China heatwave wreaks havoc for EV drivers
China’s record-breaking heat wave, which began in June, has evaporated more than half the hydroelectric generating capacity of Sichuan, a southwestern province that typically gets 81% of its electricity from hydroelectric plants. This decrease in energy supply, at a time when the need for cooling has increased demand, puts industrial production and daily life in the region on hold.
And as the power supply has become unreliable, the government has instituted EV charging restrictions to prioritize the most critical daily electricity needs.
As Chinese publications have reported, finding a working charging station in Sichuan and neighboring Chongqing – a task that took minutes before the heatwave – took up to two hours this week. The majority of public charging stations, including those operated by major electric vehicle brands such as Tesla and Chinese companies 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 31 Tesla supercharger stations in or near the provincial capital of Chengdu were operating. as per usual.
In addition to facing mandatory service suspensions, electric vehicle owners are also encouraged or forced to charge only during off-peak hours. Indeed, the first domestic operator, TELD, has closed more than 120 charging stations in the region from 8 a.m. to midnight, the peak hours of electricity consumption. State Grid, China’s largest state-owned power company, also builds and operates electric vehicle charging stations; it announced on August 19 that in three provinces with more than 140 million people and a total of 800,000 electric vehicles, the company will offer 50% discount coupons if drivers charge overnight. State Grid is also reducing the efficiency of 350,000 charging stations during the day, so individual vehicle charging times would be five to six minutes longer, but the total power consumed during peak hours would decrease.
The impact is evident in videos shared on Chinese social media, which show long lines of electric vehicles waiting outside the few working charging stations even after midnight. Electric taxi drivers have been particularly affected, as their livelihoods depend on their vehicles. “I started queuing at 8:30 p.m. yesterday and didn’t start charging until around 5 a.m.,” a Chengdu taxi driver told an EV influencer. “You’re basically always waiting in queues. Like today, I didn’t even get a lot of business, but I’m online again now. And the battery drains quickly.
Charging challenges are also pushing some people to use fossil fuels. The owner of Tesla in Sichuan plans to travel to Chengdu for work this week but has decided to drive his other car, a gas-powered one, for fear of finding a place to recharge before returning home. Another Chengdu driver, who owns a plug-in hybrid, told MIT Technology Review that she switched to gasoline this week, though she usually sticks to electric as it’s a little less dear.
The sudden difficulty in charging in Sichuan and neighboring provinces has taken the electric vehicle industry by surprise. “A large-scale electricity shortage like this is still something we have never seen [in China]says Lei Xing, automotive industry analyst and former editor of China Auto Review. He says the climate catastrophe reminds the industry that while China leads the world on many metrics of electric vehicle adoption, there are still infrastructure weaknesses that need to be addressed. “It looks like China already has a good charging infrastructure…but once something like these power restrictions happen, the problems are exposed. All EV owners who rely on public charging stations now have problems,” says Xing.