Electric vehicle (EV) owners in the Midwest, including Chicago, have faced major issues keeping their cars charged amid an extreme cold snap this week, with many left stranded as lithium-ion batteries fail in freezing temperatures.
Massive Demand Overwhelms Charging Stations Causing Backlogs
With temperatures dipping to -15°F in Chicago, demand for EV charging has surged as range plummets by over 40%. However, most fast charging stations have been utterly overwhelmed, with long lines and wait times over 5 hours reported.
At some locations, dozens of vehicles were left packed together, unmoving, as their already depleted batteries continued draining in the brutal cold. Owners unable to leave their EVs blocking the chargers have resorted to referring to the parking lots as “graveyards”. Social media images depict Teslas, Nissan Leafs, and more lying lifeless amid the arctic chill.
|Reported max range loss
|Tesla Model 3 LR
|Nissan Leaf (40 kWh)
Many drivers had relied on their EVs without issue during warmer weather, but were caught completely unaware by the severe effects of temperature on lithium batteries. With ranges cut nearly in half, they no longer had the charge needed to safely complete trips or even exit the congested charging stations.
Lithium Batteries Rendered Unchargeable in the Cold
At the core of the issue is lithium-ion battery chemistry – critical for powering modern EVs. But charging fails completely below -10°C, with performance progressively degrading before that point. In essence, the batteries have become “frozen” in place, unable to absorb further energy until warmed substantially.
Attempting to charge a lithium battery below freezing risks permanent damage. As a result, most EV systems automatically disable charging capabilities when cell temperatures drop too low. Owners may have to resort to other means like heated garages to restore function.
Automakers Claim Cold Weather Readiness as Public Confidence Wavers
Both legacy car manufacturers and EV startups alike have often boasted about winter readiness to drum up sales across northern US states. However, the past week has pierced these assertions resulting in deteriorating public trust.
Frustrated owners have directly called out Tesla CEO Elon Musk about the company’s previous cold weather capability claims. Support agents could only reiterate location heating suggestions from instruction manuals – doing little for those already stranded roadside. Other brands like Nissan, who boldly proclaimed “The Nissan LEAF is ideal for cold weather regions”, will almost certainly face similar criticisms.
The influential nonprofit Consumer Reports has said the situation further confirms concerns over EV reliability compared to gas-powered equivalents – especially those with all-wheel drive. Senator Ernst from Iowa agreed, saying the problems should give those pursuing aggressive electrification mandates “serious pause”. Automotive publications now speculate these troubles may spur drivers in cold climates to avoid EVs out of caution.
Quick Thaw Expected, But Winter Challenges Will Remain
Temperatures are finally forecasted to rebound later this week, which should allow revival of stranded vehicles as their battery packs warm up. However mobile charging teams will likely still have extensive work recovering the hundreds incapacitated until that point.
Looking ahead though, sustained subzero and single digit conditions remain common across the Midwest, New England, and other northern regions. More of the extreme range and charging behavior seen recently can be anticipated for at least the next 2 months.
For EV pioneers in these areas, it will continue requiring diligent pre-trip planning accounting for the impact of both mileage limits and charging problems. Careful attention will be vital given the potentially dire situations now demonstrated if drivers exceed remaining range or lack backups. Conservation techniques like seat heaters over less efficient cabin heating can help marginally preserve precious battery reserves as well.
Table summarizing key mitigation strategies for EV owners facing cold conditions:
|Condition batteries to optimum temperatures before charging sessions
|Warm cabin using external power sources before departure to reduce HVAC electrical loads
|Limit Internal Loads
|Favor seat/steering wheel heat over cabin heat, avoid excess accessories
|Account for Range Loss
|Keep daily trip lengths with ample margin below reduced range estimate
|Identify Backup Charging
|Confirm additional stations accessible if primary site is congested
Decreased winter performance remains an intrinsic EV trait unlikely to change for years barring radical battery breakthroughs. But both automakers and owners adjusting expectations while adopting best practices can still allow electric mobility to thrive through the cold.
Has Extreme Weather Shattered EV Promises?
The disruptions seen during this past week’s winter blast have no doubt challenged previous notions that electrification was immediately viable coast to coast. Both EV proponents and critics will likely continue leveraging this case study to argue their stances for the foreseeable future.
It has laid bare the reality that owners must account for fickle battery characteristics – despite marketing messaging suggesting otherwise. Likewise, automakers themselves will need to acknowledge performance differences compared to conventionally fueled competitors rather than attempt to gloss over them.
But once the initial turmoil subsides, EVs will surely still possess inherent advantages over internal combustion alternatives from emissions to maintenance. Although range and charging setbacks in winter extremes have now manifested so plainly, they do not wholly negate e-mobility’s benefits across other measures nor in milder conditions for much of the year.
With resilient owners, responsible OEMs, and intelligent policymaking – this rocky patch may ultimately signal entry into a new stage of greater transparency. One where EVs can perhaps start shedding hype and be embraced for their actual capabilities and limitations in supporting greener transportation when weather allows.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.