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Range Anxiety

Stephen White
© buffaloboy |

Probably the most common reason for the slow uptake of all-electric cars is the fear that they might run low on power with no way of recharging before the battery is completely drained. To an extent the fear is irrational. Most drivers use their cars for short journeys, and the typical range of an electric car – between 100 and 200 miles – makes it all but certain that the driver will have days of notice before there is a genuine need to recharge. It is true that for longer journeys electric car drivers do need to do a bit of planning, to identify where they will charge during the journey, and where they will charge at their destination in order to have the power to get back home, but that said it requires no more preparation than identifying where the nearest petrol station might be before setting off on a journey across Dartmoor or in the Highlands of Scotland with a petrol car already low on fuel.

Range anxiety is made potent by two factors. Firstly, although planning the charging stops on a long journey is helpful ultimately their availability is not within the individual’s control.  Are the charging points where they are needed en route? Will a selected charging point be available; might it be out of service, or perhaps be in use by someone else? If there is only one and it is unavailable what is Plan B?

Secondly, there is no Plan B. If the car runs out of power and cannot be charged it is as dead as the infamous parrot. No reserve tank, no ability to nip down to the nearest petrol station with a 5 litre container, no expectation that a call to the AA will produce any solution other than a laborious tow to the nearest charging point (which might be a slow one which charges at the rate of 3 miles per hour) or back home.

I have been driving all-electric for over 3 years now, and have only experienced range anxiety once, on a snowy winter’s night in North Yorkshire. Fifteen miles from my destination (which had a charger) with 20 miles showing on the dashboard gauge, I had forgotten that freezing temperatures considerably reduce the efficiency of the battery., and that North Yorkshire is very hilly – good going down but power-draining going up. With 5 miles to go the gauge showed 0 miles left.

I made it, on a gauge discrepancy of unknown size, but it didn’t do my blood pressure any good at all.

Why these thoughts in a negotiation blog? It is because this week we saw Brexit range anxiety kicking in at the House of Commons. The dashboard gauge showed a hard stop in 9 days. For the first time in three years, everyone started to believe that it was a genuine hard stop. Better to take action now and pass the WAB through its second reading than crash out. But there was a reasonable expectation that the route (committee stages, House of Lords etc) would need much more than 9 days. There was no guarantee that the gauge had any built-in reserve. And even if it did, triggering it was not in the gift of Parliament.

So for the moment, the journey is paused while we wait to see if in the next few days the European Union will construct a new charging point which will enable the UK to drive beyond October 31st without conking out. The saga continues.

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