December 28, 2017
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We are in the midst of a Canada-wide cold wave, with temperatures 15 to 20 degrees below seasonal averages. (Those are Celsius degrees, too. Each one is worth 1.8 Fahrenheit degrees.) The National Post reports that it was colder in Winnipeg this morning than it was at the North Pole, the South Pole and the Gale Crater on Mars, where the Curiosity rover is located.
Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Yet it was really only -30° in Winnipeg, and the three locations mentioned above are usually much colder than that. Still, the lowest temperature ever recorded in Scotland was -27° at its far northern tip. And the Canadian Forces Station at Alert in the NWT was -7°. That has to be a fluke, since Alert is farther north than any Inuit settlement. The sun will not be seen at Alert for another two months.
My car started Christmas morning at -28°. When I went to open the rear lift gate it was frozen shut (I washed the car last Thursday). But it unlatched enough to turn on the interior light above the door. I guess that was enough to run down the battery, because the car would not start two days later. The -31° temperature wasn’t in it’s favour either.
This is now our third winter with this car and I knew that I had plugged it in a time or two each of the previous winters. But I suffered a brain freeze in the cold weather and couldn’t for the life of me figure out where to find the plug for the block heater. I looked all over the engine compartment and the grill and found no sign of it. Eventually I noticed it just poking its nose out of a vent under the grill. I plugged it in and after a few hours the car started.
Today I went to Saskatoon. That is a 150 km round trip and depending how much we crisscross the city it could be as much as a 200 km trip. I got to wondering just where an electric car would die in this weather. Our car has a good interior heater and defroster, plus heated seats and a heated steering wheel. Add that load to the battery load in an electric vehicle and how far would it go? I believe a comfortable driver is a much safer driver than a driver wearing layers of clothing, felt-lined boots and two layers of mitts who can hardly see out his frosted windshield.
Forty years ago we had a little Asian car and in weather like this we had a choice between keeping ourselves warm or seeing out the windshield. It couldn’t do both at the same time. I won’t name the maker, because their cars have improved immeasurably since then. The car I’m driving now comes from another Asian manufacturer and is about as good as one can get for driving in our winters. What are the chances that electric cars might improve that much over the next forty years?