Urbanites have the most to gain from driving electric vehicles because EVs don’t produce any nasty tailpipe emissions that harm everyone’s health. They are quiet and therefore don’t contribute to noise pollution, and they are also at their most efficient and cleanest in stop-start traffic since there’s no need to have an engine running at all times to keep the vehicle powered up.
However, the paradox is that even though EVs make the most sense to own in a big city, it is also where they are most challenging to run. The struggles are multiple, and while they don’t outweigh the benefits of driving electric, they may put a dent in some potential EV owners’ enthusiasm to get something powered solely by batteries.
Urban Charging Isn’t Easy
The big challenge facing those who want to drive an EV in a big city is charging. This is multifaceted, and it affects owners differently depending on where they live. Those who live in an apartment and don’t have access to an underground parking garage where they can charge their vehicle have it the worst.
Having your own private charger would be ideal since you could charge your vehicle overnight, so you would not only always have a range anxiety-shattering level of charge each day, but you could also charge during off-peak hours. This means you would pay the least possible for the electricity you’re consuming, and you would also not be drawing from (and straining) the grid when most of the population is also using the most electricity.
Apartment dwellers will therefore either have to search for curbside chargers, which in most places seem to be insufficient and, as a result, always occupied, or they can find a local public charging station. The number of big public charging stations with plenty of stalls is going up, but there are often queues, which may have you wait for several dozen minutes before you can even plug in and then wait more to charge.
Using a public charger has an etiquette that you also have to respect, and this requires thought and planning. Once your turn finally comes to charge after you’ve waited for a while in a queue, you either have the option to wait in your car while it’s charging or maybe play some of its built-in games.
However, herein lies another problem: if you don’t want to charge via a Level 3 DC fast charger, which will accelerate the degradation of your EV’s battery pack, and you choose one of the slower Level 2 AC stalls, you will be looking at many hours of waiting around for the vehicle to charge. Spending many hours in their EV while it charges won’t be for everyone, and this could be a dealbreaker for some.
If you aren’t the type to wait in the car while it charges and you choose a Level 3 stall, you will have to plan carefully because you won’t want to hog the charger with others waiting in line to use it. In other words, once your EV has reached the desired state of charge (preferably not more than 80 percent out of a DC fast charger), you will have to move your vehicle. You will also incur a fee even if you’re no longer taking electricity from the charger but your vehicle is still plugged in.
Some owners like to have an EV that’s close to fully charged every time, and they want to reap the benefits of fast charging but don’t want the accelerated battery degradation. They charge up to no more than 80 percent at a DC stall, then move to an AC stall to get closer to 100 percent. It’s worth noting that the charging speed will start to taper off after 80 percent, so if you leave your EV plugged into a Level 3 charger after that point, you won’t see anywhere near the range replenishment that you see before 80 percent.
EV Parking Restrictions
EVs used to be able to park for free in many big cities that charged all other vehicles for the privilege. This was touted as a strong incentive to buy and own an EV in a densely built-up area, but nowadays this advantage has waned as free EV parking has become quite rare. And even those places that still offer it have announced that they plan to start charging EVs for parking just like they do all other vehicles.
Some parking garages, especially those of the underground or multilevel variety, have put up signs saying EVs are banned from entering or parking there. These are usually privately owned businesses, and they have implemented this drastic rule after some highly publicized EV battery fires in underground parking lots, some of which resulted in major damage to the building.
There is some truth to their fear because once an EV’s battery catches fire, it will quickly go into thermal runaway, where one battery cell will light up the ones next to it, causing a chain reaction that can last for hours.
Simply dousing a burning EV with water is often not enough to put out these battery fires, which can even reignite after appearing to have been extinguished. One solution to prevent this is to bring a container full of water and a crane to lift the smoldering EV and dunk it into the water to make sure it won’t reignite.
Electric cars are also considerably heavier than internal combustion engine vehicles, and as more and more EVs replace ICE cars, it’s been said that they may require multistory parking facilities to beef up their structures. Therefore, aside from the fear that EV fires can do a lot more damage than an ICE vehicle going alight (which, despite the above, isn’t as big a problem as some claim it is since EVs are less likely to catch fire than combustion vehicles), there may also soon be the issue of EVs not being allowed to park due to their extra weight.
Electric vehicle batteries have an ideal temperature where they operate at their most efficient. If they get too hot or too cold, they aren’t able to hold the same level of charge, and the vehicle will expend energy to try to control the battery pack temperature. This will consume energy and add to the range loss, causing a drop of around 30 percent on average. This is true for the winter when temperatures dip below the freezing point.
There is no getting around this limitation, at least not in electric vehicles that have a lithium-ion battery pack, which is the vast majority of BEVs currently on the road. This means you will have to charge more frequently, and if you can’t charge at home, you will have to rely on the public charging infrastructure, which could be much more congested than when temperatures are milder (so you will have to wait a lot longer to charge).
Since EVs will use up some of their juice even when parked to keep the battery pack as close to the optimum temperature as they can, leaving your EV parked overnight in freezing conditions will result in range loss in the morning when you power it up. It is recommended to keep an EV plugged in when left out in the cold so that it doesn’t drain the battery in this way, but if you live on the ninth floor of an apartment building with no curbside charging possibilities, dangling an extension cord out of the window just isn’t feasible.
This winter’s issue of the stranded Teslas in Chicago is a sign of what the extreme cold can do to EVs in a big city if owners don’t proactively charge their vehicles. The Chicago situation ended up being sensationalized and blown out of proportion by members of the media who either have an anti-EV agenda or simply don’t know how these vehicles work, but it did also highlight some real problems that shouldn’t be ignored by prospective EV owners.