ELECTRIC vehicles have come on light years in recent years, with longer driving ranges, more efficient systems, and a huge choice of models. It’s why they have proven extremely popular in the past year or so, and with business users in particular.
Tax and other financial benefits mean SME fleets and small businesses have quickly pivoted to an electric company car, but each year winter comes along and still knocks miles off an EV’s range.
If this is your first winter with an electric car, find out why this happens and what can be done to help maximise an electric car’s driving range over the winter months.
It’s cold outside…
Cold temperatures affect all batteries, from mobile phones to EV packs. The reduced temperatures restrict the internal chemical reactions that take place when it’s used, and this means an EV’s range is reduced.
Depending on the vehicle and environment, this could see a drop of between 10% and 20% in mid-winter conditions, effectively reducing the size of the EV’s “fuel tank”.
… so it’s cold inside
Everyone has got into a car and almost felt warmer outside, even in frosty weather, than inside the car. By leaving a large metal box in low temperatures, it tends to have a big impact on cabin temperatures. All of this needs warming up to feel comfortable, but here’s where electric models struggle compared with petrol or diesel cars.
An engine emits a lot of ‘extra’ heat thanks to its combustion process, which can be used to quickly warm up a car’s cabin. An electric motor doesn’t, which means heat needs to be generated in other ways. This usually results in an electric heater producing heat to be pumped into the cabin, or increasing numbers of models have an efficient heat pump – but both will take energy from the car’s battery to run. These auxiliary systems will drain some of that mileage from the EV in an effort to keep occupants comfortable.
Wind, rain, and snow can all restrict an EV’s range, and with many business drivers needing to get places – not having the luxury of just calling it all off – poor weather can combine to knock some miles off each charge.
Added resistance from a headwind or from snow, for example, and this can impact how far you get, and when combined with restricted performance from the EV’s battery and added drain from heating systems above, this can all combine to have a noticeable effect on economy.
Of course the elements hit drivers of petrol and diesel models, but with a longer range to start with, the impact is less noticeable.
Longer charging times
Not only does cold weather effect how an EV’s battery discharges, it also impacts how it charges. Again, the chemical processes taking place are slowed, which adds to the charging time.
A large battery could take an hour or so longer on a winter night for a full charge than in summer, and these charging times need to be considered. Rapid charging is hit too, but in a less significant way, with a few minutes added to recharging times.
Countering the cold
There are a range of systems designed to help minimise the impact of cold temperatures on an EV’s range.
Pre-conditioning is often fitted as standard, allowing the driver to set a departure time and temperature they want the cabin to be when they are due to head off. By using power from the plug rather than the car’s battery, it minimises losses before they even set off. It also helps maintain that range, since it takes a lot of energy to warm up a cold space, but far less to keep a warm space warm.
Other features often found on EVs include heated seats and heated steering wheel, which can help keep specific parts of the car warm, not just a large amount of air. Driver-only settings for the heating also limit the amount of energy spent heating the whole car when not required.
EVs can be easier and safer to drive in poor conditions, thanks to the automatic nature of the vehicle, and also the brake energy recuperation. By inverting the electric motor to charge the battery when decelerating, ‘engine braking’ is stronger than on a petrol or diesel car, minimising loss of grip under braking.
Ultimately, most EVs have a long enough range to comfortably cope with a lost miles in winter. As long as the impacts of poor weather are considered beforehand, the methods of dealing with a shorter range are easy to incorporate into day-to-day driving.