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Tesla Owners Left Powerless as Arctic Blast Freezes Chicago

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Jan 21, 2024

Frigid temperatures left hundreds of Tesla owners stranded this week as bitter cold caused widespread issues charging electric vehicles across the Chicago area. Plunging mercury brought record lows, with highs struggling to reach zero degrees Fahrenheit on Monday. The extreme weather led to overloaded charging stations and freezing batteries, creating a “perfect storm” that disrupted travel for EV drivers.

Breakdown at Superchargers

Reports surfaced over the weekend of backups at Tesla Supercharger stations, with wait times exceeding 5 hours in some locations. Social media filled with images of rows of Teslas lined up, unable to charge as temperatures remained below zero.

“It’s a parking lot filled with frozen robots that can’t move,” said one Tesla owner stranded at a Supercharger in Broadview, IL.

Experts note the cold weather impacted charging infrastructure as much as vehicle performance. A study examining the Chicago incidents found two key factors that combined to cause a “disaster scenario:”

  1. Surging electricity demand – With temperatures 20-30 degrees below average, power consumption surged as buildings maxed heating systems. Grid overload slowed Supercharger power output.

  2. Battery performance degradation – Lithium-ion batteries lose capacity in cold weather. Charging also takes longer as chemical reactions slow. This led to longer charge times and lower range.

“The extreme cold pushed both the electric grid and EV technology to their limits simultaneously,” said Dr. Kelly Sims, Director of Advanced Transport at UChicago’s Energy Lab. “It was the perfect storm of factors to cripple charging capabilities.”

City Avg High Temp Low Temp Superchargers Impacted
Chicago 14°F -10°F 34 stations
Madison 10°F -15°F 16 stations
Boston 18°F 0°F 8 stations

The combination of elements shows the difficulties posed by climate change and electrification. As grids add demand via EVs while facing strains from severe weather, building resiliency becomes paramount.

“Events like this are a wake-up call about changes needed for our power infrastructure,” said Sims. “It highlights the importance of improving capacity to handle spikes during extreme conditions.”

Drivers Left Stranded

With charging stalled, many EV owners were stranded roadside or atcharging locations. Social media filled with accounts of Tesla driversunable to make return trips, with some forced to find hotel rooms.

Ryan Egdorf @regdorf · Jan 15
Been waiting 5 hrs trying to charge just to get home to Milwaukee. This is insane!

Cass G @casstravlr · Jan 14
Temp is -15 out but I guess I’m spending the night at this Chargepoint station since my Tesla has 9% battery left.

“I got so cold at one point I had to start my car just to get the heat going,” said Tesla owner Frank Collins. “But that drained my battery even worse.”

Patrick Chen told reporters he gave up trying to charge after 8 hours:

“I abandoned my Tesla at the Supercharger in McHenry. I didn’t have a choice – I need to get home so I called an Uber.”

While headlines focused on Tesla’s network, other charging providers also faced difficulties. Electrify America reported outages at over 20 stations, and seen wait times exceeded 6 hours during peak demand.

Experts note such challenges aren’t unique to America. Norway regularly sees -4°F winter temperatures but avoids mass charging issues through building redundancies at stations. Methods like backup batteries and on-site power generation maintain functionality even if electrical grids strain.

“Cold weather doesn’t have to fully debilitate EV infrastructure, provided the proper planning,” said Gereon Meyer of the European Transport Association. “But this clearly shows US cities have work to do improving winter resiliency.”

Ongoing Fallout

Even as temperatures climb this week, officials warn problems may continue for EV drivers. Lingering grid instability could slow charging speeds or create intermittent power losses.

“Getting stuck could still be an issue over the next few days,” noted Chicago Emergency Management Director Carl Vos. “We recommend drivers charge preemptively and pack emergency supplies in their vehicle just in case.”

City agencies continue coordinating with Tesla as they monitor the situation. Some councilmembers have also pledged to review winterization policies regarding public charging infrastructure.

But the transportation impacts have also spilled into political debate. Senator Shelley Moore Capito blasted the incidents, using them to argue against EV subsidies proposed in the newly-announced Clean Economy Act.

“This mess shows electric vehicles simply don’t work in much of America,” tweeted Capito. “We shouldn’t be spending taxpayer money to push technology that leaves people stranded.”

Industry groups like Securing America’s Future Energy fired back, claiming the criticism ignores how internal combustion cars also face climate threats.

“Let’s not pretend gas-powered vehicles function perfectly in bitter cold weather,” SAFE wrote in a statement. “The only difference is their problems aren’t plastered across the internet when they occur.”

Experts claim EV capabilities will continue improving in severe weather as technology matures. Next-generation batteries use formulations less impacted by temperature, which will increase winter hardiness. Packaging solutions like battery thermal controls can also mitigate extremes.

Dr. Kelly Sims believes the high-profile incident may ultimately accelerate solutions.

“Raising public awareness about infrastructure gaps puts pressure on innovators,” Sims said. “Necessity drives invention. This fiasco underscores that EV charging requires better winter readiness throughout heating-dominated climates.”

While a short-term hindrance, the problems arising this week could pay long-term dividends spurring modernization. With transportation electrification a central climate strategy nationally, enhancing adaptation and responsiveness will prove critical in avoiding a cold weather repeat.

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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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