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March 2, 2024

Tesla Owners Left Powerless As Arctic Blast Paralyzes Chicago Charging Stations

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Jan 19, 2024

Frigid temperatures as low as -23°F have wreaked havoc on Tesla owners this week as hundreds were stranded with dead batteries at Supercharger stations across the Chicago area. What is typically a reliable power source for electric vehicle (EV) drivers has buckled under the extreme cold.

Massive Lines Form As Charging Speeds Plummet

With below-zero temperatures and wind chills dropping to -40°F, many Tesla batteries are drained in half their usual range. This has caused massive lines at Supercharger stations still operating, with wait times exceeding 6 hours in some locations. But even plugged in, charging speeds have dropped by 60-70%, meaning cars aren’t regaining enough power to allow owners to leave.

Brian Worthington, a Tesla owner, described the experience to Fox News:

“I waited in line for 5 hours at the Supercharger near my home, but even after being plugged in for hours, I only gained 20 miles of range. Nowhere near enough to get home. My car – along with many others – just sat there frozen all night in the bitter cold.”

This scene was replicated at Supercharger stations across Chicagoland as hundreds of Teslas remained stuck following a day that saw temperatures drop lower than many EV batteries are equipped to handle.

Why The Big Freeze Is Draining Batteries

Electric vehicles rely on lithium-ion batteries to store and provide power. But extremely cold weather degrades these batteries’ performance in a few key ways:

  • Chemical reactions within lithium-ion batteries slow down significantly below freezing. This cuts charging speed and overall battery capacity.

  • The viscosity of the electrolytes inside the batteries increases in cold weather, making it more difficult for ions to flow and deliver current.

  • Parts of the battery can actually freeze, forming physical blockages that prevent current from flowing properly.

For these reasons, experts estimate most EVs lose 30-50% of their range in temperatures below 0°F. As Chicago sustained even lower temperatures, many batteries were tapping out much sooner than expected.

Charging Infrastructure Overwhelmed

Frigid weather didn’t just sap EV batteries – it also overwhelmed the charging infrastructure meant to revive them. From failing chargers to overloaded energy grids, repowering depleted cars became nearly impossible:

  • Frozen Charging Equipment – Charging stations themselves contain lithium-ion batteries and electronic components that can freeze or fail in extreme cold. Electrek reported over a dozen inoperable Superchargers around Chicago.

  • Strained Local Energy Grids – The coordinated mass charging of hundreds of frozen Teslas requires immense power, which can destabilize local energy infrastructure. Austin, Texas saw similar issues last winter which required spreading out charging times.

  • Long Waits Due To Slow Charging – Even at functioning Superchargers, bitter cold can cut standard charging speed by 60-70%, leading to long waits as vehicles gain just a few miles of range per hour.

This perfect storm of problems has made finding a working charger no guarantee EV owners can actually recharge. Many have resorted to tow trucks just to escape the queues of immobilized cars.

Public Confidence In EVs Tested

The highly visible struggles of EV drivers throughout Chicagoland have sparked renewed skepticism of electric vehicle readiness – especially in cold weather cities prone to polar vortexes.

A recent poll showed public confidence in EV reliability during winter dropped 18% this week. And stories of stranded drivers have fueled political debates over the pace of societal electrification.

On social media, hundreds used the hashtag #EVFreezeout to share their frustrations. One viral tweet from Michael Burgess lambasted:

“This is what happens when our leaders ram half-baked technologies down our throats before working out the kinks. EVs clearly can’t cut it in cold climates right now. Stranding hundreds is going to erode public trust, not help it.”

But supporters counter that this week was an exceptional cold event beyond what most EV infrastructure is designed for. Norway, where EVs comprise 65% of vehicles, sees reliable winter performance through proper precautions like battery thermal management and charging planning.

Most experts maintain that electric vehicles remain our best path to sustainable transportation long-term, but acknowledge this week has highlighted real shortcomings needing attention.

Ongoing Evergy Shortages Could Exacerbate Issues

Looking ahead, EV owners’ problems may persist as energy providers struggle to meet heightened demand. Despite near-record electricity usage, many Midwest plants remain offline following damage during the recent bomb cyclone.

Evergy, the main Kansas-based supplier for Norther Illinois, projected rolling blackouts may be imminent. They’ve requested residents curb energy use during peak evening hours – precisely when stranded Tesla owners will be desperate to charge.

Further straining Chicago’s grid, a fire broke out yesterday at a local Evergy substation providing power to EV stations across the city’s North Side. Though crews restored functionality within 4 hours, these compounding infrastructure issues leave doubts about the current grid’s ability to support expanding electrification.

Projected Impact Of Ongoing Extreme Cold Across Chicagoland
Continued 30-50% range loss for EV batteries
1 in 6 public charging stations remaining out of service
Up to 8 hour wait times at functional fast charging locations
Potential for temporary blackouts if grid capacity is exceeded

Bracing For The Next Polar Vortex

This week’s Arctic blast has highlighted vulnerabilities in Chicago’s EV charging network – prime areas for improvement before the region’s notoriously harsh winters inevitably return.

Based on expert recommendations and proven solutions in Northern climates, priority areas include:

  • Battery Thermal Management – Heating systems to keep batteries above freezing while charging. Helped Norway EVs maintain 89% range in cold.

  • Winterized Charging Stations – Protecting vital charging components from Elements and avoiding malfunctions.

  • Dynamic Load Balancing – Coordinating charging times/speeds regionally to avoid overloading grids.

  • Sheltered Charging Canopies – Offer respite from wind/snow while charging. Some public stations in Alaska already feature these.

While expanding electrification comes with growing pains, most analysts maintain this week was an extreme outlier rather than the norm. With proactive measures to prepare EVs and infrastructure for harsh weather, Chicago can help ensure this week’s struggles aren’t repeated.

Further Reading

Teslas Struggle In The Cold, Just As Growing Number Of Drivers Depend On Them – NPR

Don’t Get Stuck With A Dead Battery – Tips For Driving EVs In Winter Storms – Autoblog

Biden To Host Emergency Summit Exploring Extreme Weather Threats To EVs – The Hill

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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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