Will electric vehicles suffer serious loss of range in the winter?

The ban on new petrol and diesel cars gives a reader cause for concern about electric vehicle range, traffic problems and the environment...

BMW iX 2021 charging

Following the news that the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars has been brought forward to 2030, I am worried about the cost and consequences of a large proportion of the population switching to electric vehicles, and wonder if you can answer the following questions:  

When most cars are electric, how will the national grid cope at peak times in the winter? 

In cold weather, will a reduction in the range of electric cars result in them stopping on motorways because they have run out of power? 

When traffic is heavy, will there be traffic queues for public chargers? This could be exacerbated in shopping centres or cities if people are allowed to use charging bays as cheap parking spaces, or if they forget to return to their car straight away once it’s charged up.  

What is the cost and environmental impact of disposing of exhausted electric car batteries? 

Prof Les Trustrum

What Car? says…

With regard to electric vehicles draining the national grid at peak times, this is unlikely because cars are generally charged up at night when electricity demand is low, and they’re most likely to be parked up when people are using electricity at home and work. 

We believe that a smarter national grid and vehicle charging systems could also help to ensure there is enough electricity for everyone to use at peak times. There are a number of trials of smart charging systems taking place at present that use electric vehicles as storage facilities for excess electricity at quieter times and push electricity back into the grid at peak times.

The systems can be set by car owners so that their car is charged up and ready for them to use at a certain time, but they can also feed electricity back to the grid in the meantime. So a car could be plugged in during the evening, supplying power to the grid while everyone is using heating and electric devices, and then replenish the car’s batteries after midnight when demand for electricity is far lower.  

Vehicle to grid EV charger

Electric cars shouldn’t run out of charge and break down on motorways for a number of reasons. First, the latest EV batteries are less susceptible to cold weather and the use of in-car electrical systems and we would expect the loss in range to be 10-15 miles for a car with an overall range of around 160 miles. All EVs display the remaining range while you’re driving, so it’s easy for a driver to know when they need to charge their car up. Additionally, many of the latest cars also have an onboard concierge service that will show you the nearest charge points and provide sat-nav directions to them to ensure you can get to a charger without running out of juice.  

Queues for public EV charge points could become a problem if demand for them ramps up. However, public car charging operators are already aware of this becoming an issue and have introduced some steep fines for EV owners who leave their cars in charge bays longer than they should. Genie Point has a £10 overstay fee for cars left in its charge bays for more than 65 minutes and Tesla charges up to 70p per minute for anyone outstaying the 60 minute time limit on its Supercharger bays. 

Used Tesla Model S

The environmental impact of disposing of old EV batteries should not be a big issue because batteries can be reconditioned when they stop working as efficiently as they should and this is likely to be cheaper for owners than replacing them. We’ve also seen pioneering schemes from Nissan and Tesla that use old EV batteries to create charging walls for homes and commercial buildings, so this is another potentially good use for them.

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