Skip to content

Cold Weather Saps EV Range

February 8, 2019

By Paul Homewood


From CNBC:


Hoping to increase the appeal of their battery-electric vehicles, automakers have begun rolling out an assortment of "long-range" models, such as the Tesla Model 3, Chevrolet Bolt EV, Jaguar I-Pace and Nissan Leaf Plus.

Under ideal conditions, these products can deliver more than 200 miles per charge and, in some cases, even 300.  But as many owners discovered last week as winter storms slammed much of the country, cold weather conditions do not qualify as "ideal." A new AAA study finds that when the thermometer drops to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, range falls by an average of 41 percent on the five models it tested.

"We found that the impact of temperature on EVs is significantly more than we expected," said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of Automotive Engineering."

Some EV drivers — including this correspondent — recently found that range can drop by half when the mercury tumbled into negative territory. But the AAA study appears to be the first to have used standard, repeatable methodology to confirm the problem and compare the effect of winter temperatures on different models.

There were several surprises that emerged from the research, according to Brannon, starting with the fact that the impact on range was pretty much uniform among all five of the battery-electric vehicles AAA tested: the BMW i3s, the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the Nissan Leaf, the Tesla Model S and the Volkswagen e-Golf.

"It’s something all automakers are going to have to deal with as they push for further EV deployment because it’s something that could surprise consumers," said Brannon.

Different factors can affect the loss of range, he and other experts have noted. Simply turning on the electric vehicles, or EVs, AAA studied in 20 degree weather revealed a 12 percent loss in range. On a vehicle like the Chevy Bolt, with an EPA rating of 238 miles per charge, that would drop range to 209 miles. But that part of the test assumed operating the vehicle with neither cabin heat or even seat-heaters turned on.

Using climate control revealed an even bigger surprise, according to Brannon, as range dipped by an average 41 percent — which would bring an EV like the Bolt down to just 140 miles of range.

The problem is that unlike a car with an internal combustion engine that can warm the cabin with waste heat, EVs have to tape into their batteries to power the climate control system.

Part of the problem, said the AAA director, is that "lithium-ion batteries like the same sort of temperatures that we do, around 70 degrees."

Much below that and the chemistry used to store energy runs into various problems. Among other things, battery components develop increased resistance that limits how much power they can hold, as well as how fast a battery pack can be charged or discharged, explained Timothy Grewe, chief enginer for electric propulsion systems at General Motors.

  1. Dave Ward permalink
    February 8, 2019 10:40 am

    “There were several surprises that emerged from the research”

    Why? – Batteries losing their capacity has been known about since batteries were invented! Li-Ion types, in particular, should not be charged at below freezing point, so even if your EV gets to your destination, recharging it may be impossible. And it should be blindingly obvious that not having the “waste heat” of a combustion engine, and needing to use precious battery power, is going to sap the range.

    I repeat, WHY is ANY of this a surprise???

    • Ian Magness permalink
      February 8, 2019 10:54 am

      It’s not if you don’t wear green-tinted glasses Dave. Same issue, incidentally, if you try to jump-start a normal vehicle with a flat battery when it’s below 0C and the car has been outside. Wasted effort.

    • Lorne Newell permalink
      February 8, 2019 12:19 pm

      Those that were surprised are obviously in the group that are known as group thinkers. They don’t think for themselves, they follow the group. They are in the wrong vocation. To do research, you need to be a critical thinker. Those seem to be few and far between these days.

      • keith permalink
        February 8, 2019 12:57 pm

        Yes, well that goes for our idiot MP’s like Gove and Grayling, they are group thinkers driven by NGO’s. I won’t be around when Gove’s edict of only EV’s but I wish I could be a fly on the wall, with the total mess the country will be in, through their stupidity. .

  2. George Lawson permalink
    February 8, 2019 10:44 am

    I wonder whether the various manufacturers informed their customers in their sales brochures that performance dropped by 41 per cent when they turned the car heating on, on a cold day?

