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Can electric vehicles handle northern B.C.’s -30 C temperatures?

Amid frigid temperatures, a Prince George, B.C., man decided to test his Tesla's winter efficiency.

Prince George EV driver made a 440-km round trip to test his Tesla's winter efficiency

A blue tesla is on the side of a snow covered road. In the distance is a large mountain blanketed in snow.

Amid frigid temperatures, a Prince George, B.C., man decided to test his Tesla's winter efficiency.

Mark Vejvoda made a 440-kilometre round trip from Prince George to McBride, B.C., and back to see how the –30 C temperatures affected his car's battery.

"I get this question a lot from people, 'Oh, how does it handle in the cold weather?'" said Vejvoda, who is vice-president of the Prince George Electric Vehicle Association.

"So I did a 220-kilometre one-way drive and the results actually were better than I thought."

In 2023, Seattle-based firm Recurrent measured range loss in EVs at temperatures between –7 C and –1 C, and found 18 popular models had an average of 70 per cent of their range in freezing conditions, though there was a wide discrepancy depending on the vehicle.

The firm stressed that temporary range loss is not permanent battery damage, and when the temperature warms, the maximum range returns. Drivers can compensate for range loss by pre-heating their vehicles before they leave and by buying vehicles with heat pumps.

Vejvoda said people in northern B.C. often feel fearful about driving EVs in the winter given the lack of nearby charging infrastructure.

He hopes the results of his experiment can prove that it's possible to use EVs in freezing temperatures, including in rural areas.

"You drive down to Vancouver and you see every five seconds, there's an EV there," he said.

"But up here it's not exactly the same. I kind of just wanted to put the argument to bed."

EVs 'have come a long way'

Starting with a full charge, Vejvoda's long-range 2020 Tesla Model 3 predicted he'd get to McBride with five to 10 per cent charge remaining.

Instead, he said, the vehicle did better than expected and had about 25 per cent when he reached the charging point.

He said the vehicle had about a 40- to 50-per-cent loss in efficiency.

"That's about what people expect … when it's extremely cold," he said.

Ken Rowell, automotive co-ordinator at Prince George's College of New Caledonia, says it's "quite impressive" to hear Vejvoda make the trip in such cold weather.

"That just goes to show that these cars have come a long way … but [this loss] would be the worst-case scenario," he said, adding he's only seen eight per cent loss during regular city use in –20 C weather.

"The highway is not where an EV shines to begin with … and it's going to have more trouble because of the air flow under the battery being so cold."

Rowell says it's important to note gas vehicles also lose efficiency in cold weather as frigid temperatures can affect fuel economy.

He adds that despite Vejvoda's results, a lot of people in the north get "range anxiety" as charging ports can be few and far between.

"It's been improving extremely quickly but it's a massive area," he said.

"For miles out in the countryside, there's no chance of charging and so range becomes a real problem."

Vejvoda agrees with Rowell, adding the province needs to improve charging infrastructure in rural areas.

"When I arrived at McBride there were two chargers there, but one of them wasn't working," he said.

"If people see more charging stations more frequently that's going to alleviate [the number of gasoline cars]."

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Vejvoda advises drivers braving the cold to ABC — always be charging — and preheat your cabin before a trip.

He also says to precondition your battery, if your EV has that option.

"What that does is it preheats your battery en route to the next charging station, which means you'll get a lot faster charge," he said.

"But worst case scenario, if it's colder … if your battery is cold, [the charge and trip] will take longer."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Arrthy Thayaparan is an associate producer at CBC Vancouver. She's interested in health, environment, and community stories. You can contact her at arrthy.thayaparan@cbc.ca.

    – With files from BC Today, Daybreak North and John Mazerolle

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    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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