October 2, 2022

China’s heat wave is causing havoc for electric vehicle drivers

China’s heat wave is causing havoc for electric vehicle drivers

China’s record-breaking heat wave, which began in June, has evaporated more than half of the hydroelectricity generating capacity in Sichuan, a southwestern province that normally gets 81% of its electricity from hydropower plants. That reduced energy supply, at a time when the need for cooling has increased demand, puts industrial production and everyday life in the region on pause.

And as the power supply has become unreliable, the government has imposed EV charging restrictions to prioritize more critical daily electricity needs.

As Chinese publications reported, finding a working charging station in Sichuan and the neighboring region of Chongqing – a task that took a few minutes before the heat wave – took as long as two hours this week. The majority of public charging stations, including those operated by leading EV brands such as Tesla and China’s NIO and XPeng, are closed in the region due to government restrictions on commercial electricity use.

A screenshot sent to MIT Technology Review by a Chinese Tesla owner in Sichuan, who asked not to be named for privacy reasons, shows that on August 24, only two of the 31 Tesla Supercharger stations in or near the province’s capital, Chengdu, worked. as normal.

A photo of the screen in a Tesla car showing just two of the 31 Tesla Supercharger stations nearby is available.
Screenshot of all Tesla Supercharger stations near Chengdu.

In addition to mandatory service suspensions, EV owners are also encouraged or forced to charge only during peak hours. In fact, the leading domestic operator, TELD, closed more than 120 charging stations in the region from 8am to midnight, the peak times for electricity use. State Grid, China’s largest state-owned electric utility, also builds and operates EV charging stations; it announced on August 19 that in three provinces that have more than 140 million inhabitants and a total of 800,000 electric vehicles, the company will offer 50% discount coupons if drivers charge at night. State Grid is also reducing the efficiency of 350,000 charging stations during the day, so the individual charging time for vehicles will be five to six minutes longer, but the total power consumed during peak times will decrease.

The impact is evident in videos shared on Chinese social media, showing long lines of EVs waiting outside the few working charging stations even after midnight. Electric taxi drivers have been hit particularly hard, as their livelihoods depend on their vehicles. “I started waiting in line at 8:30pm yesterday and I only started charging at around 5am,” a Chengdu taxi driver told an EV influencer. “You basically always wait in lines. Like today, I didn’t even get much business, but now I’m back in line. And the battery goes down fast.”

The charging challenges also push some people back from using fossil fuels. The Tesla owner in Sichuan plans to visit Chengdu for work this week, but has decided to drive his other car, a gas-powered one, out of fear that he won’t find a place to recharge before heading back home . Another driver from Chengdu, who owns a plug-in hybrid, told MIT Technology Review that she switched to gas this week, even though she usually sticks to electricity because it’s slightly cheaper.

The sudden difficulty in charging in Sichuan and neighboring provinces surprised the EV industry. “A large-scale power outage like this is still something we’ve never seen before [in China],” said Lei Xing, an auto industry analyst and the former editor-in-chief at China Auto Review. He says the climate disaster reminds the industry that while China leads the world on many EV adoption metrics, there are still infrastructure weaknesses that need to be addressed. “It feels like China already has a good charging infrastructure…but as soon as something like these power restrictions happen, the problems are exposed. All EV owners who rely on public charging stations are now experiencing problems,” says Xing.

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