Tesla Charging Apocalypse: What Actually Occurred in Chicago | The Every day Drive

Tesla Charging Apocalypse: What Actually Occurred in Chicago | The Every day Drive
Tesla Charging Apocalypse: What Actually Occurred in Chicago | The Every day Drive

Tesla Supercharger station
Chicago Tesla Supercharger station, picture courtesy Fox 32 Chicago

The information was inescapable. Towards the backdrop of record-low temperatures, Tesla drivers within the Chicago space had been actually abandoning their vehicles at Supercharger (Tesla’s identify for its proprietary charging community) areas and, mockingly, catching rides dwelling in gasoline-powered automobiles.

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Tesla Charging Apocalypse: What Actually Occurred in Chicago

First reported by Chicago’s Fox 32 TV Information a few days in the past, the lifeless vehicles, strains to cost, and the reported frustration of drivers, appeared to vindicate what electric-vehicle naysayers have been claiming for years now: EVs aren’t prepared for primetime. The story has been shared by Fox associates nationally, and has been quoted in actually hundred of articles and weblog posts.

Certainly, the state of affairs depicted was grim, however there’s a lot in regards to the state of affairs that was not—and largely nonetheless has not—been reported in regards to the incidents in query. Let’s try to straighten a number of issues out:


It was very chilly

This previous Sunday, the excessive temperature in Chicago was 1 diploma. Space suburbs didn’t see temps over zero. It was actually chilly.

Automobiles weren’t being charged

Drivers reported that although they had been plugged into Superchargers, and linked correctly, charging didn’t happen. That is true-ish, however there’s extra to the story. Hold studying…

Drivers had been abandoning their vehicles

Primarily based on the photographs offered by Fox 32, it appears clear that various Tesla house owners gave up on their vehicles and located different transportation. At this level, we’re not suggestion that the Fox 32 report was factually in error, solely that there’s a lot extra to the story.

Tesla Supercharger station
Tesla Supercharger station

Extra to the Story

The Superchargers weren’t (totally) the issue

It is very important understand that Tesla Supercharger stations are positioned in Northern Minnesota, distant elements of Canada, and in Sweden. These areas typically see temperatures as little as people who not too long ago frosted Chicago, and by all accounts, the Superchargers in these areas work as anticipated and their operation is just not considerably compromised by the chilly.

Tons and many new Tesla drivers

Tesla gross sales have elevated dramatically over the previous couple of years—now exceeding two-million items a 12 months globally—and lots of of these not too long ago acquired Tesla vehicles are owned not by old-school model followers and loyalists, however by mainstream shoppers, most of whom usually are not as EV savvy because the early adopters. We’ll get into why this issues in a second.

Happily, the place the information fails, and the place laborious info are scarce, there are message boards, and that’s the place this story begins to flesh out. And it’s a compelling story…

What Actually Occurred

As most shoppers are probably conscious, EV batteries are a bit finicky in regards to the temperature. In truth, EV batteries, particularly lithium-ion batteries (Li-ion) just like the thermostat about the place people prefer it, with temperatures above freezing, and beneath 90 levels. In Shopper Information testing, we discover that EV batteries carry out greatest—by returning the best driving vary—when temperatures hover within the 50-to-60-degree vary. Such delicate temps are sometimes accompanied by real-world driving ranges in extra of official EPA estimates.

Chilly particularly saps EV battery potential, by as a lot as a 3rd when the thermometer drops to round freezing. But it surely isn’t only a battery’s means to supply energy that’s compromised by chilly, additionally it is its means to be charged, and that is the place issues get fascinating.

To facilitate quicker and extra environment friendly charging, many electrical automobiles present for one thing known as “preconditioning,” a course of which includes a thermal-management system to lift a battery’s temperature previous to charging for optimum charging velocity and effectivity. Preconditioning can considerably scale back charging occasions.

(Notice that even with out preconditioning, an EV’s thermal administration system will, most often, elevate the temperature of a chilly battery whereas it’s being charged, however this course of takes time, lengthening the period of a charging session.)

Now, all current-model Tesla automobiles function a preconditioning system. And—that is fascinating—the system is routinely engaged when Tesla house owners use their onboard navigation system to attach with a Supercharger. Which means, on the drive to the Supercharger, the battery is routinely being warmed.

(Notice: Utilizing the navigation system—or charging app—permits Tesla drivers to find and reserve an operational Supercharger unit. As soon as reserved, the automotive’s thermal administration system can start readying the battery for charging. This technique is just not distinctive to Tesla vehicles, although not all EV automobiles make use of the same preconditioning system.)

Sadly, preconditioning requires power, and the power is provided by the EV battery. Some estimates put the quantity of power required to completely precondition a battery on a chilly day at as a lot as 5 % of whole battery capability.

Dangerous information…

In a nutshell, now we have vehicles instantly shedding battery capability as a result of chilly snap, preconditioning additional sapping batteries, and vehicles charging slowly—probably very slowly—and you’ve got the backdrop for a horrible expertise at a number of Supercharger areas. Notice that we stated “a number of,” we’ll get again to that time in a second.

Tesla Supercharger station
The Tesla Mannequin S battery pack seen right here homes each the battery and a thermal-management system designed to maintain issues working at peak effectivity.

So sluggish, it appeared as if nothing was taking place…

Primarily based on loads of analysis, here’s what we expect occurred. Because the temps dropped, a lot of Tesla drivers discovered their batteries slightly instantly at a low state of cost. Many drove to the closest Supercharger location, and we’re guessing, did NOT precondition their batteries alongside the best way.

