This could result in other automakers also opting for heat pumps over electric resistance heating systems

It is a known fact that electric cars suffer from range issues in extreme temperatures. However, Musk’s team has come up with a solution to make EVs more efficient in colder climates. Tesla has equipped a heat pump in the Model Y to counter this problem and it has even left Elon Musk impressed.

The feature came to light when an owner discovered the heat pump in his Model Y. Even the owner’s manual mentions it. Could it be the next big thing in electric vehicles?

Why Do EVs Have Less Range In Colder Weather?

Here's How the Tesla Model Y's Heat Pump Solves Range Issues In Colder Weather
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There are a few factors that play a major role here. One is the cold air outside which results in higher drag. There’s also energy lost from heating the battery, and the energy converted to heat the cabin.

Unlike internal combustion vehicles, EVs don’t produce that much heat, and thus, need a system to take care of the heating bit.

What Is The Electric Resistance Heating System In Most Tesla Vehicles?

Currently, Tesla uses electric resistance heating systems in its other cars – the Model 3, Model S, and Model X. Here, electricity is sent through a resistive heating element which helps warm up the cabin. This is similar to how heated seats or some electric space heaters work. On paper, this system is considered almost 100-percent efficient because it converts all of the energy consumed to heat. However, in EVs, it results in a lower real-world range. That is where the heat pump comes into play.

How Does Tesla’s Heat Pump Work?

Instead of the electric resistance heating system, Tesla has equipped the Model Y with a heat pump. A heat pump basically transfers heat energy from a source of heat into a thermal reservoir. In simple words, it works as an air conditioner, but in reverse. In ACs, the heat is trapped inside an area using a refrigerant and then thrown outside. In the case of a heat pump, it works the same way, but there is a reverse valve that moves the hot air back inside.

Here's How the Tesla Model Y's Heat Pump Solves Range Issues In Colder Weather
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So, even though the electric resistance heating system is 100-percent efficient, a heat pump is even better because it doesn’t create heat, per se.

It just redirects the heat instead of generating it. A heat pump can also produce 3kW of thermal energy for every 1kW of electric energy, thus resulting in an efficiency of 300-percent. Since the heat pump uses less energy in heating the cabin, better range is achieved.

Musk Gives The Credit To His Engineers for Tesla’s Heat Pump Design

Here's How the Tesla Model Y's Heat Pump Solves Range Issues In Colder Weather
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Musk is equally impressed with this technology and commented on Teslarati’s post on Twitter by saying, “Model Y heat pump is some of the best engineering I’ve seen in a while. Team did next-level work.”

He further went on to explain the design of the heat pump: PCB design techniques applied to create a heat exchanger that is physically impossible by normal means. Heat pump also has a local heating loop to spool up fast & extend usable temperature range. Octavalve is pretty special, too. Team did great work. No credit to me.

A YouTuber went on to strip the frunk out of the bay to reveal the heat pump. It’s pretty interesting that Tesla let the owners figure this out on their own. What are we waiting for next? Must be something about the buzz surrounding the towing capabilities of the Model Y!

If you go through the owner’s manual, you can find information about the heat pump in the “climate control operating tips” section. It reads: Model Y uses a heat pump to maximize efficiency; therefore, your air conditioning compressor and external fan may run and make noise even when the outside temperature is cold and your vehicle is heating or supercharging. So, next time you hear the buzz, you’ll know it’s the heat pump in action.

Why Wasn’t Heat Pump Technology Been Used Until Now?

Here's How the Tesla Model Y's Heat Pump Solves Range Issues In Colder Weather
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Heat pumps are not exactly a breakthrough technology. The Jaguar I-Pace and Nissan Leafs manufactured since 2013 are equipped with heat pumps.

The reason why they are not widely popular is because of one caveat – they do not work in temperatures below 25-30 degrees Fahrenheit. However, technology has improved now and as Andy Slye says in his video, heat pumps can now work even in temperatures up to -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Other automakers will observe this carefully and perhaps move on to equipping heat pumps in their mass-produced EVs.

Final Thoughts

Here's How the Tesla Model Y's Heat Pump Solves Range Issues In Colder Weather
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It’s good to see Tesla working on such ideas to counter the range anxiety issue, which is the biggest headache for any automaker today. Any extra load on the car or SUV directly results in a reduced range and is also one of the reasons why people are still skeptical to switch to EVs. With such solutions, you can expect folks to start believing in EVs and see them worthy alternatives to internal combustion engines. What are your thoughts on this? Share them with us in the comments section below.

Sidd Dhimaan
Associate Editor and Truck Expert - sidd@topspeed.com
Sidd joined the Topspeed.com team in 2017 as an intern and in less than a year he earned a full-time position as an associate editor and junior automotive expert. He is currently our pickup truck expert and focuses his attention on heavy-duty and off-road vehicles.  Read More
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