    • Ian Magness permalink
      February 8, 2019 10:52 am

      I have a feeling you might know the answer George,

  3. MrGrimNasty permalink
    February 8, 2019 11:04 am

    I have fond memories as a child, roasting ever-readies right in front of a coal fire hoping to extract a few more minutes play from my Christmas toy, or blow up the house trying!

    • Gerry, England permalink
      February 8, 2019 1:54 pm

      Keeping your spare camera battery in your pocket is a good idea when out shooting on a cold day, or any day really.

  4. February 8, 2019 11:15 am

    Risk of catastrophic fire and explosion of Li batteries!

    Very premature to switch to EVs, as wth wind power for watts!

  5. Joe Public permalink
    February 8, 2019 11:41 am

    The polar (pun intended) phenomenon is that solar panels work less efficiently when it’s warm & sunny!

    Their outputs are always stated at 25°C. When their surface temperature exceeds that figure (as a dark surface will do in direct sunshine), PV cell power output reduces by about 0.5% with every degree Celsius increase in temperature. In real outdoor conditions the rated peak power is seldom achieved, since module temperature usually is more in the range of 40°C – 60°C.

    Improved weather & global warming can be a bugger.

    • Ben Vorlich permalink
      February 8, 2019 8:18 pm

      Most semiconductors work better at lower ambient temperatures. I spent half half my working life making sure that they operated within specifications at 70’C and rarely at lower than room temperature. So I’d expect that Solar PV would be more efficient in winter but not enough to compensate for the lower sun.

  6. February 8, 2019 11:51 am

    I pretty much stopped at “cold weather saps” but then realized they were talking about draining the batteries and not those who had bought these cars.

    • The Man at the Back permalink
      February 8, 2019 2:04 pm

      Nice one Joan – LOL

  7. jack broughton permalink
    February 8, 2019 12:14 pm

    The loss of power on low ambient days is well known, the problem of charging (mentioned by DW), is going to be serious as most cars are kept on the street in the UK, most garages being used for more useful functions than storing a weather-proof car!

    Apart from the problem of charging at low ambient temperature, the batteries deteriorate rapidly if left at low temperatures and need heaters to protect them. Again a well known but ignored battery issue.

    There will also be problems with trailing wires as people try to charge their on-street vehicles.

    Another fine mess that our sensible government have created, but they’ll be gone by the time the chickens come home, we won’t.

    • Dave Ward permalink
      February 8, 2019 2:52 pm

      “Most garages being used for more useful functions than storing a weather-proof car!”

      Largely because the garage provided with modern UK houses are too small (particularly in width) to get a newish car into, and even if you did, you wouldn’t then be able to get out of it!

      “The batteries deteriorate rapidly if left at low temperatures and need heaters to protect them”

      Which are powered by the batteries themselves! It occurs to me that if you were to leave an EV outside in cold weather for long enough, it would lose sufficient charge (helped by the battery heater), that permanent damage might occur. Or, at the very least, the power pack would effectively shut down, and you wouldn’t be able to re-charge it without first having it towed to a heated workshop to “thaw out”. In contrast, the only problems affecting conventional vehicles in low temperatures is diesel fuel “waxing”, but this is well known and can be avoided without losing range. I know that engine heaters are often essential in really cold climates (before any EV advocates try and score points), but at least the fuel doesn’t mysteriously disappear while they are parked…

      To re-phrase an old quote – “If EV’s are the answer, what on earth was the question”???

    • John F. Hultquist permalink
      February 8, 2019 6:19 pm

      ” most garages being used for more useful functions ”

      Correct. We have a bunch of useless junk in the garage and a Subaru outside.

      • RAH permalink
        February 9, 2019 12:24 pm

        Yep. A $30,000+ vehicle or two sits in the weather in a driveway because the garage is filled with $10,000 -$20,000 worth of other stuff that would be ruined if left out in the weather or a guys rebuild project car. Garage space and closet space two of the shortest commodities for most of us.

