How could Tesla eliminate “Range” Anxiety?

Update:   TESLA DID NOT DO ANY OF A-E BELOW:

The Tesla 6.2 upgrade will consist of improvements in managing the existing range of the car, not improve it in any way.

The car will do this by:

1) Being aware of charging stations (unclear if only supercharging stations)

2) Understanding traffic, weather, elevation changes and other factors so that the car will be able to estimate with much greater accuracy how much power is needed to get to your destination.

3) Warning you if your destination is unreachable without additional power or you are driving out of reach of a Supercharging station.

These are useful convenience software features but don’t really address range anxiety in my opinion because most of us cannot travel 50 or 100 miles out of the way on the spur of the moment to find the closest supercharging station.   We also can’t sit at a conventional charging station for 3 hours to get 50 miles extra range.   While I am a huge fan of Elon and Tesla this does not address “range anxiety” for me because I was aware of the limitations of the cars battery and the options I already had, so a software feature that enables people who can’t think ahead doesn’t really help me.

If range anxiety is the fear that I literally will be abandoned on the side of the road without power because I was too stupid to look at the “battery level” and I need a computer to prompt me to tell me that you can’t go 80 miles with only 60 miles left in the battery then he has solved it.   If eliminating range anxiety means that my solution to having insufficient charge at my work to get home is that I can drive 30 miles (out of the way) to Fremont from my work location in Mountain View to get to a supercharging station, spend an hour there and then face a commute that is an additional hour for a total of 2 1/2 hours when my initial commute was 30 minutes then I will never use it.     I also don’t want to be told that to get from my house to Las Vegas I should take a route that is efficient in terms of supercharging stations but doesn’t let me go through Big Sur and visit my friend in Newport Beach without taking 100 mile detours.   These are useful features to supplement normal operation and possibly warn you from making a stupid mistake but if the “remedy” is to spend 2 hours going out of my way then it doesn’t solve range anxiety for me.

I don’t want to make a bad impression of the Tesla.   The fact is I don’t really fear range anxiety in my car.   I always keep the battery within my normal daily driving parameters.   I am aware of charging stations near me and if I have a problem I know where to get a boost or I can find a charging station fairly close to where I am going using Chargepoint or other services available.   I have not had a problem of worrying ever about if I was going to run out of charge but that’s because I think ahead.  It’s not rocket science.

What would have worked for me?

What would have made my life simpler and truly ended range anxiety would be having enough supercharging stations (thousands at least) that I could find one within no more than 5 miles from my planned itinerary.   If Elon would simply say we are going to build many more supercharging stations or we have a deal with Costco or some other similar company with a large number of outlets that could offer supercharging on the side then I would be much happier.   Costco and companies with big infrastructure such as Walmart already have very large power infrastructure.  Adding 5 or so supercharging stations would require practically no change in their infrastructure and would encourage customers to spend the half hour or so it takes to charge shopping at their outlet.   Who couldn’t use a half hour or hour at Costco or Walmart to fill up on the essentials every now and then while getting a full charge of your car for free?

This is what Elon does with his supercharging network already by placing them at locations with stores such as Starbucks, etc….   However, a company like Costco for instance would have a ready made customer base of well off customers who would spend an hour at their store every week possibly loading up on stuff while they charge their car.   Elon gets no benefit from positioning his charging stations at these locations but Costco would see a benefit and if it was smart would consider adding electric charging alongside their inexpensive gas stations it offers at some locations.

I think you get my point.

Another viable thing I think would be possible soon

I was hoping that Elon had figured out how to use the existing circuitry in the car to charge LiOn batteries like some others have that enables them to achieve many more charges (up to 10x) with the same batteries.   Such an improvement would make battery life less of an issue making battery replacement much more realizable option and cost effective.   Battery replacement as Elon has promoted it would cut the time to a fully charged battery from an hour to 90 seconds and would be faster than refilling a gas vehicle.   If batteries had a longer lifetimes then the cost of a refill would simply be the cost of the energy difference between the battery you drop off and the battery you pick up.   If the batteries lifetimes is limited to a certain number of cycles then the battery replacement facility has to factor in the life of the battery, the number of cycles and charge you for a cost to replace batteries much sooner which raises the cost.   This of course is just reality.

I am an optimist.   I expect that lifetime of the batteries will be much longer and replacement costs for batteries will fall dramatically making the cost of driving a mile close to the 100mpg that the car sticker proclaims.    The original Tesla batteries in the roadsters are holding up better than initially estimated.   They were guaranteed for 50,000 miles but have been routinely getting closer to 100,000 before dropping to the 80% level.   Consider that after 100,000 miles many ICE engines are losing their oats too and don’t perform quite the way they did at purchase.

I did a TCO analysis before buying the Tesla and it came out for me very favorably for the Tesla.  Part of this is the factors above and part is the fact I live in California which gives extra credit and PGE which gives me a big benefit by allowing me to change how I am charged for electricity.  I also assume that Elon and Tesla will prove to have built a reliable car.

