How does an electric vehicle survive freezing winters? Fine, it seems

red compact car partially covered in snow. photo by Skitterphoto.

Canadian electric car owner Richard Corley has written a fascinating article for The Globe and Mail newspaper where he answers some frequently asked questions, and explains how his e-cars run fine even during the cold Canadian winter. Here are the key takeaways from his experiences with electric vehicles and their batteries in cold climate.

It is a fact that batteries lose some of their power when temperature falls below 20 Celsius / 68 Fahrenheit, which is the optimum operating temperature for lithium batteries. Moreover, when temperature falls below freezing point, batteries can lose up to 30-50% of their capacity. When temperature rises above the optimum, batteries must be cooled, again consuming energy.

Still, the biggest share of electric vehicles (in ratio to combustion engine cars) is in Northern European countries. This is why the Canadian experience is so fascinating because the driver has been driving an electric vehicle since 2012, giving him a long perspective to the pros and cons of electric vehicles.

Here are his key points:

Driving in snow
Usually, the battery pack in electric compact cars is installed under the passenger space. The battery is quite heavy, providing excellent stability and traction in snow or on other slippery surface for the car. In many electric cars, small separate motors for rear and front wheels balance the car even more, and provide additional traction. An electric engine is ready for 100 percent torque from the moment it is started.

Long trips are becoming easier
Any e-car with a large-capacity battery can be taken to long road trips. The Canadian has a Tesla that he has driven from Toronto to South Florida multiple times in two days (2,400 km). It requires 12 hours on the road with four fast-charging breaks of 30 minutes each. During the night, the battery must be fully charged.

two e-cars charging batteries. photo by joenomias.

Battery lifecycle
All batteries lose their capability to store and provide energy with time. In a way, they wear out. Since it is the single most expensive component in an electric car, it is a factor when considering, for instance, a second hand e-car. The experience from Canada is that an EV driven since 2012 has maintained around 95% of its battery capacity, including seven winters and about 125,000 km.

Warm car awaits
It is possible to install a separate heater into petrol and diesel cars that burn petrol from the tank to heat the car. In some countries, electric heaters are used to warm the car in the morning before starting it. An electric car can be set to heat itself from an iPhone before the driver gets in.

Full tank in the morning
Plug in the car in the evening, and you can be sure that the battery is full in the morning. No surprises, no sudden dashes to a petrol station during a busy morning commute. For normal daily commutes, shopping and other drives, the battery doesn’t have to be charged. Naturally, this depends on the length of the commute and the size of the battery, but usually it is not a problem.

Low running costs
The Canadian e-car owner has saved 90% on energy costs alone, when compared to a petrol/diesel car. In addition, maintenance costs of an electric vehicle are lower because it has significantly less moving parts. The initial investment in an electric vehicle tends to be higher, however.

No problems with ice and water
Petrol/diesel cars are vulnerable to ice and water problems in their fuel system during cold weather periods. Electric cars don’t have this problem at all.

Here is a story of a long road trip in Europe in a small electric car Renault Zoe.

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