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China’s heat wave is wreaking havoc on EV drivers

the breaking records China’s heat wave, which began in June, has evaporated more than half of the hydroelectric generating capacity in Sichuan, a southwestern province that is often gets 81% of its electricity of hydroelectric power plants. That decline in energy supply, at a time when the need for cooling has increased demand, is putting industrial production and daily life in the region on hold.

And as the power supply has become unreliable, the government has instituted electric vehicle charging restrictions to prioritize the most critical daily electricity needs.

as chinese publications have reportedFinding a working charging station in Sichuan and the neighboring Chongqing region, a task that took a few minutes before the heat wave, took up to two hours this week. Most public charging stations, including those operated by leading electric vehicle brands such as Tesla and China’s NIO and XPeng, are closed in the region due to government restrictions on commercial use of electricity.

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

Screenshot of all the Tesla supercharger stations near Chengdu.

In addition to facing mandatory service outages, EV owners are also encouraged or required to charge only during off-peak hours. In fact, the leading national operator, TELD, has closed more than 120 charging stations in the region from 8 am to midnight, the peak hours of electricity use. State Grid, China’s largest state-owned electricity utility company, also builds and operates charging stations for electric vehicles; announced on August 19 that in three provinces that have more than 140 million inhabitants and 800,000 electric vehicles in total, 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 individual vehicle charging time would be five to six minutes longer, but the total energy consumed during peak hours would decrease.

The impact is evident in videos shared on Chinese social media, showing long lines of electric vehicles waiting outside the few charging stations that work, even after midnight. Electric taxi drivers have been particularly hard hit, as their livelihoods depend on their vehicles. “I started waiting in line yesterday at 8:30 pm and only started getting paid around 5 am” said a Chengdu taxi driver to electric vehicle influencers. “You’re basically always waiting in lines. Like today, I didn’t even have much business, but now I’m in line again. And the battery is draining fast.”

Charging challenges are also pushing some people back to using fossil fuels. A Tesla owner in Sichuan plans to visit Chengdu for work this week, but he decided to drive his other car, a gasoline one, for fear of not 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 even though she usually sticks to electricity because it’s a bit cheaper.

The sudden difficulty of charging in Sichuan and neighboring provinces has caught the electric vehicle industry by surprise. “A large-scale power shortage like this is still something we have never seen. [in China]says Lei Xing, an auto industry analyst and former editor-in-chief of China Auto Review. He says the climate disaster is reminding the industry that while China leads the world in many EV adoption metrics, there are still infrastructure weaknesses that need to be addressed. “It seems that China already has a good charging infrastructure… but once something like these power restrictions happens, the problems are exposed. All electric vehicle owners who rely on public charging points are in trouble now,” says Xing.

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