Opinion: Cold truths about electric cars' cold-weather shortcomings

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Thread: Opinion: Cold truths about electric cars' cold-weather shortcomings

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    Opinion: Cold truths about electric cars' cold-weather shortcomings

    Cold truths about electric cars' cold-weather shortcomings
    Washington Post
    January 28, 2011
    by Charles Lane

    Count me among the many thousands of Washington area residents who spent Wednesday night stuck in traffic as a snowstorm sowed chaos all around us. Being car-bound in sub-freezing weather for six hours can make a guy think. I counted my blessings. The situation could have been worse, I realized: My fellow commuters and I could have been trying to make it home in electric cars, like the ones President Obama is constantly promoting, most recently in his State of the Union address.

    It is a basic fact of physical science that batteries run down more quickly in cold weather than they do in warm weather, and the batteries employed by vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf or the Chevy Volt are no exception.

    The exact loss of power these cars would suffer is a matter of debate, partly because no one has much real-world experience to draw on. But there would be some loss. Running the heater to stay warm, or the car radio to stay informed, would drain the battery further.

    Here's how thecarelectric.com, a pro-electric Web site, candidly summarized the matter:

    "All batteries deliver their power via a chemical reaction inside the battery that releases electrons. When the temperature drops the chemical reactions happen more slowly and the battery cannot produce the same current that it can at room temperature. A change of ten degrees can sap 50% of a battery's output. In some situations the chemical reactions will happen so slowly and give so little power that the battery will appear to be dead when in fact if it is warmed up it will go right back to normal output. . . .

    "In a car where all power is supplied by a battery pack you can see where this would be a problem. The batteries don't produce as much power so the car has less power. The batteries also have to work harder so the effective range of the car is also significantly reduced. Charge time will also be longer. Cold has a negative impact on all aspects of battery operation."

    "Alongside the negative impact on the batteries cold also has a negative impact on the driver as well. Drivers need to be warm to operate the vehicle effectively so on top of the reduced range and power of the batteries just from the temperature they also must operate the car heater to keep you warm. This will further reduce the range of the car.

    "If you live in an area where the winters get extremely cold an all-electric vehicle will have to be garaged and equipped with some kind of plug-in battery warmer for it to be effective in the coldest months of the year. Keep these thoughts in mind if you're planning an electric car purchase; we don't want you finding out the range of your car has been halved when it's five below zero and you're fifteen miles from home."

    To be sure, gas-powered cars are hardly invulnerable. Plenty of motorists ran out of fuel in Wednesday night's mega-jam. But my hunch is that electrics would faced similar problems or worse. And many electric-car drivers who did manage to limp home Wednesday would have been out of options the next day: You can't recharge if you don't have electricity, and hundreds of thousands of customers were blacked out Thursday from the snow. The Post reports that this will be the case for many of them for days.

    This subsidized market niche is just one well-publicized malfunction away from disaster. Perhaps a Volt battery will overheat and burst into flames, as some computer batteries have been known to do. Or maybe a Leaf driver will suffer frostbite while stuck in the next blizzard. Let's just hope one of his neighbors pulls over to help him out.
    Full article at link.

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    Re: Opinion: Cold truths about electric cars' cold-weather shortcomings

    This article was published on Friday but has since generated a lot of controversy and received a (multi-pronged) counterattack by EV supporters.

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    Re: Opinion: Cold truths about electric cars' cold-weather shortcomings

    Fairly sure the Volt's active thermal management system would prevent the battery from overheating.

    And when the battery does die in the event of a massive traffic jam like the ones up north this week, the gas engine will kick on.

    Once again...Volt > Leaf.
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    Re: Opinion: Cold truths about electric cars' cold-weather shortcomings

    I would imagine most of those that were stuck like that commute a longer distant than the Leaf or EV Focus are designed for anyway. Fair assumption, but like they stated (and what happened here a couple of weeks ago), cars and trucks run out of gas also. I'd never get on a freeway in DC, or even here in Atlanta, in a EV. Never know when traffic will come to a halt.
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    Re: Opinion: Cold truths about electric cars' cold-weather shortcomings

    Quote Originally Posted by ne_one View Post
    This article was published on Friday but has since generated a lot of controversy and received a (multi-pronged) counterattack by EV supporters.
    The fact is that sooner or later someone's electric car will run out of electrical fluid in a blizzard-type situation, and the driver will suffer injury or death as a result of hypothermia.

