Electric vehicles in winters: range related concerns and considerations

Given the delivery waiting time for electric vehicles, you may be expecting to receive your EV in winter or next summer. What are the implications of temperature on your vehicle?

Driving an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle in all weather conditions is second nature to us.

We neither consider how their performance will be impacted in frigid winter as compared to scorching summer, nor do we have considerations around weather when we make a purchase decision. With years of experience, we know how to overcome particularly the cold weather demands of ICE vehicles as part of a “standard operating procedure ”. All vehicle types experience some loss of efficiency in cold weather including ICE vehicles. However, it is often more noticeable with an EV and is especially concerning for EV drivers who need to ensure they have enough range (distance travelled by car on a single charge) to complete their journey.

While ICE vehicles use waste energy to heat or cool the car, the electric motors of EVs are very efficient.

According to US DOE, conventional gasoline vehicles only convert about 12%–30% of the energy stored in gasoline to power at the wheels while EVs convert over 77% of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels [i].  As a result, EVs produce very little waste heat to warm the car interiors. As EVs do not have an engine producing heat to warm the car; it is the battery that powers heating systems. And in cold weather those heating systems are working overtime thereby affecting the battery and in turn, the range. EV batteries lose range as additional power requirements come from operating the car in cold weather.

Today, EVs use lithium-ion batteries that are known for their relatively high specific energy, high energy density, and low self-discharge rate. However, cold temperatures not only reduce the available energy capacity and power of lithium-ion batteries but can cause degradation. Cold temperature slows down chemical reactions, lowers electrolyte conductivity, and decreases diffusivity of ions in the anode, which contribute to lower energy and power availability. This, obviously, affects the range. According to the American Automobile Association, the loss in driving range could be as high as 41% with climate control in full use.

One would normally imagine that people living in colder countries would be the last ones to adopt EVs, but Norway shows this is not the case – on the contrary it is a leader in operating EVs in cold climates.

With the passage of time, EV owners are learning how to treat their vehicle in winters and are adjusting their expectations about range when setting out in the cold.

To alleviate these concerns automakers include features to make EVs more efficient in the cold weather, including heated seats, steering wheels, and windshields. Several automakers offer more efficient heat pumping systems that can significantly improve cabin heating efficiency. In fact, heat pump systems are a new efficiency hack which is now becoming an industry norm with Tesla in the U.S., as well as many Japanese and European EV manufacturers, using it in their cars. Winter performance is one of the unique selling points for these vehicles, and automakers are working on creating EV models that can handle cold weather better than ever before.

EV automakers are also educating customers on winter driving tips, cold weather best practices and considerations to keep in mind before driving an EV in cold weather.

In the longer term, technological advancement such as solid-state batteries that do not have liquid inside and won’t be so sensitive to cold are being looked at.

While all electric vehicles experience range loss in cold weather, with extra planning and adjustments this is temporary and as the snow melts and the temperatures rise, the vehicle’s expected range at full charge should return to normal.

Norway - leader in operating EVs in cold climates

One would normally imagine that people living in colder countries would be the last ones to adopt EVs, but Norway shows this is not the case – on the contrary it is a leader in operating EVs in cold climates. High nickel-based chemistries, that inherently provide longer range, account for more than 80% of battery capacity deployed on Norwegian roads.

With the highest market share for new electric car sales in 2021 at 86%, Norway provides a shining example that taking the technological leap is possible anywhere in the world, despite the weather.