How Does the Heater Work in an All Electric Car?


Electric cars are becoming popular. They are seen as efficient alternatives to their gas-fueled cousins. However, as with any type of vehicle, the comfort of the driver is a key part of the driving experience. Part of this comfort is how the interior of the car stays warm. So, how does the heater work in an all-electric car?

The heater in an all-electric car works by converting the heat generated by the car’s battery and moving it into the cabin. There are two types of heaters an electric car can have. The first is a resistive heater, and the second is a heat pump. 

Since an all-electric car does not have a gas-powered engine that can generate a lot of heat, they need a heater to help heat the interior of the vehicle. Read on to discover how exactly these heaters work in an all-electric car and why it is important. 

How Does the Heater in an All Electric Car Work?

The efficiency of an electric car is lessened by cold weather. The same is true for regular vehicles. This is because the car has to use more energy when it is cold. This is called range reduction, and it is something all-electric car owners have to deal with if they live in colder climates. 

The battery in an electric car is needed to drive, but it is also needed for other elements of the driving experience, including:

  • Heating the battery when it is cold
  • Cooling the battery
  • Heating the car

All the energy that is used cannot be used for driving. Additionally, a battery in an electric car does not have as much excess heat as a regular engine, so to heat the interior of the car a heater is needed. 

There are two types of heaters: resistive heaters and heat pumps. Most electric cars still have resistive heaters, though heat pumps are becoming more popular. Both types of heaters use the energy from the battery to work. 

Resistive Heaters

Resistive heaters use the same technology as a space heater you would use in your apartment. 

There is a downside to these types of heaters, however. Resistive heaters use a lot of electricity to operate. This electricity is being drained from the battery. 

In colder weather, the battery of an electric car is already going to be operating in reduced range, so it will already be operating at reduced capacity. 

Heating Pumps

Heating pumps are becoming popular to replace resistive heaters in electric cars. This is because heating pumps are more efficient at using energy to heat the inside of the vehicle. 

What is a heating pump? A heating pump is a system that essentially moves hot air around the vehicle. When a battery is operating it generates heat. That heat can be reused in other parts of the car. A heat pump takes that heat and can disperse it. 

A heating pump is significantly more efficient than a resistive heater. Resistive heaters generate the heat they use to warm the vehicle. However, a heating pump does not generate heat. The heating pump moves the heat. 

Additionally, a heating pump converts all power into heat. It does not waste any energy. This energy is still coming from the vehicle’s battery, but since the heating pump is not generating the heat, it uses far less electricity to run. It uses around one-third the amount of energy as a resistive heater. 

Moreover, a heating pump regulates the temperature around the battery. Since the heating pump is essentially pumping the extra heat away from the battery, it is keeping the battery at an optimal temperature. This is very beneficial when it comes time to charge the battery. The charging time will be less as a result. 

An All Electric Car’s Heater in Cold Weather

As mentioned, the battery in an electric car is less efficient in colder weather. It is recommended to warm the battery before starting to drive. As with a battery in a regular car, the energy is drained during the colder months. 

In cold weather, electric cars can lose a significant portion of their range, sometimes up to 30%. The heater uses the battery to heat the vehicle. But, how does the heater operate in colder weather?

  • Resistive heaters start quickly. Resistive heaters can begin operating as soon as the car is on. This is because it is generating the heat it will use to warm the interior of the car. Once the battery is running, it will supply the resistive heater with energy to run.
  • Heat pumps need time. In colder weather, heat pumps cannot work immediately. They have to warm up just like the battery. While they are using electricity to function, the heat is not generated from within. Rather, it is using the heat generated by the battery itself, so if the battery is cool then so is the heat pump. 
  • Preconditioning. Many electric vehicles offer preconditioning options. Preconditioning is when you pre-warm the battery and car before using it. This should be done while plugged into a charging port. This is beneficial because then the battery does not have to use extra energy while in use. 

It may seem as though electric cars would not be popular in colder regions. In places like California where it is warm year-round, the range reduction of an electric car remains consistent. 

Yet, despite this, electric cars are still popular in colder climates. They are still efficient and while they may have some reduction in their energy, they still will function properly. 

What Electric Cars Use Which Heater?

When you are looking at electric cars, you may be looking at what type of heater the model is using. As heating pumps are more efficient, many first-time buyers will be looking for them. 

However, many electric cars still use resistive heaters. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it is just something to remain cognizant of. 

So, what electric cars use which heater? Several are beginning to use heating pumps as part of their heating system because they are efficient. 

  • Volkswagen e-Golf. The e-Golfs also have a backup resistive heater. During the optimal conditions, the e-Golf will use the heating pump to save a lot of energy for the car’s performance. However, when the outside temperature gets below a certain temperature, the heating system will switch to the resistive heater. 
  • KIA Soul EV. The KIA Soul uses a heating pump that not only draws its heat from the battery but from other sources as well. These sources include drive motors and onboard chargers. 
  • Nissan Leaf. The Nissan Leaf was among the first electric cars to use heating pumps, so they have a long history of implementing them in their vehicles. 
  • Tesla Model Y. Tesla has only recently begun the switch to heating pumps. The Model Y of their electric car is their first to use the technology. 
  • Chevrolet Bolt. This is a model that has not yet implemented heating pumps. They still use resistive heaters. 

It is a varied list. The heating systems used in these models are important to consider. Remember how the two different heating systems work with the battery and energy efficiency of the car. 

Conclusion

Electric cars can come with one of two different heating systems, either resistive heaters or heating pumps. In some instances, the two can be combined to make the car efficient in all outdoor temperatures. 

Nevertheless, resistive heaters use much more electricity and energy to operate than a heating pump. A heating pump is similar to a reverse air conditioner. It moves the heat but does not generate it. 

You are most likely to use the heating system in your electric car during the colder months of the year. Therefore, having the most efficient operating heat system is crucial to get the most out of your electric car. 

Resources

https://www.autocar.co.uk/car-news/technology/under-skin-how-heat-pumps-improve-electric-cars
https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1054000_question-how-do-electric-cars-volt-leaf-heat-passengers
https://blog.greenenergyconsumers.org/blog/the-surprising-overlap-between-heat-pumps-and-electric-cars
https://thenextweb.com/news/whats-a-heat-pump-and-why-do-evs-use-them
https://www.newair.com/blogs/learn/the-science-of-heating-types-of-electric-resistance-heating-elements
https://insideevs.com/features/342917/cold-weather-electric-car-tips-maximize-your-ev-for-winter/

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