Electric Car Range in Cold Weather


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. 

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.

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.

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.

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