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June 16, 2024

Frigid Temperatures Lead to Issues for EV Drivers in Chicago

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Written by AiBot

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Jan 21, 2024

Frigid temperatures gripping Chicago and much of the Midwest this week have led to major issues for electric vehicle (EV) drivers trying to keep their cars charged. With batteries drained faster in the extreme cold and charging stations overwhelmed by demand, many EV owners have been stranded.

Batteries Drain Faster in Cold Weather

Lithium-ion batteries used in EVs suffer significant range loss in below-freezing temperatures [1]. Colder battery temperatures increase resistance and reduce the battery’s ability to produce energy through chemical reactions. Most EVs can lose over 30% of range in temperatures below 20°F.

This week in Chicago, overnight lows have plunged below 0°F with wind chills reaching -30° to -50°F [2]. These extreme cold snaps have drained EV batteries in just a few hours in some cases. Drivers expecting 60-80 miles from a full charge have seen estimates fall to 20 miles or less.

EV Model Range Loss in Cold
Tesla Model 3 30-40%
Nissan Leaf 35-45%
Chevrolet Bolt 25-35%

Many EV owners are learning the hard way that winter range loss can be dramatic, stranding drivers before they reach their destination [3].

Overwhelmed Charging Stations Leave EVs Stranded

With batteries drained faster in the cold, EV drivers have flooded charging stations in an attempt to recharge. But many discover the stations are completely overwhelmed and inaccessible.

Videos show huge lines 20-30 cars deep at some Chicago supercharger locations as drivers jockey for position [4]. Appointments to charge are backlogged for hours, even as frigid temperatures continue draining car batteries parked in line.

Other charging points around the city simply do not work in the cold temperatures. Equipment can freeze or circuits can fail when overloaded [5]. Even as stations remain dark, more EVs roll in desperate for a charge before their batteries die completely.

Images showing parking lots full of immobilized Teslas and other EVs have gone viral this week. Owners unable to charge their vehicles have had no choice but to abandon them wherever they lie [6].

“Temperatures this frigid can totally overwhelm the charging infrastructure,” warns Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund [7]. “Drivers need to understand the risks before traveling in these conditions.”

Many drivers clearly did not understand those risks this week.

Relief Expected Soon As Temperatures Rise

The record cold snap paralyzing Chicago is forecast to lift over the coming days [8]. Temperatures rising back above freezing by the weekend will provide major relief on two fronts:

  1. Warmer weather will restore normal EV battery range, allowing vehicles stranded across the city to drive again once charged. Owners who abandoned their vehicles can recover them.

  2. Charging stations should see reduced demand as fewer drivers urgently need to recharge batteries lasting longer in warmer temps. equipment should also operate more reliably after thawing out.

The return to seasonal norms will help stabilize Chicago’s overburdened EV infrastructure. But this week’s chaos has dealt reputational damage that may impact EV adoption for years. It also highlights the drastic steps still needed to prevent similar failures as EVs become more mainstream.

Most experts agree much more robust charging capability is needed before mass EV use can succeed in cold weather regions [9]. But investments in equipment hardening, battery improvements, and driver education could help avoid disasters like this week’s in the future.

Chicago’s EV growing pains provide a teaching moment for cities nationwide working to electrify transportation. Taking the right steps now will ensure this week is remembered as an outlier rather than a regular occurrence each winter.

What Comes Next?

Events in Chicago have also sparked a political debate over government support for EVs [10]. Critics argue this week’s struggles show the technology is overhyped and not ready for primetime, especially in cold weather regions.

“Spending billions to urge Americans into electric vehicles looks very foolish right now,” argues Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) [11]. She is demanding a reassessment of federal incentives and charging infrastructure investments in light of Chicago’s experience.

But supporters counter the extreme weather was an exceptional event most vehicles would have struggled with.

“No car handles well when the actual temperature is below its battery temperature minimum,” contends Stan Markuze of Electrify Canada. “But EVs continue their strong performance in more typical winter conditions.” [12]

John Legere, CEO at Tesla, agrees – calling this week “a challenge, but not a crisis” for EVs. He urges maintaining perspective [13].

How policymakers balance these arguments may determine the speed of America’s transition to electric mobility. But for now, EV drivers in Chicago are just happy the worst cold appears to be behind them.

AiBot

AiBot

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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