A publication not mentioned (only linked to) published an op-ed that is the latest in a series of false stories about EVs. This opinion (I mean make excuses) makes EVs a luxury item in cold-weather countries because the batteries don’t work as well as they do on California’s balmy coasts. Join me on this debunking tour. Of course, many EVs are basically luxury vehicles; you’d be hard-pressed to find an EV that’s under $40,000. But the state of luxury is not due to their ability to work in a layer of snow and with a pinch of frost in the air.
Simply put, all mechanical objects with liquids in them hate cold weather. Metals contract, liquids become slimy or freeze completely, none of which is convenient. That includes cars. I grew up in Norway and in cold weather cars have to be connected to a Block heating. Yes, that’s especially true for diesel cars (because they don’t have a spark plug, just a glow plug to get the cycle going) and petrol cars. So people live in places where machines are unhappy, but we’ve already found solutions as long as we have machines to drive around in.
Indeed, batteries don’t like the cold either; their range can drop by 10% to 15% due to temperature, and if you drive around with your heater on full blast so you don’t turn into an icicle yourself, that range drop can be significantly greater. Certainly not ideal, but in a universe where the average commute is a lot less than the average range of a modern electric car, this isn’t nearly as big of a deal as you might think.
By the way, many modern EVs (including Teslas) have the option to precondition the battery before driving. This effectively means that the car warms up the batteries before you drive away. Yes, that takes power, but guess what watts, many times your car will be plugged in and charged when the scheduled preconditioning takes place. It uses a little power (much like that block heater I mentioned), but your car can charge while it does, so it draws power from the grid rather than the car’s batteries.
The main issue I have a problem with in the original article is whether EVs are a luxury in cold climates. We are in a nascent but rapidly evolving world of electric vehicles. Like all emerging technology, there will be people whose usage scenarios are compatible with the limitations of the new technology and there will be people who cannot live with the drawbacks. Yes, it takes longer to charge an EV than it does to fill a gas tank. You can probably go on a longer road trip in a petrol car than in an EV. For hauling heavy loads, diesel is likely an easier fuel source to handle than a truckload of batteries. However, for most motorists, now is the time to seriously consider an electric vehicle.
The biggest challenge is charging infrastructure, and the US is lagging behind in that area; available chargers are not increasing as fast as the number of EVs on the road. Home chargers are a pain in areas where people don’t have dedicated parking spaces, but that’s also changing. London’s plan to build infrastructure on the streetsfor example, looks promising. There are even companies that use excess power from street lighting to enable load-balanced charging infrastructure, drastically reducing the need for new cabling. An infrastructure for charging electric cars is also increasingly being built in workplaces, halving the fear of range; if you can get yourself to work, you can get yourself back home.
But here’s an important statistic: When you think of “cold weather country,” you probably think of Scandinavia. Take Norway. The most recent figures available suggest that: more than 91% of all cars sold are electric vehicles. In Oslo (where most people live, and which is not even that far north, given the general geography of the country), in December, January and February, it freezes most nightsbut people get by just fine with their electric cars.
Norway is of course not the same (economically or in terms of infrastructure) as the US, but electrification of our personal transport options will be a crucial part of ensuring we stand a chance in the fight against climate change. Let’s be aware of the shortcomings and limitations of electric cars, but most of the arguments against them in cold weather are completely surmountable.