Driving EVs in Winter Weather

The woes (and whoas!) of driving electric in cold temperatures
By Amy Higgins

Weather conditions in Colorado are diverse and, depending on where you hang your hat at the end of the day, you could be dealing with intermittent ice and snow when getting around town or perhaps hazardous conditions are often part of your everyday life all winter.

Whether gas-powered, electric or a combination of the two, cold weather affects your vehicle’s performance, according to fueleconomy.gov. This official U.S. government source for fuel economy information reports that the fuel economy for gas-powered vehicles can drop as much as 24% in cold temperatures; up to 34% for hybrids; and 39% for electric vehicles.

A GCEA consumer-member drives to the slopes with the co-op’s Chevy Bolt.

Gunnison County Electric Association, with offices in Gunnison and Crested Butte, is in an area of Colorado where temperatures can reach below negative 20 degrees. The electric co-op has a Chevy Bolt and a Tesla Model 3 in its fleet of EVs and tested the vehicles at subzero temperatures.

“We noticed that when you have subzero temperatures, the battery loses up to 37% efficiency compared to the warmer temperatures,” says GCEA Member Relations Supervisor Alliy Sahagun.

These tests, Sahagun says, have helped educate GCEA consumer-members about what they can expect with an EV. For example, road trips could be arduous if EV owners are not mindful of this expected decrease in productivity, the weather conditions and their vehicle’s current charge status.

On the flip side, EVs perform well, if not very well on shorter trips. This is the third winter Chris Michalowski’s family has owned its Chevy Bolt — his wife’s preferred vehicle when driving around town during the week. A single charge provides more than 200 miles of range, so on short trips, she doesn’t have to charge again until later that evening during their electric co-op’s off-peak hours. Now outfitted with snow tires and ski racks, the Bolt is their go-to when heading to the ski resort. “It’s small so it can sneak into tight parking spaces at the ski resort, and you don’t have to wait for it to warm up,” says the Granby-based Mountain Parks Electric power use advisor. “I have a pickup truck as well, but I’d much rather take our EV to the ski resort.”

Sahagun says she frequently gets questions about how GCEA’s Bolt and Tesla handle in the snow and on ice. She says they perform “really well.” Because of the battery’s weight, EVs have a low center of gravity which helps the vehicle hug the road, preventing it from sliding. However, this low center of gravity doesn’t provide a lot of clearance, which can be precarious around higher snowdrifts and unplowed roads.

“If the roads are plowed, I’ve not had any problems with them — they do great,” Sahagun says. A GCEA member shared with her an experience when his truck became stuck in the snow: “He hitched his pickup truck to his Tesla Model S and he pulled it out of the snow, so they’re pretty strong, pretty powerful.

One clear advantage of an EV when compared to a gas-powered vehicle is its ability to provide heat almost instantaneously. “I tell people it’s like a hair dryer. Boom. The warm air starts coming out,” Michalowski explains. “For those short trips to the grocery store in the winter, by the time you get there and back, the car is finally starting to warm up [in a gas-powered vehicle]. It’s not the case with electric vehicles because the heating system is electric. It’s pretty much warm air right from the get-go.”

Although there is a decrease in range during winter temperatures, EVs are highly efficient when navigating around town or driving to and from work. And the amount of “fuel” remaining in your EV isn’t as important at the end of the day as with a gas-powered vehicle. “If you go home with 40 miles of range left or 100 miles of range, it’s all the same,” Michalowski explains. “It’s kind of like your cellphone — you don’t really care what the battery life is like as long as it works and you’re able to plug it in and it charges again.”

Analyze before you finalize
The catchphrase “range anxiety” — the fear of being stranded without a charge when needed — still has some potential EV buyers reeling, but this concern is swiftly dwindling. President Joseph Biden’s American Jobs Plan proposes a national network of 500,000 charging stations by 2030, up from the Department of Energy’s current count of around 50,000.

EVs come with a 120-volt, Level 1 charger, which can be plugged into any outlet, but they can take 16 hours or more to fully charge. Upgrade to a Level 2 charger, set it to charge when you go to bed (yes, you can program your charger), and wake up to a full charge the next day. And fast chargers — 34 Colorado locations and growing — can boost your battery 80% in 30 minutes.

“When I bought my Bolt, there wasn’t a single fast charger in the county and here we are two years later and now there are four fast chargers in all four corners of the county,” Michalowski says. “It seems all the time new public chargers are getting installed. It just gets better and better as far as what’s available.”

Watch for Ride and Drive events hosted by your local electric co-op, like this one sponsored by MPE.