TCO Analysis (Is Range Anxiety an issue in terms of overall cost of a Tesla?)

To say a Tesla gets 100mpg is correct if you don’t consider the cost of the batteries in the mpg.    If the cost of the batteries is $8,000 and the batteries last 125,000 miles then the fuel economy drops significantly.   A regular car would cost possibly $18,000-$25,000 to drive those miles with maintenance and all costs included while a Tesla might cost $15,500 including the cost of replacing batteries.   If the battery life is 250,000 miles then the cost drops to $11,000 or twice the fuel economy and if the battery is cheaper the costs fall further.

This is not an entirely fair comparison because if we really are fair an ICE car in 8 years or 125,000 or more miles may need an engine change, transmission change or other major repair.  These cars have far more items to maintain and break than a Tesla. If those costs are factored in to an ICE car then the Tesla looks much cheaper.

Another thing which is harder to factor into any TCO is safety.  The Tesla is the safest car ever built.  Hands down.  How do you factor that into TCO?

My TCO analysis of a Tesla vs BMW equivalent M series cars was that the Tesla cost 1/3 less over 8 years.  This included factors such as residual value (I estimated the BMW would have 150% the residual value of the Tesla and I chose the BMW 6 year maintenance plan and generously only charged the BMW 2,000/year for maintenance after year 6.  If you’ve owned a BMW you know I am being very light on the BMW and it still doesn’t perform as well and costs a lot more.  Forget the environment.  Forget the OTA (over the air upgrades) you can expect from a Tesla over 8 years compared to the lack/cost of anything you do to your BMW.   My analysis did not make any assumptions about battery cost reductions or battery life extension.  I simply did the math on the 8 years and gave the Tesla a ding at the end just because of risk.  Yet it was much less costly than an equivalent luxury car.

On Sunday March 15, 2015 Elon Musk tweeted:

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 8.45.19 AM

NETHERLANDS-BUSINESS-AUTO-TESLA

There are numerous ways Tesla could extend the performance of the existing Teslas to eliminate “Range” anxiety.   It depends what problem of “Range” anxiety Elon will attempt to mollify.

This would definitely end Range anxiety

tesla app ->tesla app extended range

Elon Musk has said that on Thursday Morning 9AM PST he will announce elimination of range anxiety via an OTA (Over the Air) update to all Tesla owners.

Substantial speculation about what he could be thinking of has many people guessing.   Here are the possibilities he will announce  from the point of view of a technologist.

A) A deal is announced with a major chain retailer with 10s of thousands of locations to offer supercharging locally for all Tesla owners.

B) “Insane conservation” mode allows Tesla to extend the range of Teslas by 100 miles effectively making it nearly impossible to “run out” of charge before you need to fill up.

C) The ability to charge Teslas to full charge or even 110% of full on a regular basis increasing the range of the cars by 50-100 miles (depending on model) and making it less likely you will run out of charge

D) The ability to recharge the batteries indefinitely and retain 95% of their original capacity giving the batteries a 50 year lifetime.

E) The announcement of dramatic cost reductions in the battery program making replacement batteries much cheaper.

Here are the issues that cause  “Range” anxiety

1) It takes a long time to charge the Tesla.

Typical charging takes a long time (8 hours at home close to empty) making managing the charge differently than an ICE (internal combustion engine).   Elon recently said that San Francisco to LA battery replacements were working well but that long term prospects were still focused on making the charging of batteries faster and getting more range from batteries.

New technologies are finding ways to rapidly charge batteries.  There are commercial solutions now that charge batteries 2 to 10 times faster.   Some of these require special batteries, some claim to manage the charge process better.  Unfortunately all charging cannot violate the laws of physics and in order to fill an 85KW battery will still take 85KW of energy.  Even if you could put that energy in the battery in 60 seconds you would need to be able to deliver 5,000 Amps at 240 Volts during this period. Since most households in the US have 200 Amp service it is not feasible to deliver this much current safely in normal environments.  Therefore it seems unlikely that Elon has made any changes in the charging time of Teslas at home.    Improvements could be substantial but would also require homeowners to upgrade their electricity service.  So, I expect improvements in this area although easily obtained can’t be what Elon is talking about.  He said so as well:

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 8.48.12 AM

2) There are only 100 or so supercharging stations in the US.

The high speed charging and battery replacement technologies are limited to 100 or so locations in the United States means that rapid recharging is not as simple as finding a gas station close by.

It would be simple for Elon to strike a deal with Chevron, Shell, McDonalds or any company with points of presence ubiquitous in the US to offer supercharging capability.  Increasing the number of locations with supercharging to 10,000 or 50,000 would essentially end range anxiety by making 20 minute charging like putting fuel in an ICE, ubiquitous and easy.

bouncing-balls-23524-200x125

3)  The fact that 170 and 250 are the “normal” driving distances of a 60 or 85kw Tesla(respectively) while longer than other electric vehicles means that road trips in excess of these limits requires thinking ahead and possible route diversion to get to your destination.  The expected energy use of the car is 300w/mile of driving and therefore there are 2 ways of extending range:

3a) Can the efficiency of the car be substantially improved beyond 300w/mile?

