Air Conditioning’s Effect on EV Range
We know that cold weather can have a significant impact on the range of electric cars. Unlike gasoline cars, whose engines generate excess heat that can be used to heat the cabin, EVs are so efficient that they have to run an electric heater – using up your battery’s charge in the process. We also know in gas cars, that running the air conditioning in the summer can reduce how far you can drive on a tank of gas. But what about EVs? Should you turn off the AC to improve your driving range?
According to data from industry aggregator Recurrent, you can go ahead and run the air conditioning in your EV during the summer. Until outside temperatures hit over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the AC has a negligible effect on an electric car’s range. On average, they found that:
· Range loss at 80 degrees across multiple models was about 2.8%
· Range loss at 90 degrees was about 5%
· Range loss at 100 degrees was based on extremely limited data, but could be 31%
Less Energy-Intensive Than Heating
Overall, cooling your electric car’s cabin will be much less energy-intensive than heating it. That’s because in an EV, there’s no difference in energy use between driving and idling. In a gasoline car, the engine produces a lot of excess heat which the AC has to fight against to keep you cool. An electric motor produces far less heat, so the air conditioning doesn’t need to work as hard under most conditions – plus, cold air comes immediately as you don’t have to wait for the air compressor to kick in as the gasoline engine warms up.
Plus, the difference between an ideal temperature for the cabin and the outside temperature is smaller in the summer than in the winter. In the summer, you may want the inside temperature to be 20 or 25 degrees lower than the outside temperature. In the winter, you may want a temperature change of more than 50 degrees. Cooling the cabin therefore takes less energy than heating it.
Effect of AC on Range: Popular EV Models
Recurrent’s study also looked at the range effect that hot temperatures had on some popular electric car models. For most vehicles, the range drop even at 90 degrees was less than 10 percent:
· The Ford F-150 Lightning and Mustang Mach-E had the best performance, with range dropping just 1 percent at 90 degrees
· Tesla models also lost negligible amounts of range – but Recurrent notes that their real world range
· The Hyundai Kona lost about 5 percent of its range at 90 degrees
· The Chevrolet Bolt lost about 9 percent of its range at 90 degrees – but has a very useful energy monitor that shows you how much power the AC is using
· The biggest range drop came from the Nissan Leaf, which has one of the smallest batteries currently available; it lost about 22 percent of its range at 90 degrees
Recurrent also noted that unlike other models tested, Tesla vehicles rarely came close to EPA estimates – sometimes reaching just 60 percent of their EPA ratings – while Ford, Hyundai, Chevrolet, and other manufacturers regularly met or exceeded EPA estimates in warm weather.
Electric Car AC: Maintenance and Best Practices
Don’t forget that, while your electric car is a lot simpler than a gasoline car, its air conditioning system still needs basic and periodic maintenance. While electric AC is simpler than mechanical AC, you should still have your dealer check air filters and hoses regularly.
There are ways to further reduce the effect of air conditioning on your vehicle’s range. Since the most energy is expended when cooling the cabin to its desired temperature, make use of your EV’s pre-cooling function while it is plugged in.
That way, you get into an electric car that’s already at the ideal temperature, and all the climate control system has to do is maintain that temperature, rather than cool the cabin while driving. It may take 3 to 5 kW of energy to cool a 95-degree cabin to a comfortable temperature, but it only takes 1 kW to keep it at 70 degrees. Parking in the shade or using sunshades can also help if you’re not starting your trip from being plugged in at home.
All of which means, if you’re planning on a road trip worried about range, go ahead and use your air conditioner this summer!