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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chevy Volt Adventure: Feb Diagnostic Report

Just got the February vehicle diagnostic report email from the Volt. I'm not sure why I find it so cool that my car can send me email, but I do.

The salient numbers are:

35 kW-hr/100 miles

1 Gallon of gasoline used. [This is actually an overstatement as we have only used 0.2 gallons since returning from our Houston trip at the end of December.]

Our electricty usage for January (the latest numbers I have) was (numbers in parens are for Jan 2010):

Total kW-hr: 954 (749)
Grid kW-hr: 723 (455)
Solar kW-hr: 231 (294)
Dollars billed: $58.37 ($35.12)

$/kWh used: $0.06 ($59.00/954)

kWh/mile: 0.35 (35kWh/100miles)

$/mile: $0.02

Our bill for Dec was $32.00, so we spent an extra $26.00 on electricity in January, some of which can be attributed to the unusually cold winter we've been having. We also produced about 60kWh less this January than last.

But if we assume that most of the difference was the Volt, that means it cost us about $20.00 to drive the vehicle for the month. We used essentially no gasoline so the electricity cost was our total operating cost.

Looking at the numbers it also means that the draw from the car is less than or roughly equal to the solar we produced over the same period. Not that much of that solar went to actually charging the Volt since we tend to charge later in the day or over night after having done stuff during the day, but if Austin Energy actually gave us market rates for our produced electricity rather than the steep discount they do give us, we could truthfully say we have a solar powered car, even in January. For contrast, our maximum solar production last year was 481 kWh in August, with numbers around 400 kWh most months.

Compare this cost with a gasoline vehicle getting 30 mpg around town at $3.00/gallon (current price here in Austin):

30 miles/gallon = 0.03 gallons/mile * $3.00/gallon =

$/mile: 0.09

However, our other car, a 2005 Toyota Solar only gets about 22 mpg around town, which comes out to

$/mile: 0.15

Of course these numbers only reflect direct operating cost, not the cost of our PV system or the extra cost of the Volt itself relative to a comparable gas-powered vehicle, but that's not the point is it? Because it's not just lowered operating cost but being a zero-emissions vehicle most days and using (or potentially using) more sustainable sources of energy.

But another interesting implication here is what would happen (or will happen) when the majority of vehicles are electric? If our use is typical, it means about a 25% increase in electricity consumption just for transportation. What does that mean for the electricity infrastructure? Would we be able in the U.S. to add 25% more capacity in say 10 years without resorting to coal? How much of that increase can be met through conservation? It seems like it could be a serious challenge for the already-straining grid infrastructure, something we know we need to address simply to make wind practical (because of the current nature of the U.S. grid).

If Chevy and the other EV manufacturers can bring the cost down, which they inevitably will, people are going to flock to these cars because they're fun to drive, cheaper to operate, and better for the air. Given the expected rate of advance in battery technology and the normal economies of scale, it seems reasonable to expect the cost of electric vehicles to be comparable to gasoline vehicles in about 5 years. If gas prices rise even $1.00/gallon in that time, which seems like a pretty safe bet (but then I would have expect gas to be at $5.00/gallon by now after it's spike back in 2008), then the attractiveness of electric vehicles will be even greater.

Which is all to say that I fully expect EVs like the Volt to catch on in a big way in about 5 years, which I think could spell, if not disaster, then at least serious strain in the U.S. electricity infrastructure. I know the City of Austin is thinking about it because that's their motivation for paying for our charging station: monitor the draw from the car so they can plan appropriately. But are we doing that a national level? I have no idea, but history does not instill confidence, let us say.

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