  8. It doesn't add up... permalink
    February 8, 2019 12:24 pm

    If range drops by around 40% that means that recharge demand will increase by two thirds, just when electricity demand is through the roof anyway. Of course those who sign up to let the grid discharge their batteries as a store of electricity will find that they’re not going anywhere anyway.

  9. Chris MD permalink
    February 8, 2019 12:31 pm

    The met office has proclaimed it will be 1.5 degs warmer so that’s added 1.5% to the range, but that’s probably lost as our beryllium ceramic fields will be a bit warmer.

  10. February 8, 2019 12:45 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

  11. February 8, 2019 1:26 pm

    The loss of charge wasn’t a surprise, but the 41% in sub-zero conditions was.

  12. February 8, 2019 1:35 pm

    It is going to take a lot of fossil fuel to keep these EVs on the road during a cold windless day.
    These vehicles could be death traps in a blizzard snarlup on a motorway.

    • Dave Ward permalink
      February 8, 2019 2:57 pm

      “These vehicles could be death traps in a blizzard snarlup on a motorway”

      It’s only a matter of time. But do you suppose the Beeb would actually report on any unfortunate deaths as a result of EV’s running out of power? That wouldn’t quite fit into their frequent news stories of pollution killing millions…

  13. JohnBillScott permalink
    February 8, 2019 1:48 pm

    VW solved the problem of cabin heat for the air-cooled Beetle, they fitted a petrol heater in North America. The performance of batteries at low temperature has been known for ever, In the 50’s I used the crank handle for my Anglia which had a 9V battery.

  14. Gerry, England permalink
    February 8, 2019 2:03 pm

    The surprise could be how bad the range reduction is. God forbid you need lights and the wipers, heated rear window.

  15. February 8, 2019 2:05 pm

    Reblogged this on ajmarciniak.

  16. saparonia permalink
    February 8, 2019 2:07 pm

    That’s a classic example of Sod’s law,They introduce electric cars because of global warming, then outlaw all other cars, then instead of warming the Sun goes to sleep and we have a Little Ice Age and are left walking because the stupid dinky toys don’t work if it’s cold. hah

  17. saparonia permalink
    February 8, 2019 2:10 pm

    Here is the new Fair Weather Friend lmao

  18. Gamecock permalink
    February 8, 2019 2:40 pm

    Low temperatures do not diminish the joy of virtue signalling.

  19. George Lawson permalink
    February 8, 2019 2:54 pm

    Sadly, our representatives in government think of their own personal future these days rather than make decisions which are in the interests of we, the people they are supposed to be representing. Take for example our very vocal Secretary of State for the Environment Mr Gove. He is the man that made the preposterous statement in the House that he wanted to see the manufacturing of all fuel combustion vehicles brought to an end by 2040, and replaced by electric vehicles. I presume that was after his friend Mr Gummer made the plea for more battery driven vehicles to justify his elicit back- handers the battery manufacturers paid him, and on whom I am still waiting for Mr Gove’s statement on Mr Gummer’s malfeasants. Had Mr Gove, who changes his mind more frequently than I change my shirt in order to help him to the top job, never been told that we would never have anything approaching a sufficient electricity supply to fuel all cars in the country if they were battery driven, or that there could not be a fraction of the charging points across the country to service such a dramatic change, to say nothing of the thousands of people who park their cars in the street at night and would never be able to charge the car battery from home anyway? Did he, I wonder, ever question whether such an outrageous statement would have profoundly negative effects on the motor manufacturing industry, and has he stopped to consider that he might be primarily responsible for the massive downturn in the industry at the moment that is not going to be easily recovered? Separately, Mr Gove is the man who robbed the taxpayer with false expense claims. and also put Mr Ben Goldsmith, the man who helped finance his Constituency office on to the Committee of the Department of the Environment. This is just one of the parliamentarians who are making decisions on our behalf. We can only hope that sooner or later those in parliament who show much more common sense an understand their responsibilities, will have the courage to take these people to task before it is too late for all of us,

  20. February 8, 2019 4:54 pm

    Leaving aside the range issues of EVs & assorted other impracticalities they are saddled with, it seems to me that 90% of the pollution on the roads come from 10% of the vehicles. Not many of these vehicles are cars, and those that are tend to be 10+ years old and look like they have been thrashed. Modern diesels and petrols are clean (at least to the naked eye).

