It’s been forecasted that by the end of 2022, around six million electric vehicles will be shipped globally. The US has announced hundreds of billions of dollars of investments for EV developments as well as the necessary infrastructure to support them. But there’s a vast difference between operating an EV in the temperate areas of the west coast and the harsh environment of northern Minnesota or the desert-like heat in Arizona.
Electrified vehicles face unique challenges in areas where the weather can turn deadly for months at a time. Is it possible we’ll see electric vehicles take over even in areas with extreme climates? And if not, what needs to happen to make them viable everywhere?
Here’s what you should consider about electrification in the most challenging conditions.
Reduced range in extreme temperatures
Where the weather is extreme, an EV’s range is certainly going to be less than the range a vehicle owner can get on a full charge in average T-shirt weather. While it’s sometimes contested, general consensus is that both hot and cold weather extremes mean you won’t go as far before you need a recharge. As the saying goes, “Batteries are happiest in the range that we are happiest.”
For travel in the extreme heat, battery range is reduced by around 17%. That’s considering temperatures above 95F, and it’s almost completely due to keeping the cabin comfortable. Running air conditioning and the blower motor account for much of that energy consumption.
For cold climates, the range reduction is slightly higher. Estimates place the driving range drop in temperatures of 20F and colder to be around 30%, and areas that get much colder than that could see even shorter-range performance. It’s also due in part to cabin comfort with an electric heater running and heated seats, but cold climates reduce range as the battery pack temperature also needs to be maintained.
State of health can be reduced
Cold climates tend to require more frequent charging. Unlike a gas-powered vehicle that is essentially ‘asleep’ while it’s parked, an EV consumes energy to keep the battery in a healthy temperature range. Should the car be left parked, unplugged, for a long stretch, the battery can deplete to 0% where it’s susceptible to damage. It’s rare, but possible.
Heat, on the other hand, plays a more direct role in battery degradation. Battery state of health (SOH) decreases at a faster rate in hot climates according to research by Geotab, and SOH can drop by around 10% over 48 months. DC fast charging in hot temperatures further adds to the problem.
A 10% reduction in state of health over four years doesn’t seem significant in and of itself, but it compounds with the issue of reduced range. For example, a vehicle with a normal range of 250 miles when the battery is new might be down to 225 miles of range after four years. And should they get 20% less range in cold weather, only 180 miles of range on a full charge may be feasible. That’s a far cry from the original 250 miles they expect, and it could pose an issue of range anxiety.
Charging infrastructure is sparse
In Southern California, where EV adoption is likely the highest in the nation, charging stations are becoming more common on the street corner like you’d find a gas station. Population density in the temperate climate makes it viable to establish the necessary infrastructure to charge EVs, particularly fast charging that isn’t possible at a vehicle owner’s home.
But in areas where the climate is harsh, population density is remarkably different. The vast stretches of frozen plains in North Dakota are some of the least supported counties for EV charging. And that’s echoed in areas like the southeastern section of New Mexico where the rocky, desert areas show no signs of life for miles in every direction.
In these areas, a stretch of 50 miles or more without a gas station are routine, and the inability to find charging services is sure to be a detractor for adoption.
No support where there’s no grid
As well, sections of the country simply don’t have access to electricity in the same way as urban areas. Communities might run off diesel generators. Some farms, commercial, and industrial operations in areas like Wyoming and Montana truck in fuel to the jobsite for their vehicles, and replacing them with electrified isn’t an option in the same way. Plus, many of these commercial vehicles rack up more mileage in a day than an average EV’s range.
Where there are no charging facilities available and where they aren’t feasible, how will a transition from fossil fuel to electric be possible?
What’s necessary to make EVs viable everywhere?
For light vehicles, there’s a current target among most carmakers and lawmakers to complete the switch from fossil fuel to EV by 2035 or 2040. It seems a long way off, but there are challenges that need to be overcome in the next decade for it to come to fruition.
First, battery technology needs to advance further. Developments are happening rapidly in areas like solid state batteries that will allow faster charging and longer range, but they aren’t in place yet. That will address much of the concern related to reduced range in cold and heat along with SOH problems.
Secondly, charging infrastructure will need to be made available for not just urban areas but for rural and remote drivers. What that looks like is only a guess, but it’s necessary if fossil fuels become difficult to procure.
Battery tech appears to be making strides in the right direction for extreme climate feasibility, both for range and for faster charging. In areas where weather plays a major role, the need for battery management becomes a high priority. Repair facilities and fleets should be prepared to maintain and service their EV batteries to get the most life from them, and Midtronics has solutions for battery management regardless of the application.