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Small Steps, Big Impacts

By Sharon Chen
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With all the talk of an increase in clean energy and a decrease in fossil fuels, academics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have turned an eye to electric vehicles (EVs) – specifically, why there aren’t more of these vehicles on the road. Researchers have identified “range anxiety” (the fear that electric car owners will not be able to find charging stations) as a deterrent to EV ownership. Recommendations include creating “octopus” chargers that allow multiple EVs to be charged, increasing the amount of charging stations, and standardizing charger designs to increase charging compatibility.

Research like this, which presents small, incremental solutions to the big problem of how to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels, is an important way that higher ed leads on climate action. Other research has shown that people respond best to our climate challenge when simple steps are recommended (creating octopus chargers), and challenges are presented as opportunities (municipalities are given incentives to increase their charging stations). As Harvard Chan School researchers have shown, simple steps like this may add up to big results: if we can persuade more people that EVs are viable transportation alternatives, we are making a dent in our dependence on fossil fuels.

Teacher-student collaboration fuels recommendations to boost electric vehicle popularity

Marge Dwyer | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health | January 20, 2016

“Range anxiety” – a problem experienced by electric car owners who fear they will be unable to find charging stations – may be a major deterrent to the growth of electric automobile sales. Now a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researcher and student have teamed up to publish a paper with a series of recommendations that they believe will alleviate the fear of being unable to power up when needed – and boost consumer willingness to purchase environmentally friendly electric vehicles (EV).

The two Vermont natives who share a common interest in sustainability—Anne Lusk, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health research scientist in the Department of Nutrition, and Henry Bonges, a former master’s degree student at Harvard Extension School—have published their work in the January 2016 issue of Transportation Research.

The authors cited a Union of Concerned Scientists (2013) poll and a Canadian study that found that a key issue for consumers who are considering buying an EV is “range anxiety” — concern about how far the car will go before needing a charge and not knowing where the charging stations are located, if the charging units will be compatible (there are at least six types), and whether or not the units will be in use by other drivers when a charge is needed.

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