Written by Tom Steward | February 8, 2019

Cold snap exposes green cars’ power problems

The cold snap continues to be the gift that keeps on giving by exposing the weaknesses and  dangerous implications of over-reliance on renewable energy sources. American Experiment policy fellow Isaac Orr recently summed up the risks revealed by the “brownout” that hit many Xcel Energy customers in the pages of the Star Tribune.

This week’s bitter cold had the potential to be deadly. But thanks to reliable forms of energy like coal, natural gas and nuclear power, it wasn’t.

Lawmakers considering doubling Minnesota’s renewable energy mandate to 50 percent by 2030 should use this week’s weather as a moment to reconsider their plans to lean so heavily on wind and solar.

On Wednesday, when the morning temperature in the Twin Cities was negative 24 degrees, wind energy provided just 4 percent of the electricity and utilized just 24 percent of its installed capacity…

Now an eco-friendly alternative form of transportation has also been busted by the polar vortex. It turns out electric cars lose much of their battery power when the thermometer takes a nosedive, especially when drivers turn on the heater. That tends to happen a lot in cold weather.

The AAA discovered the fatal flaw in a study whose results were covered by the Associated Press.

Cold temperatures can sap electric car batteries, temporarily reducing their range by more than 40 percent when interior heaters are used, a new study found.

The study of five electric vehicles by AAA also found that high temperatures can cut into battery range, but not nearly as much as the cold. The range returns to normal in more comfortable temperatures.

Many owners discovered the range limitations last week when much of the country was in the grips of a polar vortex. Owners of vehicles made by manufacturers including Tesla, the top-selling electric vehicle company in the U.S., complained on social media about reduced range and frozen door handles during the cold snap.

AAA tested electric cars’ battery capacity down to 20 degrees, nowhere near as cold as the -40 degree temperatures recorded in some parts of Minnesota. But cold enough to cause problems.

When the temperature tumbled to 20 degrees last week in Hickory, North Carolina, near Charlotte, Jason Hughes noticed the range fall when he drove his Tesla Model 3 on the commute from home to work.

“It would easily use double the amount of power for that 15-mile trip,” said Hughes, who owns four Teslas and runs a business that refurbishes and sells salvaged Tesla parts.

The cars use energy to heat the battery coolant in cold weather, as well as for heating the cabin, Hughes said. Range would take a hit mainly for short trips, and the decrease wouldn’t be as large on longer trips once the battery and cabin are heated, Hughes said.

Electric car manufacturer Tesla took issue with AAA’s test results.

It’s not clear whether any electric car drivers ran out of power or were stranded during the dangerous downturn in temperatures. But it’s a safe bet their heaters were blasting, whether drivers knew it would drain their battery or not.

Tom Steward

Tom Steward is a Government Accountability Reporter at Center of the American Experiment.
[email protected]

Related Content