Electric vehicle (EV) technology and infrastructure are still in their early days – we should all recognize and appreciate that. But the opinion article published by Charles Lane of the Washington Post this week was a disingenuous attack that came from a place of ignorance, at best. As CEO of Recurrent, a company that has studied on-road telematics across over 8,000 EVs spanning 50 million EV miles in all manner of climates, let me share real-world data to educate Mr. Lane and other EV cynics.
The op-ed’s contention was that gas cars fare better in 20-hour emergency situations in freezing temperatures. The real math is that idling a gas car with a full tank, a driver can expect around 30 hours of warmth, while many popular EVs can surpass that. The most popular EV, the Tesla Model 3, has a “camp mode” that allows the car to efficiently maintain cabin temperature even while the vehicle is off. Reports show that it uses about 2% of the battery capacity per hour in freezing temperatures. The Model 3 owners’ group on Facebook was quick to point that out.
A quick idling experiment by a Northern California-based team member in his own Model 3 shows that blasting the heat (“hi” mode; car temp above 85 degrees) uses only 6% battery capacity in an hour. As reported, no one would ever want quite this much heat.
Another test, also in response to Mr. Lane’s piece, was conducted by a Tesla owner in Michigan and shows 2.4% battery use per hour to maintain an internal temp of 70 degrees in 20-degree weather.
Of course, with colder weather, you might need more than 2 or 3% battery per hour to maintain heat, but with a very generous estimate of 5% battery use per hour, that’s still 20 hours of comfort. Plus, as early as 2017, Tesla drivers can get over-the-air updates in emergencies, such as those during Hurricane Irma, to improve efficiency and unlock more battery capacity.
This winter weather performance is not limited to Teslas. The Chevy Bolt, with 60-66 kWh of battery capacity, uses 2-5 kW per hour with the heat on. The VW ID.4 loses 2% per hour using AC and entertainment in warm weather, according to this test. Using the heat will bump up hourly usage to 3 or 4%, but that’s still 20 hours on a full charge.
It is worth reminding Mr. Lane that superior idling time is not the only reason to drive an EV. We all have different reasons for driving one, but, for many, emission reduction is part of the equation. Exposure to carbon monoxide is a very real risk if you’re trapped inside a car with a combustion engine. Air quality in the Fredericksburg area plummeted over the course of the 24-hour jam with so many cars idling during the highway shut down. This would not have been severe if the highway was filled with zero-emission electric vehicles.
The next time we have a similar highway stopping snowstorm, we are likely to have a lot of these improvements in place – although mobile charging does already exist. Over the past ten years, public charger availability has grown over 3,000%. If we project out similar growth, which underestimates the effects of investment and government subsidies, we are looking at over 215,000 chargers in another five years. That would be more EV chargers than there are gas stations in the country today.
More than any particular numbers or stats about how well an EV can survive any particular catastrophe is that extreme weather events will happen with greater frequency over the coming decades, driven by the very combustion technology that Mr. Lane argues to stick with. All of our systems are in peril and need to be restructured to account for new risks and to avoid making the problem worse. Did we quibble about what sort of cooling systems people had installed during the Pacific Northwest heat-pocalypse of 2021? When events so out of the ordinary occur, most technology will fail. The best we can do is build for a more sustainable future.
That’s why I take offense when Mr. Lane warned that “any EV driver stuck on I-95 was right to be anxious.” The truth is that any driver stuck on I-95 was right to be anxious. It was an emergency! If he is striking daily transit options based on once-a-decade weather events, he should also rule out gas cars, airplanes, buses, trains and, notably, walking on sidewalks. Happy trails, Mr. Lane.