Electric Cars

Electric Cars in Cold Climates: Why do EV Batteries Lose so Much Range when the Weather Drops?

Electric Cars in Cold Climates: Why do EV Batteries Lose so Much Range when the Weather Drops?
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I am the proud owner of a 2012 Nissan Leaf. I am also a resident of the greater Washington, D.C. area. If there is one thing I or any of my fellow residents of this area can tell you, it gets cold here in the winter. If there is one thing my zippy little red car doesn’t like, it’s cold weather. While sub-zero temperatures are rare, temperatures in the teens and twenties are not uncommon. My first Winter here brought all the usual challenges a transplant from Florida might suddenly face for the first time: shoveling snow, getting snowed in without proper supplies, and of course driving in snow for the first time. It also ushered in the reality that my car’s range would be drastically in cold weather and I would have to charge it much more often than I would when the sun is shining.

Why do EV Batteries Struggle in Cold Weather?

According to researchers at the University of Michigan’s Energy Institute, because EV batteries use lithium-ion batteries as their power source, they are extremely temperature sensitive. When the temperatures outside drop, the electrolyte fluid inside the battery cells becomes more sluggish. Much like other liquid substances such as ketchup or maple syrup, sluggish liquids move at a slower pace and are therefore not as effective. A recent study conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA) revealed that EV battery life may drop as much as 40% when the weather outside dips below twenty degrees Fahrenheit! That’s enough to strike fear in to the heart of any EV owner with a daily commute that leaves them no option for charging during work hours.

Finding Solutions

While the situation may not be ideal, representatives from AAA have given EV owners a few tips on working around the problem of battery range reduction. One solution is to turn the heater on and heat up the interior of the car while it is still plugged into a power source. Another is to be sure and store the car inside a garage or other enclosed space. This will ensure that the battery as well as the cabin of the car do not receive as much exposure to the cold and will therefore not drop as much in temperature. As far as what the future may hold for EV batteries, researchers are working on solutions to curtail the dip in battery life when the weather turns cold. One possible solution may be for the battery to discharge some of the already stored energy to keep itself warm when the weather is not. While this may sound like a strange and illogical solution, it may actually increase battery life by decreasing resistance when demands to the battery are higher. Scientists are also working on developing solid state batteries for EVs that will not contain any liquid like the current lithium-ion batteries do and will therefore avoid the same “slug factor” in cold weather. In the meantime, the best advice for EV owners in cold climates is to try and keep your trips as short as possible and your car as warm as possible when the temperatures drop.

Have any of my fellow EV owners experienced this phenomenon in cold weather? We would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

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Neil Brooks
Neil Brooks is an electric vehicle owner and lover currently based in the greater Washington D.C. area. Neil is a fan of all things electric and may be the only person in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States to own both an electric leaf blower and an electric chainsaw. When he's not busy blogging about the latest on electric technology he enjoys grilling, rock climbing, and taking naps in his hammock.