    Does the EV-only edict apply to the main sources of vehicle pollution, i.e. white vans of a certain age and HGVs? It would seem not. It will therefore be largely ineffective.

    Do a majority of the people of the UK want this change? I warrant not. But there is no representation in parliament for those who oppose it, or the CCA2008, or other painful greenery.

    A better answer would be to pull over the cars/vans/lorries with plumes of smoke coming out and get them off the road. You could even offer scrappage towards new models.

  21. February 8, 2019 5:26 pm

    EVs are killers in bad weather: death from exposure. In winter, travelling, say, over the Yorkshire moors in a blizzard at night, you are likely to die. The car ‘dies’, as battery power drops due to the cold. There is now no heating. You freeze inside, you freeze outside trying to find help. Petrol and diesel cars do not have this problem.

    The Tesla battery alone weighs 800kg—that’s nearly a ton—equivalent to ten passengers (an average petrol engine + fuel weighs about 140kg).

    A Tesla battery is rated at 70 KWh and fast charging is only 40% efficient. It will need 125 KWh of electricity for a single charge; this works out as about 40 kilogram (0.31×125) of coal for a full charge [87kg on ‘Greenpeace’ data].

    The cost of electricity for the range available in a Tesla—200 miles in summer; 100 miles in winter—works out at ~ £19. The petrol for 200 miles costs more but most of that cost is tax (currently about 60%)—about £28. In winter, for 100 miles, the petrol costs just £15.

    During trials, between 1927-30, of British steam locomotives a typical result was that, for a 500 ton express train, coal was consumed at the rate of 20 kg per mile. Over 200 miles therefore 4000 kg was consumed. Scaling down to a two ton car: 4000÷250=16 kg coal. Even allowing for economies of scale, compare this to the 40 kg required by a Tesla.

  22. February 8, 2019 6:20 pm

    This will end up killing people. Imagine being caught out in bitter freezing weather, and your car becomes disabled – say, you have a flat tire, or skid off the road on ice, or the roads become impassable due to snow. How long will the battery keep the car warm while you are waiting for help? A full tank of gas can last a day or two at idle and can keep you warm and alive. An already cold-compromised battery may only last a few hours, and then you freeze to death.

  23. Coeur de Lion permalink
    February 8, 2019 6:27 pm

    That this common knowledge was not part of the EV sales pitch is FRAUDULENT .

  24. Graeme No.3 permalink
    February 9, 2019 12:00 am

    All these problems with EV cars could easily be solved by fitting a tow bar and pulling a petrol fueled generator behind the car. Range improved, heating available, no need to recharge for hours at peak electicity demand and prices.
    Someday an engineer will work out that removing that 800lb. lump would leave space inside the body for the generator and the lesser weight would result in longer range and better reliability.
    O/T but we recently had a few days in South Australia with peak temperatures up to 49.5℃.
    What effect would that have on EV cars?

  25. Jon Scott permalink
    February 9, 2019 10:22 am

    Who ever would have guessed…. obviously not the innumerate who appear to becoming an increasing majority….. any coincidence there in the dumbing down of science and mathematics in schools as a precursor to inflicting this nonsense on society?

  26. Ben Vorlich permalink
    February 9, 2019 8:56 pm

    Sir Clive Sinclair had a solution to battery storage and output issues. He put pedals on the C5.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: