How Long Will Your Electric Car Battery Last? It Depends Where You Live

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Hot Weather: Bad For Electric Car Batteries?

Hot Weather: Bad For Electric Car Batteries?

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Over the past few months, we’ve been covering the woes of 2011 Nissan Leaf owners in hotter states who have already reported a noticeable loss in battery capacity since their cars were new.

The woes of these early-adopting Leaf owners has certainly prompted many to ask if electric car battery packs are as good as some automakers have said, but how long can we realistically expect electric car battery packs to last?

The answer, it turns out, depends on where you live, and how the battery is cooled within your car.

According to the U.S. Department Of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and Pike Research, where you’re based in the U.S. can vary battery life as much as five years.

In a blog post last week, Pike Research battery specialist John Gartner detailed that electric car lithium ion battery packs perform their best, and last longer, if they are kept at temperatures between -10 and +30 degrees Celsius (14-86 degrees Fahrenheit).

At lower temperatures, Gartner says, battery packs cannot provide full power. Get hotter than 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and most batteries suffer premature capacity loss. 

This study perfectly explains the situation being experienced by several dozen Nissan Leaf owners in hot states like Arizona, Texas and southern parts of California. 

Unlike the 2012 Chevrolet Volt and 2012 Tesla Model S, the 2012 Nissan Leaf does not use any active cooling technology to reduce the battery pack temperature in hot environments. 

This week, Phoenix, Arizona will experience temperatures well above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. That means any battery packs in Nissan Leafs exposed to that kind of heat will also get very hot. 

As the EERE predicts, this means cars like the Nissan Leaf based in Phoenix will reach 75 percent of original capacity some five to ten years sooner than cars in cities like Minneapolis, where summer averages hover in the low 70s.

The solution, as many analysts and industry insiders have said in the past, is to use active liquid cooling to keep battery packs operating within tightly-controlled temperature zones. 

Take Ford, for example. With liquid cooling of its Focus Electric battery pack, the automaker should enjoy a very long lifespan for its battery packs. 

Compared with a similar battery pack without liquid cooling in hot climates like Arizona, a liquid-cooled battery pack will retain 10 percent more of its original capacity after 10 years than a non-cooled pack. 

With documented, scientific proof that temperature does affect battery life, we can draw one conclusion. 

If you live in a state where regular summer temperatures go above 90 degrees, you’re better off buying a plug-in car with a liquid-cooled battery pack. 


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Comments (12)
  1. I wonder how this degradation compares with not fully charging/discharging your battery pack. If you can live with only charging to 80% rather than 100%, your pack will last longer. However, I don't know if that is more or less important than the temperature issue.

    Which raises a question. For the graphic provided, what SOC cycling was done? 0-100% cycling or 20-80% cycling. It makes a big difference.

    So the Volt, with its 20-80% cycling and liquid cooling should do well indeed.

  2. Actually the Volt uses a different supplier, but essentially the same chemistry as the Leaf. But they are much more aggressive in NOT fully charging the cell and not allowing you to fully discharge it. This more than anything will lead to a longer life in the Volt. Their thermal management is pretty basic.

    Jack Rickard

  3. Doesn't the Leaf have a liquid cooling system ?

    I think I ear it when it is charging as well as when driving in hot temperatures.

    I think I read in the manual it has something like that...

  4. @Sergio: No, the Leaf does not have a liquid cooling system. The battery pack is air-cooled.

  5. We can assume these are mere educated guesses as to battery deterioration. We can also assume power losses (goodbye 4.4 sec zero to sixty runs). Until EV automakers can step to the plate and offer long term warrantees, all this is not going to help create warm and fuzzy feelings amongst the buying public. I've
    already read criticisms of Musk's penchant for eliminating the negatives and accentuating the positives to an embarrassing extent. As always, obstacles to widespread EV adoption is all about the batteries. Nothing else. Most everyone here uses golf carts and thinks nothing about the fact that they are electrically powered. But their 6 year battery packs cost all of $550. The 300 mile battery of Model S would have lost $6600 in value

  6. I never understand this critique of the warranty. There is a 10 year/150,000mile warranty on many EVs in many states. How long does it need to be?

  7. The warranty does not cover loss of capacity.

  8. Hmmm, yes and no. IT depends on the specific chemistry involved, and most particularly the specific solvents used to carry the electrolyte. The Lithium Manganese Spinel cells used in both the Volt and the Leaf have thermal issues. LiFePo4 - Lithium iron phosphate cells are really quite good in the heat and their capacity actually increases. No doubt some loss of cycle life but an order of magnitude better than the Lithium oxide cells - cobalt and manganese.

    The article is a little simplistic.

    Jack Rickard

  9. Well, quick charging also make the problem worse. If you live in a hot climate, you should charge your batteries at a slower rate. Use the 120V charger instead of the 240V charger will help the case as faster charging rate will generate more heat and make the air cooled Leaf even worse.

    I really like the Leaf, but I am glad that I bought a Volt instead.

  10. Just so you know, charging the Volt with 240V won't make a difference in battery's only a 3.3KW on-board charger... You might have only been referring to the Leaf..


  11. It may well be that a significant portion of the reduced battery life in hot climates is simply due to running the air conditioner while driving. Conversely, it will be interesting to see what the battery life is in a few years in colder climates, after going through a few winters while running the heater.

  12. Many of us have been seeing battery capacity loss in Phoenix. Even charging at 80%, parking in shade doesn't seem to help. All of us have lost 10-20% in 1 year.

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