Chicago's Electric Vehicle Charging Issue Sensationalized, Says Association VP

Recent research findings show that below-freezing temperatures reduced driving range up to 70% on 18 popular EV models, including those from Tesla. But Tracey E. McFadden, vice president of the Fox Valley Electric Auto Association, writes that it is also important to note that many people still haven’t gotten the hang of how to effectively charge EVs.


The Sensationalized Electric Vehicle Charging Problem in Chicago

The recent electric vehicle charging problem in Chicago was sensationalized. Cold weather is hard on all cars, period. EVs start up fine in the winter but have some issues related to slow charging times and less range. We don’t hear people emphasizing this, but we do hear those who are critical of EVs.

My wife and I had our car parked outside at O’Hare Airport for 10 days during the recent subzero temperatures. When we got off our flight, we proceeded to our car, turned it on, defrosted and scraped the windows and drove home. Interestingly, most of the AAA road calls are for gas cars that won’t start because of the cold weather, not EV’s.

Misunderstanding EV Charging in Chicago

The real problem is that most EV owners don’t understand EV charging. Ideally, EV batteries should be warmed up before charging and should not be run below 20%.

The specific case in Chicago was primarily a charging issue, faced mostly by rideshare drivers who do not understand EV charging. Rideshare EVs clogged the charging stations, and since most of these cars are rented out in an already-cold state and then often driven on very short trips, the cars never warm up sufficiently.

There were also issues in Chicago with rideshare drivers erroneously concluding that some plugs were out of service at EV charging stations. They did not realize the charger was using energy to warm the batteries first before it began to charge.

The situation was specific to Chicago. We didn’t hear about any problems in other cold climates like Minneapolis or Norway.

Improvements in EV Charging Infrastructure and Technology

Improvements are needed in charging infrastructure and EV battery technology, and progress is being made every day. The good news is Illinois was recently awarded $15 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to expand electric vehicle charging infrastructure. We are moving in the right direction, so there is no need to get distracted by sensational headlines.

Tracey E. McFadden, vice president, Fox Valley Electric Auto Association

EV Accelerator Team, Climate Reality Project Chicago, Elburn