I don’t believe the car can be substantially improved in terms of the energy consumed without a substantial rework and use of other components in the car.  The vast majority of the cars energy is used to drive the motor but it is possible to imagine that an “insane” mode for energy conservation could be implemented that would cut the cars energy use 30-40% by putting hard limits on drain of the battery (reducing the maximum energy draw from the battery) turning off all electronics and power consuming devices and limits on acceleration or battery drain rate.

If this could be achieved and attain 30-40% reduction in power consumption you could imagine that when the car hits quarter tank (70 miles) that the car automatically warns you it is going into “insane conservation” mode and gives you 100-150 miles effectively increasing the cars range by 50 or more miles when you are low on energy.  This may quell people’s range anxiety by making them feel they can get to their destination albeit in a hobbled state.

While this might work it seems it would be at the expense of the anxiety that the $100,000 car you bought acts more like a $10,000 car for a substantial amount of the time you use the car.   Of course most people might not use this mode very much it would make the “anxiety” of being stuck with no charge considerably less.

3b) Can the capacity of the battery be increased (without replacing the battery)?

There are numerous technologies that enable being able to charge LiOn cells to  100% or greater (110%) charge and still getting the full life from the batteries.    If this could be achieved then you might be able to get 15-25% in typical range for Tesla owners who now charge their car to 85% or less.   It would be impossible to store much more energy than the LiOn cell was designed without damaging physical the chemicals in the battery.  New battery technologies such as Magnesium and Lithium Air technologies as well as other battery technologies may be on the way but without replacing the battery itself it would be impossible to improve the capacity of existing batteries substantially so I doubt this is what is up Elon’s sleeve in this announcement.

4) The total lifetimes of the battery is guaranteed for 8 years or 125,000 miles or more,depending on model. The cost of a replacement battery on the order of $5,000 or more means a substantial financial cliff exists for cars that could produce range anxiety.

4a) Increased lifetime of the battery from 8 years to 40 or more years

The most serious degradation of LiOn cells happen because the lithium in the cells expands and contracts as it is discharged or charged.   The physical damage of repeated full discharges or full charges comes about from physical stress on the materials in the battery.   The material actually develops scar tissue that limits future charging and discharging capability.  Numerous papers have come out and commercial technologies have implemented algorithms that dramatically improve the number of charges one can obtain from a LiOn cell by a factor of 10 by carefully controlling the charging and discharging of the cells.   As the cells are charged and discharged mechanical stress can be minimized by controlling this process with a feedback mechanism that still allows mostly full use of the battery.   This technology is seeing more widespread adoption and could easily be what Elon is talking about.   If the battery life could be made to be 40 years or more then the cost efficiency of the Tesla dramatically changes and the anxiety about battery management decreases.   If the batteries can be used indefinitely it may make the battery replacement option at supercharging stations much more reasonable.

4b) Dramatically reduced cost of the battery

Elon’s main goal in building a massive battery factory in Nevada is to drastically cut the cost of the battery from the reported $8,000 for an 85KW battery to the $3-4,000 range or lower.   If Elon is quite confident in his ability to achieve this due to testing of new battery technologies he could promise substantial reductions in costs to existing Tesla owners to replace the battery also dramatically improving the economics of the Tesla.

In summary from my analysis these are the options for thursday mornings 9am release from Tesla regarding the “end of range anxiety.”

Prognostication:

A) A deal is announced with a major chain retailer with 10s of thousands of locations to offer supercharging locally for all Tesla owners.

B) “Insane conservation” mode allows Tesla to extend the range of Teslas by 100 miles effectively making it nearly impossible to “run out” of charge before you need to fill up.

C) The ability to charge Teslas to full charge or greater (110%) on a regular basis increasing the typical range of the cars by 50-100 miles (depending on model) and making it less likely you will run out of charge

D) The ability to recharge the batteries indefinitely and retain 95% of their original capacity giving the batteries a 50 year lifetime.

E) The announcement of dramatic cost reductions in the battery program making replacement batteries much cheaper.

I believe that what Elon means by “eliminating Range anxiety” is about reducing the immediate concern that you will be stranded if you run out of juice.   This means options A, B, C are the only ones to be considered.  I would consider D and E to be likely improvements anyway that further improves the ROI of a Tesla but I don’t believe those could be what Elon will announce on Thursday.

So, that leaves us with A, B, C.   A) is simple and simply a matter of Elon working a deal with a major retailer.    B and C could be done with software and a combination could be accomplished giving a combined increase in range of the car by 50% or more.   Option B requires operating in a limited functionality which is undesirable and seems unlikely to be such an exciting option that would merit a big announcement.  Option C is possible but would not give a huge increase in range implied by his Tweet.

I therefore think it is possible that option A could be a major part of the Thursday call or a combination of A, B and C effectively providing substantial range increases with increased numbers of supercharging stations would effectively quell  “Range” anxiety.

 If I had to bet I would say it’s a combination of A, B and C.

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