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Batteries and Cold Weather Conditions

low temperature battery testingIn February 2021, Texas plunged into unrelenting darkness as temperatures dropped, and the state froze over, causing an electricity crisis with off-the-charts demand for power. As people tried to heat their homes, power plants failed to produce energy when it was needed most. It led to some moments of ingenuity from Texans. 

A WIRED article outlines the plight of Nicholas Littlejohn, an Austin area resident whose power flickered on and off for 20 minutes at a time during the crisis. To make the most of that window of time, he charged his Nissan Leaf, and then used the car power things that were, at the time, more essential: lights, a space heater, an electric blanket, and his Wi-Fi router. 

Littlejohn’s quick fix speaks to a question pondered by Emily Grubert, an energy infrastructure expert at Georgia Tech: What if all the cars were electric? How many cars would it take to keep everyone's lights and heaters running? Grubert came to the conclusion, as noted in the same WIRED story, that "assuming the grid lost 1 terawatt-hour of energy overall, and also assuming a bigger car battery, such as the one in a Tesla Model S, it would take perhaps 10 million electric vehicles to make up the total energy lost, she figured. Which sounds like a lot of cars. But as she points out, there are 22 million vehicles registered in Texas alone."

They may not prove to be an immediate backup system for Texas’s power grid, but the thought experiment highlights the potential of electric car batteries in combating climate change and handling climate crises. 

And make no mistake, battery technology is ever-changing. Consider that nano engineers at the University of California San Diego have discovered new fundamental insights for developing lithium metal batteries that perform well at ultra-low temperatures. The secret is a weakly binding electrolyte that enables the batteries to be recharged at temperatures as low as -60 degrees Celsius. 

While other developed lithium batteries have been used in sub-freezing temperatures and are able to discharge, they can’t charge in the extreme cold. What does the breakthrough mean for the future of energy storage? It’s too early to say, but it represents a step in the right direction for providing reliable power solutions in all weather conditions.