Bank cards let you overdraw your account when you must on the understanding that you’ll pay it back when you can. If you could do the same for your electric car by overdrawing the battery, it’d sure alleviate range anxiety—the fear that you might get stranded far from an electric plug.

Overdrawing your battery simply means taking advantage of a power reserve that today’s control systems deliberately build in to preserve the electrodes and thus extend battery life. The reserve can amount to 30 percent of the battery’s capacity. In the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid that will use a gasoline engine as a range extender—and thus can afford to protect the battery’s life very carefully—the pure-electric reserve will reportedly come to 40 percent.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images
Green

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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