What Are Heat Pumps, and Are They Necessary for Electric Vehicles (EVs) Driving in Cold Weather?

It appears that some people may be putting the brakes on buying an electric vehicle (EV) due to cold temperatures. Chilly weather can sometimes have a negative effect on range and charging times, and many people are less than happy about it. Because of this, automakers are going back to the drawing board, and have decided to include a heat pump in EVs. So what is a heat pump, and do you actually need one for your EV?

A white Tesla with Cold Weather Driving Range in an EV.
Tesla covered in snow | Artur Widak via Getty Images

What is an EV heat pump?

Heat pumps are all the latest craze when it comes to electric vehicles, but if you haven’t made the jump from gasoline-powered to electric, you may not know what these pumps actually do.

To put it simply, a heat pump uses the heat generated by an EV and puts it to work. This heat would normally just be wasted, but thanks to the new pumps, it is getting a new lease on life. But how does it work? 

According to The Next Web, “Reversible heat pumps can also generate heat. They do this by compressing the refrigerant that flows through the cooling system — under compression, refrigerants get hot. That heat can then be moved around the car’s cooling and heating system to put heat where it’s needed, for example in the battery.”

How will it improve your EV?

The next question is how exactly a heat pump can improve your EV. The main thing you need to understand is that it doesn’t improve the range. What it does do, according to Top Speed, is use the heat to replace the energy colder temperatures make you lose.

The heat pump can produce 3kW of thermal energy for every 1kW of electric energy. Because a large portion of this energy isn’t needed to heat the cabin, then the range is increased. In other words, it’s 300% more efficient.

This also has the added effect of saving energy from the battery, which means you don’t have to spend as long charging. While an EV equipped with a heat pump will still continue to lose power, it will do it at a much slower rate. 

Does your EV need a heat pump?

This really depends on where you live. If you dwell in sunny Florida where the temperatures rarely, if ever, get below freezing, then a heat pump is just a waste of money for you. Things get a little trickier if you do live in a cold environment.

For those who dwell in a place where the temperatures are regularly cold, and who commute a lot, then a heat pump is a great investment to have. It’ll allow you to travel back and forth without worrying about how much your range will be affected. 

On the other hand, if you live in an area where it is cold, but you only use about 25% of your EV’s average range a day, then you probably don’t need a heat pump. This is especially true if you can plug up your vehicle at home, and don’t have to worry about hitting a charging station.

Not all automakers are using heat pumps, so you need to check with your local dealership to find out if your EV has one or not. Because they are improving the range and charging time, some automakers are beginning to consider adding them into their EV lineup. 

Still, others are using heat pumps on some vehicles, but not all of them. In the future, these devices may be as common as air conditioning in an EV, but for the moment, you may want to double-check before you purchase.

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