several heavily-touted electric cars, someone better be thinking about "range anxiety."
Obviously, an infrastructure will need to be developed. But, what will the system look like? Here are some of the most recent ideas being bandied about:
Many private retailers and roadside restaurants are installing chargers in order to boost traffic from electric car owners, much in the same way Starbucks offers Wi-Fi for free in its coffee shops. But one has to ask, who is going to sit in a roadside restaurant for eight hours waiting for the battery to recharge?
General Motors is planning to sell its Chevrolet Volt customers a charging station. For the consumer, this is not an inexpensive solution. The Voltec charger will sell for about $460, but with installation the cost soars to $1,475. The 240-volt charger will recharge the Volt's battery in four hours, virtually halving the recharge time of a conventional 120-volt outlet that is standard in most American homes.
Nissan Motor has announced a similar plan of selling charging stations to customers who purchase its electric Leaf model. Estimated cost of the charging station and installation is around $2,200. A little pricey!
Ford Motor seems to have another idea. Ford's all-electric Transit Connect and all-electric Focus models will have the battery charger installed onboard the vehicle. Ford says its onboard battery pack is charged by connecting the charge port to a power outlet. Inside the vehicle, an onboard charger converts the AC power from the electric grid to DC power to charge the battery pack. With the Ford system, the EV owner can recharge the battery wherever there is an electric outlet.
Not to be outdone, Toyota announced that it and the National Institute of Solar Energy have launched a solar station for plug-in hybrid vehicles. The project will study the potential of energy convergence between solar energy, building and transport.
However, Toyota's recharging plans don't end there. In Japan, Toyota is marrying an obscure housing business it owns and plans to sell computer systems that link the homes, utilities and EVs in order to reduce energy use. Toyota calls it the "Smart Grid Center," which allows people to see on their TV screens and mobile phone handsets how much electricity is being consumed by the household, how much a plug-in vehicle has been charged, and how much electricity has been stored in the home.
The Japanese automaker said it believes its Smart Grid Center can reduce energy consumption in the home by 75% by automatically turning off electronic devices that aren't being used and encouraging use of energy when the rates are lowest. The system is planned to launch in Japan in 2012 when Toyota's first EVs arrive on the market.
And finally, don't forget about Shai Agassi’s Israel-based company called Better Place" which is developing a technology and an infrastructure whereby lithium-ion batteries are exchanged in a matter of minutes in something we might call a "gas station" today or a "battery station" in the future. His battery replacement stations would take the discharged battery out of a vehicle and replace it with a fully charged battery in the same amount of time it takes to refill a gas tank. Better Place has announced a deep pocket investor, GE and has also formed an interesting partnership with Renault of France.
The two have developed the Renault Fluence ZE that is currently on display at the Paris Motor Show. Voila, the first production switchable battery electric car in the world!
So, which system will it be? Most likely, we will end up with combinations of the above ideas. Mr. Agassi's plan makes a lot of sense, although with current battery technology, drivers would be spending a lot of time at the "battery station." Ford's idea of putting the charging system in the car sounds a lot better than paying $1,000 or more to have one installed in your garage. However, it won't do much good there when you run low on power 50 miles from home.
Lastly, we might just have to add a new phobia to our list. That would be CNSED (Cheap Neighbor Stealing Energy Disorder). This one could keep you up at night visualizing your cheapskate neighbor plugging his car into your outdoor outlet.
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