The Real Lowdown on Cold Weather and Charging Electric Vehicles – What’s the Problem?

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Filed under Automotive, EV News, News

The recent cold weather across the U.S., from Chicago to northern Texas, has posed challenges for electric vehicle (EV) owners, leading to reduced driving range and longer waiting times at charging stations. The impact of frigid temperatures on EV performance is a well-known issue, with studies indicating a range loss varying from 10% to 36%.

Automotive Addicts aligns with the findings of the Associated Press (AP) regarding the challenges faced by EVs in cold weather. The reduced efficiency and slower charging in extreme cold conditions are acknowledged, emphasizing the need for owners to plan and make adjustments for optimal performance.

The primary issue lies within the lithium-ion batteries used in EVs. In cold temperatures, the flow of lithium ions through the liquid electrolyte within the batteries slows down, affecting the release of energy and reducing the overall range. Additionally, the charging process is impeded as electrons move more slowly, making it challenging for the battery to accept electricity from charging plugs.

Despite these challenges, experts, including Neil Dasgupta, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, emphasize that with proper planning and adjustment, EV owners can still travel relatively normally in cold weather. One key aspect highlighted is the importance of preconditioning the battery before charging, which involves warming the battery for about half an hour in frigid temperatures.

Fundamentally, EVs include battery heating systems that precondition the battery to reach an optimal temperature to allow them to charge at their potential and capacity. The colder weather strips that ability away, thus requiring a heating cycle to bring the temperature up so the battery can then be charged at a quicker rate and reach a higher capacity. Simply put, cold weather degrades battery performance in its ability to yield the claimed range of the EV and to charge at a quick rate using a DC fast charger or Tesla Supercharger. Moreover, use of the heat pumps in many EVs to heat the battery utilizes precious energy, too. It’s a battle of heat cylcling the battery and conservation of energy – cold weather is just hard on EVs. However, the cases of EVs having ‘issues’ charging in the winter are often blown out of proportion as most savvy EV consumers will just charge at home mitigating the fast-charger debacles that have recently been publicized and often lambasted in the current news cycles.

Bruce Westlake, president of the Eastern Michigan Electric Vehicle Association, notes that most EVs are programmed to warm the battery if the driver informs the vehicle’s navigation system about a trip to the charging station. The lack of awareness about such features among new EV owners is acknowledged, with the suggestion that better education is needed.

Looking toward the future, experts anticipate improvements in battery technology to address cold weather challenges. Automakers are expected to develop models with existing lithium-ion chemistry tailored to colder climates, and new battery chemistries resilient in cold weather are in development. Despite the current challenges, the message is optimistic, with the belief that advancements in technology will make being an EV driver in cold-weather climates more feasible and efficient over time.


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