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Electric Car Range in Cold Weather

4/10/2012 4:14:45 PM

Tags: electric cars, battery range, Jim Motavalli

Electric Car Range In Cold WeatherWhere I live, we have bitterly cold winters. I’ve been told that electric cars don’t handle cold weather well. Is that true? Do some models do better than others?  

Electric car battery range is better in warmer climes, because in cold weather, chemical reactions happen more slowly. A drop of just 10 degrees Fahrenheit can sap 20 to 50 percent of a battery’s charge, depending on the system. According to Sherif Markaby, who directs Ford’s electrification program, batteries “are similar to people, as they both achieve maximum performance working under moderate, unchanged temperatures.” A warm battery can better accept charging from the regenerative braking system. Ford (for the Focus Electric) and GM (for the Volt) address this problem with a liquid temperature management system, which warms the battery pack as the car is charging. 

I drove the Volt during a chilly week in the cold winter of 2011, and traveled 28 miles before the gas engine kicked on to recharge the batteries. The Volt’s standard range is estimated to be 35 miles before it switches to gas power. 

Tony Williams, a San Diego-based Nissan Leaf owner, has created a range chart (see it at My Nissan Leaf) that is proving quite useful to other drivers of the all-electric car. According to Williams, at 70 degrees Fahrenheit, a Nissan Leaf with a full charge traveling at 55 mph will have 89 miles of range. But — and this is just one person’s experience — Williams’ calculations show that the car will lose 1 percent of range for every 2 degrees the temperature drops. For many drivers, that would translate into only 65 miles of real range available during a cold winter. 

Electric car battery range and performance isn’t the only issue in cold weather: Electric cars don’t have alternators to generate electricity. That means that the heater is a direct drain on the batteries — almost as dramatic as the drive motor itself. According to Williams, the Leaf’s heater can draw 1.5 to 3 kilowatt-hours (kwh) of electricity in an hour of use, and that’s a big dent when the battery stores only 24 kwh. 

Nissan estimates that at 14 degrees with the heater running, the Leaf’s range is 62 miles. 

Automakers are working on these problems. Their approach looks like a stopgap until a more efficient cabin heater is developed. Nissan introduced a standard cold-weather package for the 2012 Leaf that aims to reduce use of the climate control system with heated seats, a duct to direct warmth to the back seat, temperature management for the battery, and heated steering wheel and mirrors. Volt and Leaf owners can help their range by pre-warming the battery and the cabin while the car is plugged in . 

Patrick Wang, a Volt owner in the San Francisco area, saw his 40 miles of range drop to 34 miles when the temperature hit 40 degrees in northern California. His cold-weather driving tips include reducing cabin temperature to 68 and running the gas engine to warm up the cabin, then reverting to electric mode with the heater set to low. 

— Jim Motavalli, Author of High Voltage: The Fast Track to Plug In the Auto Industry

Photo courtesy Tesla Motors 



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clenieralley
10/15/2012 6:06:36 PM
For those of you who have asked, why has the range of electric cars has not improved very much in the last 100 years? One answer is because chemistry has not had the revolution that electronics has...it is not for lack of trying. Also 100 years ago cars did not have any of the safety requirements that modern cars do, so the Leaf is bigger than a Prius! The 1906 olds electric was only a seat on top of 4 bicycle tires and it went maybe 15mph. The estimated cost in modern money is 44K$ (http://kokomotribune.com/local/x1884756602/1906-electric-car-on-display-at-museum). Making the pricy Leaf seem like a bargin. I would say electric cars have come a very long way in 100 years.

clenieralley
10/15/2012 5:53:30 PM
Regardless of global warming, do you think that petroleum will last forever? We live on a blue ball in space. All the petroleum that we will ever have is what is in the ground now. So we should burn it all now, condemning our children to live in a low energy world? Gasoline is amazing stuff, nothing is a good on energy density / weight. It is worth holding onto for several hundred more years I think.

JAMES HENRY
6/9/2012 3:30:58 AM
A couple years ago we had a big snowstorm in PA that resulted in hundreds of motorists being stranded on an Interstate for 24-36 hours. I think that if any of them had been in an electric car they might have frozen to death. Might be OK for FL or the Southwest, but not for most of the country.

michael garaflo
5/7/2012 2:01:09 PM
OH! If Tesla motors can get a 200 mile range out of laptop batteries (that are very inefficient in their layout as they are not designed for that application), why can't they make one huge battery that will fit the application like Toyota did with the RAV 4 a decade or so ago? Chevron oil company held the patent and sued them for infringement suing Toyota for millions, and winning thereby causing the RAV 4 Electric to be pulled from the market as the battery was too big and chevron has the rites to that!

michael garaflo
5/7/2012 1:54:30 PM
Funny, the last time I was at an auto show where they introduced the "Volt" (a hybrid, not an electric by the way) they had an electric Olds from ...something like 1906 or so, and it had a range of 40 miles. So I asked the guy on stage with the volt, that after 100 years of technological advancement, why they are still at 40 miles of range? The calculator in my lap top bag has more computational power than all the computers that sent me to the moon and back (I'm assuming it happened for those who question it). At the rate that technology has been advancing (EXPONENTIALLY) we should be traveling to mars and back at warp speed by now. Has anyone else noticed the stagnant nature of technology these days? When my grandmother was a child, she saw silent movies become talkies and travel to the moon was a silly notion. Before she died she saw men walk on the moon. As a child I saw men walk on the moon and star travel was a fantasy, I see the fantasy come to reality in touch screen computers and many other things, but in some areas...NOTHING NEW! WHATS THE DEAL?!?!?!

ABBEY BEND
4/27/2012 7:57:38 PM
A fair article on one of the many problems with electric cars, not that the Volt is really an electric car, just a form of hybrid. One of the issues not talked about is the very limited amount of materials available globally to make the batteries. Would be nice to see a comprehensive article on this problem! Can one say, "Peak Lithium"????

JOHN & VIRGINIA LEDOUX
4/27/2012 4:50:54 PM
In my lifetime, I'll never buy a electric car! Global warming has been debunked.

Neil Armstrong
4/27/2012 4:22:16 PM
Until the batteries have a much greater range & OTHER improvements I thinki they are really not worth buying at present unless just for short distances commutes.

Chas Jones
4/27/2012 3:55:05 PM
I live in Fairbanks, Alaska. It gets extremely cold here. Down to -50 F occasionally, but below -10 for at least 8 weeks each winter. The up-side to an electric vehicle here is that every employer provides electric-plug ins for our cars for 6 months each year. It would be awesome if electric cars were feasible here. I've not heard of anybody trying one, but it sounds like a great idea if only the cold temps would be okay for the battery. Everybody has heaters on their batteries here. I wonder if that would be sufficient.

Diane Guta
4/12/2012 3:20:55 AM
The new 2013 Nissan leaf has improved greatly its range in cold weather. Approx 20 miles better! Also you can preheat the leaf while it is still plugged in to your home charger via a mobile app and really have a toasted warm car ready for you with a full charge!! Yes!!!







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