Electric Cars, Cold Weather, and Emergencies

Three things that do not do well together. An electric car can’t fully replace a gas-powered car in my world.

So recently I was at a graduation party for the son of a friend. (It was more like 2 parties, one of high-school kids, one of adults.) One of the neighbors had recently purchased a Tesla, and so someone else came up with a Tesla-cold-weather-driving story. After enjoying the schadenfreude, I went on a search for info about Tesla’s performance in cold weather.

Here’s the situation. You are driving to see family. Your young child develops a medical emergency. So you need to divert from your intended destination to an urgent care, then to the local hospital, and then to a regional hospital. Now for part of that time, the kid was traveling by ambulance, but that isn’t the point. The point is, sometimes plans, destinations, and expected driving distances need to change. Without regard for the nearest charging station.

Here’s the meat of the issue.

We can breathlessly talk about driving range, but neither that nor more chargers would have erased my anxiety—the anxiety of a parent who can’t spare extra minutes because his kid needs to get to the hospital.

Other situations where driving distance is an issue… Evacuation ahead of a hurricane in Florida. Evacuation ahead of the Camp Fire in Paradise, California. I’m sure you can think of others, while playing along on the home version of “Situations where charging time can be deadly.”

The whole thing is well written, and not terribly long. I encourage you to go read the whole thing. Here is the detailed account of what happened to that family at Christmas, driving to see family.

After further discussion and tests at Allen Hospital, it was clear Seth had intussusception—his intestines had folded onto themselves, and nobody could do the more complicated procedure on a toddler at the small-town hospital. I immediately wanted to go north, back to Minneapolis to get him care from doctors we knew and trusted, or at least head north and go to The Mayo Clinic. From that point, that would’ve asked an electric car to cover at least 339 miles, or at most 446 miles in the dead of Iowa winter. Waterloo, Iowa, isn’t far and has electric-car charging, but waiting at a Level 2 charger to charge over hours, at a trickle, wasn’t an option when every minute counts.

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Electric Vehicles Don’t Like Cold Weather

Or perhaps I should say that lithium-ion batteries don’t do well in the cold. AAA confirms what Tesla, BMW, Nissan electric car owners suspected — cold weather saps EV range. Even turning on the car drains power. But then I don’t much like cold weather either.

The reporter is shocked to discover that all manufacturers have the same problem, as if chemistry would work differently for BMW and Tesla than it does for Chevy.

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.

And that is BEFORE you turn on the cabin heat or heated seats.

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.

Again, I have no idea why this should be a “surprise.” (Or why they only list the bad numbers relative to the Chevy, and not relative to say Tesla.) Apparently reporters live in a world where energy – like heat – appears out of nowhere. The author of the piece seems to be genuinely surprised that internal combustion engines have waste heat that they can use, while electric motors don’t, (or don’t have enough for this use) and have to use electric heating elements whose energy comes out of the battery. The proposed mitigation, BTW is stupid.

Grewe has experienced sharp reductions in the range of his own Chevy Bolt, but he also said there are ways to limit the impact of cold weather. That includes storing a battery car in a garage, preferably one that’s heated. And wherever it is parked, it helps to keep the EV plugged in.

Of all the homes I’ve owned in the past 30 years, all but 1 have had a garage. None of the garages has been heated. Indeed, it is a standard to make sure that in an attached garage, fumes from the garage CANNOT enter the house. (This may actually be a part of the building code.) So no vents, heating ducts, etc. and an effort should be made to keep the drywall intact and sealed. Otherwise you risk asphyxiation. So you would need a separate furnace for the garage. And probably a new garage door, and extra insulation, etc. So where did all that energy saving go now? And 20 degrees F? That would have been like a heatwave coming through here last week, the mercury hit minus 14 degrees Fahrenheit. That is BEFORE windchill, so yes, you would need to use ‘climate control.’ (Otherwise the windshield would fog up.)

As for keeping the car plugged in all the time… contact your employer, the local cinema, your favorite Mexican restaurant, Walmart, Starbucks, and anywhere else you might ever go to ensure that every parking space has an outlet. Oh, and don’t ever plan on leaving your car at the airport in long-term-parking, unless that is heated and/or has an outlet.

Electric vehicles also lose range in hot weather, even before you turn on the air-conditioning. (Hat tip to Pirate’s Cove and Not a Lot of People Know That.)

Note: I put this in the “Math is Hard” category, but I should probably make a “Science is Hard” category for it.

What Happens When An Electric Car Is Hit By Lightning?

OK, this one was in a garage, plugged into the grid when the house got hit by lightning. Close enough. Electri-Fried Fusion.

The storm was in September.

The car had been parked in the detached garage and was plugged into the grid. But wait, wouldn’t you think a modern electric car would be designed with a built-in circuit breaker for electrical storms like this? Guess not! He immediately drove his electric car straight to the Ford dealer and said something was wrong.

That was SIX long weeks ago and no end in sight. Turns out the Fusion had an en-lightning experience and is completely incapacitated. Car insurance doesn’t know how to deal with electric cars that have been struck by lightning. They want pictures. Really? What does an electric car demobilized by lightning look like? Well, the same as an electric car that hasn’t been struck by lightning. Except none of the 2 separate battery compartments work now. It turns out the lightning strike blew out the electrical circuit boards. After weeks of back and forth with the insurance company, things started progressing. Repair work is underway.

There is a needed part – a circuit board – that won’t be available until January 15, 2019.

Wait, the car went into the Dealer’s shop in early September and repairs will take over five months? Insurance won’t total the car, and nobody knows how much it will cost to repair this modern, energy efficient, low CO2 emissions electric car.

The future is stupid.

Electric Cars – Not the Climate Answer You Were Looking For

Batteries are weak spot in electric cars, in more ways than one. Swedish survey: Production of electric car batteries emits tons of CO2

VL The Swedish Environment Institute has investigated the influence of lithion-ion batteries on the environment from the Traffic Administration and the Energy Agency from a life-cycle perspective. Batteries intended for electric cars are included in the survey. The authors Lisbeth Dahllöf and Mia Romare have done a metastudy – that is, they have reviewed and compared available studies.

The report shows that the production of batteries leads to high emissions. For each kilowatt hour of storage capacity in the battery, emissions of 150-200 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents already produced at the factory.

Considering both the Nissan Leaf, and the Tesla Model S…

Already when you buy the car, there has been a discharge corresponding to approximately 5.3 tonnes and 17.5 tonnes for batteries of this size, respectively. The numbers may be difficult to relate to. By comparison, a trip round Stockholm-New York by air causes emissions of about 600 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

(A tonne is 1000 kilograms for you metrically-challenged Americans, or about 2205 pounds)

Running costs (in terms of carbon-footprint) will depend on how your electricity is generated locally. The article notes that Sweden gets the bulk of its power from two sources, nuclear and hydroelectric, so they look quite good on the going-forward costs. (Leftists’ heads exploding over nuclear power in three, two, …)

Okay, it always fun to explode people’s preconceived notions (that attitude got me into a lot of trouble in my youth), but if you read the fine print, the data quality may be a bit suspect. (What is the energy consumption of Cobalt mining in the Congo? Who really knows. Its human-cost in terms of child labor, etc is usually what people worry about. That, and the fact that it has quadrupled in price in 2 years.) But it is clear, that these vehicles aren’t the answer to everything.