Educate yourself about EVs and take a test drive or keep an eye out for EV Ride and Drive events in your area. “From our own experience, just getting people behind the wheel is a huge game changer,” Michalowski says about MPE’s Ride and Drive events.

Consider your budget, your lifestyle and your daily commute to and from work, the grocery store or anywhere else you visit routinely. Not thrilled about the selection? The soon-to-be-released electric Ford F-150 as well as new all-wheel-drive options may sway you to make the switch. In the end, whether or not to drive an EV is a matter of preference.

Amy Higgins is a freelance writer for Colorado Country Life. For a decade she has been reporting on energy-related issues for Colorado’s electric cooperatives.

New EV Chargers Hit Winter Park Resort

Winter Park Resort is sporting 14 new EV chargers, thanks to Granby-based Mountain Parks Electric and its power supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission.

According to a January press release, Tri-State provided project funding to support and expand EV use in the region and MPE facilitated project planning and coordination. At the resort, Village Parking Garage now has six chargers and the outdoor B Lot has eight. Representatives from the co-op and Tri-State presented Winter Park Resort with a check at a January 11 ribbon cutting event.

MPE General Manager Mark Johnston said, “Since the ski resort chargers were energized a couple of weeks ago, skiers have been plugging in.” And the co-op expects usage to increase over time as consumers get more access to EVs and as charging infrastructure continues to grow and develop in mountain communities.

Co-op Rebates Give Back Cash and Smiles

Colorado’s electric co-ops with Tri-State Generation and Transmission have offered energy-efficiency rebates in partnership with their power supplier for years. Rebates have been made available for LED bulbs, Energy Star appliances, electric water heaters and much more. It’s an innovative and well-received program that’s helped thousands of consumer-members. Rebate programs not only give cash back to consumer-members, but they can also increase efficiency efforts at consumer homes, which typically translates into savings on residential electric bills. Who doesn’t like that?

The concept of consumer product rebates is nothing new and noteworthy. But the rebate landscape is evolving and expanding to keep up with new technologies. Many co-op rebate programs now often include smart thermostats, home EV chargers, electric lawn mowers, and other less traditional items that benefit consumer-members and are — dare we say — really fun!

In addition to providing extensive rebate information via websites and other marketing materials, co-ops often get the word out about rebate opportunities and offerings by hosting giveaways for popular and exciting rebate-qualifying items.

Fort Collins-based electric cooperative Poudre Valley REA offers rebates for electric bicycles. In December, the co-op reported that a recent electric bicycle giveaway recipient was having the time of his life on the new e-bike he won in a drawing the co-op hosted.

Earlier this month, Mountain Parks Electric gave away an electric snowblower to one lucky consumer-member a who attended a community event hosted by the Granby-based electric co-op.

Mountain View Electric Association’s popular GO ELECTRIC! Outdoor Power Equipment Giveaway helps consumer-members make the switch to electric and promotes the Limon-based co-op’s rebate program. In its contests, the co-op gives away items that assist in taking care of outdoor residential spaces: Electric lawnmowers, trimmers, power washers, chainsaws and more.

The benefits to transitioning to electric products are endless — especially when replacing gasoline-powered equipment. Consumers who use electric equipment experience zero emissions when mowing their lawn, power washing their back deck or removing snow off their driveway after a big storm. The noise factor of many of these activities nearly goes away. While no one could ever really call any chainsaw “quiet,” electric options operate at 10-20 decibels quieter than the gas equivalent. Electric lawnmowers, however, are whisper quiet and offer a huge sigh of relief for the neighbors of the weekend warrior who loves to mow her lawn at 8 a.m. on Saturdays.

Check your inbox monthly for future Energy Innovations newsletters from CREA to stay up-to-date on Colorado electric co-op news and programs.

Electric Co-op Helps Ouray Go “Totally Green”

The City of Ouray is the most recent participant in San Miguel Power Association’s Totally Green program. CREA’s Energy Innovations newsletter reported on this program in January 2020, and Ouray joins other local businesses and government entities that consume 100% renewably-resourced electricity.

The Ridgway-based electric co-op typically fulfills its Totally Green program requirements with renewable energy from the open market. In this case, 100% of the city’s municipal electricity use is covered by the output of the Ouray Hydroelectric Plant.

SMPA members may voluntarily sign up for Totally Green and are charged an extra 1 cent per kilowatt-hour. The net proceeds from the City of Ouray’s contribution goes to the SMPA Green Fund that is used to develop locally-sourced, renewable energy projects. The Green Fund is also used to help the co-op give rebates to its consumer-members for energy efficiency and beneficial electrification upgrades and improvements.