(Preconditioning notice: It’s potential to provoke the precondition course of manually from contained in the automotive. Nevertheless, the method is not going to begin if the battery is beneath a sure degree of cost. We suspect {that a} vital proportion of the Teslas concerned within the chaos reported by Fox 32 weren’t preconditioned upon arrival at charging stations.)

The issue:

The batteries of non-preconditioned Teslas had been so chilly that charging was not initially potential. A lot proof suggests that point initially spent hooked-up to the charger was spent delivering power to heat the battery—time throughout which it appeared to drivers that no charging was going down, which is technically appropriate.

We don’t understand how a lot time was wanted to convey batteries as much as operational temperatures, however suspect many homeowners deserted the method—and their vehicles—in frustration. Whereas some drivers gave up on the charging course of, others reported extraordinarily sluggish cost charges, as little as 25kW (many Superchargers ship charging at as excessive as 180 kW) The lengthy cost occasions would have contributed to the strains reported at Supercharger stations.

Tesla Cybertruck
No phrase but as to how effectively Tesla’s all-new Cybertruck operates in excessive temperatures.

Some complicating elements

New Homeowners

As a pioneering EV producer, the Tesla possession base has lengthy been comprised of brand name followers and loyalists, a lot of whom are very effectively acquainted with the workings of their automobiles. A latest spike in Tesla gross sales included possession growth to extra mainstream shoppers, a lot of whom usually are not as acquainted with the ins and outs of their vehicles, together with the aim of—and even existence of—battery preconditioning. Parts of that new purchaser base simply discovered the laborious method that EV possession is a bit more sophisticated in chilly climate.


Within the Fox 32 footage I watched it was clear that a number of the charging items had been rendered inaccessible by snow. Tesla-owner message boards are dotted with driver complaints concerning insufficient snow removing at Supercharger areas. Clearly, eradicating a number of charging items from the combination because of inaccessibility goes to exacerbated wait occasions for charger entry.

The O’Hare Issue

The Fox 32 report famous that a number of of the Tesla house owners experiencing charging issue had simply arrived in Chicago by the use of O’Hare Airport. That is fascinating for various causes. First, by most accounts, solely three of the 13 Supercharger stations within the Chicago space had been affected by the meltdown: Nation Membership Hills, Oak Brook, and Rosemont (all Chicago suburbs).

Rosemont is adjoining to the airport, and Oak Brook is simply off of a significant artery which runs previous O’Hare. Nation Membership Hills is a bit more distant.

Some extent being made is that any EV loses about one % of its battery cost every day it sits undriven. After all, the speed of power loss would improve as temperatures drop.

Nevertheless, Teslas outfitted with the maker’s Sentry Mode safety system—which permits for, amongst different issues, distant entry to the automotive’s exterior cameras—can drain the battery by a whopping 15 % per day, assuming the system is in use. It’s probably that various Tesla house owners arrived again in Chicago solely to be taught that the intense chilly, and potential Sentry Mode use, had taken a severe toll on their states of cost.

It appears logical then that these drivers would head for the closest/most-convenient Superchargers, Rosemont and potential Oak Brook, making a logjam of would-be station customers.

The Lithium Iron Phosphate Issue

Inside the final 12 months or so, Tesla started putting in lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries within the least-expensive variations of the Mannequin 3 compact sedan and Mannequin Y small crossover. Although iron-phosphate batteries are much less power dense than lithium-ion batteries, they price much less to supply, reportedly take pleasure in longer service lives, and are able to charging extra rapidly.

Iron-phosphate batteries are additionally topic to better efficiency loss in chilly climate than lithium-ion batteries. It’s potential that the brand new iron-phosphate batteries are a part of the issue right here, nevertheless as famous earlier, Tesla vehicles are offered in markets the place the temperatures fall beneath these seen this week in Chicago. That stated, Tesla has been tight lipped in regards to the markets by which it sells fashions outfitted with the iron-phosphate batteries. So, who is aware of?

 Closing Ideas

Now, we will’t say for sure that not one of the items on the Supercharger stations in query didn’t fail, however we do know that Superchargers in rougher climates than Chicago are recognized to function as anticipated, uncompromised—or not less than not a lot compromised—by excessive chilly.

We all know, too, that loads of Tesla automobiles ran simply superb throughout the Chicago-area chilly snap. What we’re suggesting is that a lot of un-preconditioned Tesla automobiles in low states of cost descended at roughly the identical time in situations that made it very troublesome for normal charging to happen. And, loads of EV house owners discovered a beneficial lesson the laborious method.

Electrical-vehicle naysayers are proper about EVs and the chilly: Vary is a matter. It might be good if Tesla automobiles—and certainly all electrical automobiles—posted touchscreen updates concerning diminished states of cost, temperature-related battery-capacity points, and the necessity for preconditioning. And, given Tesla’s propensity for over-the-air updates, it’s potential such fixes are already within the works.


On the time this was revealed, Tesla had but to touch upon the state of affairs in Chicago. We predict it probably the corporate is not going to formally acknowledge the drama, however something is feasible. Additionally, whereas we expect it unlikely, it’s potential that the charging items themselves didn’t function as designed. This appears unlikely, as a result of as we famous early, the Supercharger community is usually considered dependable, and operates easily in colder climates than Chicago.

Tesla Supercharger station
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