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Don't be silly, of course you can use EVs in cold weather

·4-min read

A publication that shall not be named (merely linked to) published an opinion piece that is the latest in a string of false narratives around EVs. This opinion (I mean act of subterfuge) couches EVs as a luxury item in cold-weather countries because the batteries don't work as well as on the balmy shores of California. Please join me on this debunking tour. Sure, many EVs are, in fact, luxury vehicles; you'd be hard-pressed to find an EV that's under $40,000. But the state of luxury is not down to their ability to operate in a dusting of snow and with a nip of frost in the air.

Put simply, all mechanical objects with liquids in them hate cold weather. Metals contract, liquids get goopy or freeze up altogether, and none of that is convenient. That includes cars. I grew up in Norway, and in cold weather, cars need to be plugged into a block heater. Yes, that includes diesel cars in particular (because they don't have a spark plug, only a glow plug to get the cycle started), and gasoline cars. So, humans live in places where machines are unhappy, but we've been finding workarounds for as long as we've had machines to drive around in.

Indeed, batteries don't love the cold either; their range can drop by 10% to 15% due to the temperature, and if you're driving around with your heater on full blast so you don't turn into an icicle yourself, that range drop can be significantly more significant. Not ideal, for sure, but in a universe where average commutes are a lot less than the average range of a modern electric vehicle, this isn't nearly as big of a deal as you would think.

Besides, a lot of modern EVs (including Teslas) have the option to precondition the battery before you drive off. This effectively means that the car warms up the batteries before you drive off. Yes, that takes power, but guess watt, a lot of the time, your car is going to be plugged in and charging when the scheduled preconditioning happens. It uses a bit of power (much like that block heater I mentioned), but your car can charge while it's doing that, so it's taking the power from the grid rather than from the car's batteries.

The main point I have an issue with in the original article is whether EVs are a luxury in cold climates. We are in a nascent but rapidly evolving world of electric vehicles. Like all emergent technology, there will be people whose use cases are compatible with the limitations of the new technology and there will be people who can't live with the cons. Yes, it takes longer to charge an EV than it does to fill a gas tank. You can probably do a longer road trip in a gas car than in an EV. For hauling heavy loads, diesel is probably an easier-to-deal-with source of fuel than a truck full of batteries. For most drivers, though, now is the time to seriously consider an electric vehicle.

The biggest challenge is charging infrastructure, and the U.S. is lagging behind on that front; available chargers aren't increasing as quickly as the number of EVs on the road. At-home chargers are tricky in areas where people don't have dedicated parking spots, but that's changing, too. London's plan to put on-street infrastructure in place, for example, is looking promising. There are even companies that are using excess power from streetlights to enable load-balanced charging infrastructure, which dramatically reduces the need for new cabling. Work places are, more and more, putting EV charging infrastructure in place as well, which cuts the range anxiety in half; if you can get yourself to work, you can get yourself home again.


But here's an important stat: When you think "cold weather country," you're probably thinking Scandinavia. Take Norway. The most recent numbers available suggest that more than 91% of all cars sold are electric vehicles. In Oslo (where most people live, and which isn't even that far north, given the overall geography of the country), in December, January, and February, it freezes most nights, but people get by just fine with their electric cars.

Of course, Norway is not the same (economically or infrastructure-wise) as the U.S., but electrification of our personal transportation options will be a crucial part of ensuring that we stand a chance at battling climate change. Let's be aware of the shortcomings and limitations of electric cars, but most of the arguments against them in cold weather are entirely surmountable.