Comfortable in the Cold

Peter and his family live on a farm in Demmitt, Alberta, close to the British Columbia border. They are 80km from Grande Prairie, where his family has done most of its business for decades.

Peter first saw the simplicity of the Tesla chassis in 2017 at the showroom in Calgary. He was convinced that one day, when it was time to buy a new vehicle, he would make the jump to electric. The technology to make that switch arrived shortly after: the long range Tesla Model 3 was offered and he put down the $1,000 deposit.

It would be a huge leap for Peter, who had never purchased a new car in 45 years of driving. Many people told him the car would not work in his rural location and climate, which in the winter can be between -30 and -45 C for a month straight.

According to his research, a Model 3 powered by solar would be the single most significant action he could take to reduce his carbon footprint. Peter’s farm has a grid tied, 10 kW solar array. Since he’s producing his own electricity on site from the sun, Peter estimates that the lifetime carbon footprint of his electric vehicle would be way less than a pickup, including the manufacturing of the vehicle.

He was aware that the car’s battery range would be significantly reduced in the winter, but even with a 50% range loss in -40 C weather, he knew to expect about 200km on an 80% charge from the long range dual-motor Model 3. His family planned to keep their 2010 Prius Hybrid as a back-up for those cold days or drive their ‘93 Chevrolet 4×4 in bad weather.

The day to configure their order arrived months sooner than expected. After his wife had filled out the online form, Peter impulsively pressed the send button. Booked and nervous, he began planning an insulated garage. Being late in the season, and an added expense, the garage was not completed before the car arrived in Calgary in late September. In addition, winter came early so Peter decided to park the car under the solar roof in the field for the winter. With only tarps to shield it from the wind, his Model 3’s winter capabilities were put to the test.

Cottage in snow

It turns out that winter was extra harsh with plenty of snow and cold. For a full month, the temperature in Demmitt hovered around -35 C, dipping occasionally to just under -40 C. At first, Peter was cautious about his new car and tried to use the old Prius, but it would rattle and vibrate and take forever to even defrost the windshield. Peter notes that the gas car’s range is reduced by about 30% in those conditions as well. As for the truck, it wouldn’t even turn over unless it had been plugged in for hours.

On the other hand, they could get in the Tesla and just quietly drive away. Instant electric heat would have the car comfortable in 3 minutes and warm in 6. Scheduling charging just before a trip and preheating the cabin from the smartphone app meant that everything was conditioned before they set foot in the car. The Model 3’s all-wheel-drive got the family through most conditions. Peter did get it stuck purposely in the field just to see what it would do: a little bit of shovel work to clear space behind the wheels soon had the car free. There was no comparison for comfort, handling, traction, acceleration and speed, not to mention energy consumption and enjoyment. The other vehicles were soon snowed-under and the family seldom bothered to clean them off or plug them in.

This summer (2019), Peter will use the Model 3 for a BC road trip, travelling to Wells in the Cariboo region. After driving 20,000km on electricity, he and his wife agree that they will never go back to an internal combustion engine unless absolutely necessary.

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