I will start with this disclaimer. I absolutely love, love, love my electric vehicle (EV) and don’t foresee ever driving anything else going forward. After buying the car last summer, I documented five responses received when people found out:
“Does it raise your electric bill?”
“The EV is still bad for the environment because of the battery”
“It’s going to catch your house on fire”
“What if the power goes out?”
I addressed all of those points in Forbes. With the first cold season as EV owner almost under my belt, I have experienced the EV battery – cold weather thing. Let me explain.
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM – 2021/01/10: Electric Vehicle charging point space and sign seen at a car … [+] park. UK car sales hit 28-year low in 2020, but the Electric Vehicle market has grown rapidly. There was a fall of almost 30% in car registrations in the UK last year, with 1.63 million cars sold which is the lowest total since 1992 as the industry was hit badly by the effects of Covid-19 lockdowns. But sales of both electric cars and hybrids both rose sharply, with plug-in cars now accounting for more than 10 per cent of the UK market. (Photo by Keith Mayhew/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
As an atmospheric scientist, I purchased my EV with full knowledge that battery performance differs during cold weather. That information seems to be a surprise to many people whom I speak with and is why this primer was written. During colder temperatures, EV batteries do not charge as fast, are less efficient, and will be more affected by electric functions within the car like heating, regenerative braking or seat warming. Why is this the case? Unlike a typical combustion engine-powered car, an EV relies on a battery.
To explain how a battery works, I have to bring up some basic chemistry that may trigger some high school or college lab nightmares. Within EV batteries there is a type of chemical reaction that causes an exchange of electrons. Michael Tinnesand describes how a lithium-ion battery works on the American Chemical Society (ACS) website. He wrote, “When the battery is used to power a car (discharge mode), lithium ions move out of the graphite anode and cross the electrolyte toward the cathode….lithium atoms that are intercalated in the graphite are oxidized at the anode, which leaves free electrons behind that can travel through an electric circuit.” An electrolyte, by the way, is a gel or liquid that can basically carry electric charge via ions. When the temperature is cold, these chemical reactions are slowed in both directions.
When I purchased my vehicle in the summer, my maximum range was around 230 miles (the brand of car that I purchased now has an extended range version too). At the time of writing (mid-February in the Atlanta area), the maximum range is around 180 miles. This loss of maximum range is consistent with the 20 to 25% loss ranges that I have seen published in studies. GreenCarReports.com showed slight variations depending on the car model and battery type. Electric vehicles do not have the waste heat of combustion engines. Battery power is used for climate control in the car too. Cars with heat pumps to warm the interior are less taxing on battery drain, according to GreenCarReports.com. I have certainly received “reduce climate control” activity warnings when my battery gets low.
By the way, none of this is a showstopper for me as I am “Team EV” and a big advocate. I understand the implications for our changing climate system and fancy not seeing a dirty tailpipe. I enjoy not having to spend money on gasoline or oil changes. I love the “instant torque” upon accelerating. I love explaining to my kids that this is their future. We just have to make some adjustments for the cold weather issue until technology does its thing. Here are some of my recommendations during cold weather if you have or are considering an EV:
Park in your garage if you have one.
Reduce the heating or air conditioning to what you can comfortably stand.
Consider heat pump installation or extended range battery packages.
Keep tire pressure at the proper levels and be aware of how you are braking.
Always have a good understanding of charging station locations along your anticipated routes. I have been pleasantly surprised with how many are around (the Apps are awesome) and the recent infrastructure bill will improve this greatly in the U.S.
Assume less range than your car shows when leaving your destination.
Oh and by the way, since your cellphone uses similar battery technology it is susceptible to performance degradation in cold weather too.
The components of an all-electric vehicle.
U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center Website
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