How Did EVs Handle America's Arctic Blast?
Authored by Ross Pomeroy via RealClearScience.com,
There are now an estimated 1.7 million electric vehicles (EVs) on U.S. roads, compared to roughly 400,000 in spring 2018. That means that a lot more Americans are experiencing the joys and pitfalls of EV ownership, from silent, swift acceleration and emission-free driving on the positive side to slower fueling times and shorter driving ranges on the negative side.
More Americans are also learning that frigid temperatures affect EVs differently than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, chiefly by cutting into their driving range to a greater extent. While a typical ICE vehicle might have its range reduced by 15% to 25% in below-freezing temperatures, an EV's range will be slashed 20% to 50% depending upon driving speed, temperature, and interior climate preferences. Combustion reactions occur more inefficiently at colder temperatures, accounting for the range decline in ICE vehicles. But cold slows the physical and chemical reactions in EV batteries to a larger degree, limiting the energy and power the battery can deliver to the motors. Moreover, while ICE vehicles utilize otherwise wasted heat from the engine to warm car interiors in winter, EVs use electric heaters to perform much of the climate control, further draining the already hamstrung battery.
The Arctic blast that chilled much of the "Lower 48" last week showcased the EV range hit to more Americans than ever, and also yielded a few more lessons.
EV owners sounded off about their experiences on social media and subreddits. Here are a few of the takeaways:
1. EVs are not ready for frigid road trips.
I warned about this in August: Driving an EV on the highway in extreme cold will produce a range loss of 40% or more. EV owners of various brands traveling for the holidays shared numerous stories verifying this annoying (and potentially dangerous) reality. Drivers traveling in temperatures at or around zero with a headwind could go only 100 to 150 miles before needing to stop and recharge, depending upon the car, significantly increasing travel time. When they did charge, they had to deal with another disconcerting problem with EVs and winter...
2. EV fast-chargers operate much more slowly in extreme cold, if they work at all.
The colder the EV battery, the slower the rate of charge that it will accept, making "fast-charging" in subzero temperatures a potentially miserable and plodding experience. Think a 45 to 60 minute charge instead of a 25 to 35 minute one. To top it off, users reported that fast-charging equipment, particularly from Electrify America, often just didn't work in temperatures below -10 °F. Tesla's proprietary Superchargers didn't seem to have the same reliability issues. The generally sorry state of charging infrastructure shed light on another takeaway...
3. EVs driven in regions with a cold winter need to be charged at home.
Preferably with a garage. Owners simply can't rely on public infrastructure in its present state with current battery technology. However, this situation could easily change in five to ten years with novel batteries that suffer less range loss and more widely available chargers, preferably housed indoor.
4. Aside from range issues, EVs handled the Arctic air well.
Owners reported that their cars started without issue, drove well (albeit with slightly reduced power), and heated quickly thanks to their fast-acting electric heaters. For drivers who didn't need to worry about traveling long distances, their EVs were functional, comfortable, and relatively untroubled by the cold.