Nearly all car trips in the U.S. could be replaced by electric cars with at least 100 miles of range, according to an academic study published in Nature Energy.
Researchers compared average miles driven in different parts of the U.S with available range of electric cars out on the roads. About 98 percent of the internal combustion engine passenger vehicles used daily on U.S. roads could be replaced by electric cars on a single charge, according to analysis in the study.
The study used as a model the battery capacity of a 2013 Nissan Leaf with its 24 kWh and a driving range of 70 to 80 miles. These Leafs have enough range to cover 87 percent of daily travel in the U.S. data. More recent Leaf models already have a larger 30 kWh battery and longer range more relevant to the study.
The study matched driving trip data with hourly temperature records to account for air conditioning needs in warmer areas. It also included driving behavior using second-by-second GPS tracking. These data sources, along with battery pack capacity, were used to factor in the way electric car drivers can increase their car’s energy use and decrease miles covered on a single charge.
The new research compares the distribution of daily miles driven in different parts of the US with the range of existing electric cars. Information on distances comes from the U.S. National Household Travel Survey.
Along with Leafs equipped with 30 kWh batteries, other new vehicles coming out will raise the bar from 87 miles on a charge to around 98 miles traveled. The 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf will have a 39 kWh battery, compared to 24 kWh in the current model.
The 2017 Chevy Bolt will have a 60 kWh battery, similar to what may be placed in the Tesla Model 3. It may reach the 99 percent mark for those driving a Tesla with a 90 kWh battery.
The study also explored carbon reductions gained by switching over to electric cars.
Jessika Trancik, associate professor of energy studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told Carbon Brief that transportation carbon emissions could fall 45 percent below 2005 levels when the longer-range electric cars comes out. It could drop to about 60 percent if carbon intensity in how the electric grid is powered falls 45 percent by 2025, according to Trancik.
Range anxiety continues to be a major barrier to cross for adoption, even though existing electric cars can cover the vast majority of miles driven. Consumers find it hard to predict how likely they are to exceed a car’s range, Trancik said.
Willett Kempton, a professor at the University of Delaware, shared a similar view. Electric car owners want to cover all of their trips, not just 90 percent, Kempton said.
Kempton told Carbon Brief that range anxiety is “perhaps the most important barrier” to electric car adoption. The need to have a reliable car that can cover miles on rare occasions, such as on a holiday, can be enough to put off that electric car purchase.
Kempton and Trancik both suggest shared long-distance cars could be part of the solution for reaching a high level of adoption. One of the ways this could be accomplished is through a carsharing service provider, they said.