In recent days, a wave of concern has swept through the electric vehicle (EV) community, particularly in the frigid environs of Oak Brook, Illinois. Multiple reports, triggered by a FOX 32 Chicago expose, depicted Tesla owners grappling with charging challenges at a Tesla Supercharger in the heart of the city. As temperatures plummeted below zero, EV owners found themselves in dire straits, forced to tow their Teslas due to malfunctioning chargers. This incident not only prompted media outlets to label public charging stations as “car graveyards” but also raised questions about the efficiency of EVs in cold weather.
EVs and Cold Weather Challenges
The Cold Reality
Much like their gasoline counterparts, EVs experience decreased efficiency in cold weather. Factors such as battery chemistry and temperature play pivotal roles in determining the performance of EVs during extreme cold spells. As we delve into the specifics, it becomes evident that the recent charging woes in Oak Brook are not isolated incidents but rather a manifestation of a well-known challenge exacerbated by severe weather conditions.
Investigating the issue further, it was discovered that several Tesla Superchargers in the Chicago metropolitan area were closed, with three out of thirteen Superchargers affected, mainly in Oak Brook, Rosemont, and Country Club Hills. The culprit? Extreme cold causing freezing of charging cables, connectors, and crucial components. This phenomenon, common to most EV fast chargers, leads to increased resistance and diminished efficiency, often resulting in malfunctions or complete shutdowns.
The Tesla Factor
Battery Chemistry Matters
Tesla employs two primary battery chemistries—Lithium-Iron-Phosphate (LFP) and Nickel-Cobalt-Aluminum (NCA). While both are susceptible to the adverse effects of cold weather, LFP batteries, found in standard range Model 3, are notably more affected. Reduced range and slower charging become apparent when the battery pack is unable to precondition before reaching a fast charger, a process critical for optimal charging.
User Error and Misconceptions
The lack of awareness about battery preconditioning emerged as a major contributor to the stranded EVs. Preconditioning, a process that warms the battery to enhance charging efficiency, requires energy. Owners, unaware of the energy consumption during preconditioning, may find themselves with reduced battery capacity, especially if relying on Sentry Mode. Charging performance also declines in bone-chilling weather, further complicating the situation.
Overcoming the Challenges
A Call for Education and Maintenance
To mitigate such incidents, EV supply equipment providers, including Tesla, must prioritize maintenance. Repairing and weather-proofing chargers can prevent weather-related disruptions. Education is also crucial, ensuring owners understand the importance of proper care for Superchargers, preventing issues like ice buildup in connectors.
Owners play a pivotal role in maintaining the functionality of charging stations. Properly caring for Superchargers, avoiding dropping plugs into the snow, and adopting measures like carrying portable battery-powered heat guns can contribute to a smoother EV charging experience, even in extreme weather conditions.