    IT WILL HAPPEN, not if but when.

    Yes, you can run out of gas. But as is pointed out--needlessly so, except for those who are too stupid to be behind a steering wheel in the first place--it takes a few minutes to fill a gas tank. It takes longer to fill up the batteries.

    If you find yourself at work in a Chicago-style blizzard, with half a charge or half a tank...well, it doesn't take a genius to figure out which position you'd rather be in.

    Quote Originally Posted by solman98 View Post
    I would imagine most of those that were stuck like that commute a longer distant than the Leaf or EV Focus are designed for anyway. Fair assumption, but like they stated (and what happened here a couple of weeks ago), cars and trucks run out of gas also. I'd never get on a freeway in DC, or even here in Atlanta, in a EV. Never know when traffic will come to a halt.
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    Re: Opinion: Cold truths about electric cars' cold-weather shortcomings

    Gas engines aren't so hot in cold weather either. I often warm my vehicle up for 20-30 minutes when we have a cold spell and mileage suffers quite a bit. Cold = less efficient, big surprise.

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    Re: Opinion: Cold truths about electric cars' cold-weather shortcomings

    Lots of hand-wringing with an insidious political bent.

    Common sense rules the day in any of these worst-case scenarios.

    The petrol fueling infrastructure is just as dependent on electricity as the EVs' source.
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    Re: Opinion: Cold truths about electric cars' cold-weather shortcomings

    Couldn't waste heat from the batteries be used to warm the passenger compartment?
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    Re: Opinion: Cold truths about electric cars' cold-weather shortcomings

    Anti-tech paranoia.
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    Re: Opinion: Cold truths about electric cars' cold-weather shortcomings

    Quote Originally Posted by 1G6 View Post
    The petrol fueling infrastructure is just as dependent on electricity as the EVs' source.
    Yes, but when an intersection has gas stations on 3 of the 4 corners, all running from different sub-stations, and many equipped with generator back-up, its in very rare cases, you'll find all gas stations without the ability to pump gas. Your house only has one power feed. I guess you could always buy generator and some gas to charge your car when the power was out, the food in your fridge would go bad though......

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    Re: Opinion: Cold truths about electric cars' cold-weather shortcomings

    See, you just solved your own proposed quandary.
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    Re: Opinion: Cold truths about electric cars' cold-weather shortcomings

    Quote Originally Posted by 1G6 View Post
    See, you just solved your own proposed quandary.
    What is that, fill up at one of 3 gas stations or charging your Volt with a gas generator? (assuming you made it home)

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    Re: Opinion: Cold truths about electric cars' cold-weather shortcomings

    You can be proactive and fill your gas tank ahead of a major storm and it is not hard to put a can of gas in an empty tank a get to a gas station for more.

    Not so easy in a pure electric as you have a much smaller "reserve" that is used up exponentially in severely cold weather and if you "run out of juice" not easy to do a quick "addition" to get you to the "filling station", and what do you do during multi-day (or week) power outages?

    These power outages can also be made worse by excessive demand for recharging electric cars.

    At least Volt owners don't have near the worries and do have the option to do a proactive fill-up, and the better managed gas stations have backup generators for these emergencies.

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    Re: Opinion: Cold truths about electric cars' cold-weather shortcomings

    Quote Originally Posted by 1G6 View Post
    Lots of hand-wringing with an insidious political bent.

    Common sense rules the day in any of these worst-case scenarios.

    The petrol fueling infrastructure is just as dependent on electricity as the EVs' source.
    Yes, it's just a VAST CONSPIRACY.

    And unfortunately common sense ain't that common.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jesda View Post
    Anti-tech paranoia.
    You're right, it's paranoid to think your electric could go flat in a 0 degree blizzard.
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    Re: Opinion: Cold truths about electric cars' cold-weather shortcomings

    Quote Originally Posted by Neanderthal View Post
    You're right, it's paranoid to think your electric could go flat in a 0 degree blizzard.
    This article stupidly mentions the Volt alongside the Leaf in the context of being stranded. The gas generator is there for a reason.
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