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2011 Chevrolet Volt – Click above for high-res image gallery

We often, though sometimes incorrectly, assume that it's cheaper to operate an electric vehicle than a comparable gasoline auto. Hey, who hasn't? While this assumption generally holds true, electrical rates vary widely across the nation and can throw off the numbers. In some instances, like when Inside Line's engineering editor, Jason Kavanagh, drove the Chevrolet Volt out in sunny California, one discovers that operating a vehicle powered by electricity can indeed cost more than running it with the liquid fuel that pours from a pump. Kavanagh explained how he discovered that operating a Volt on electricity is not always as pocketbook-friendly as it may seem:
During its time with us, our 2011 Chevy Volt tester consumed energy at the rate of 39.0 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles when in electric-only mode and averaged 31.1 mpg in gas engine assistance mode. We paid an average of $0.31 per kilowatt-hour of electricity and $3.31 per gallon of 91 octane swill, so the magic of arithmetic tells us that each one of the Volt's miles driven on electricity cost us more money than if it'd simply consumed gasoline instead. That's due in part to our high electricity rate - had our rate dropped to $0.24 per kilowatt-hour, we'd have reached parity on a cost-per-mile basis between electrons and dinosaurs.
It should be mentioned that the base rate for electricity in the Volt's early roll-out states is $0.16 per kilowatt-hour and many areas of the nation charge significantly less than that. So, we're still going to assume e-miles are cheaper than gas ones, but we do know this is not always the case.


  • 2011 Chevrolet Volt
  • 2011 Chevrolet Volt front 3/4 view
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Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Paukert / AOL

[Source: Inside Line]


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 97 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      If you use an electric car, you'd better get on a time of use rate. In California you can then charge for under $0.08/kWh. This is offset slightly by slightly higher costs for electricity in the day (3-6PM is peak time in summer and so will cost you more), but you still come far ahead.

      I am not even on a TOU rate and I pay $0.14/kWh in California, if I used more electricity (as I would with a electric car), it would cost me more like $0.20/kWh actually going into the car. I am not on a TOU rate as I didn't have it available to me for free until I got a SmartMeter a month ago. I my switch to this now as I use very little electricity in the daytime.
        • 4 Months Ago
        The E-9 schedule is required if you are on PG&E and you have a BEV or PHEV. PG&E definitely doesn't want you charging during the day.

        Also given the tiered rates, the next tier above $0.135/kwh is $0.29/kwh already.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Ah, the joys of living in the People's Republic of Kalifornia. :-) People are discovering that the cost of living in a socialist utopia isn't free...
        • 4 Months Ago
        Such an ignorant statement. I live in California. The reasons for the high price of electricity here are twofold. We have insufficient generating capacity because it has been manipulated by the private companies that have the utility monopoly, to their benefit. Also electricity is priced to discourage its overuse. As a result we have the lowest average electricity consumption per person of any state in the union.
        • 4 Months Ago
        NOBODY PAYS 31 CENTS PER KWH!!

        Even in Hawaii... where 90% of their electricity is made from burning gasoline... that they ship over there in tankers... across the Pacific.

        They only pay 27.7 cents per kwh.

        It is not socialism that makes stuff expensive... it is your precious capitalism! Scarce and foreign imports fetch higher prices.
        • 4 Months Ago
        Very good point, socialism (and lets face it California sits in the LEFT both geographically and politically) ALWAYS resorts in higher prices as the government is infinitely less efficient than the private sector.

        • 4 Months Ago
        Got news; the U.S. is both of what you brand it: some socialism and part capitalism. The system is hard to brand one or the other as or the politics...left or right? Well! in truth the majority of American people stand somewhere in the middle. Those who issue brands so easily, have a hidden agenda...remember that!

        As to the Volt, it's an engineering nightmare; there are so many things to go wrong, it's a scare. One cannot wonder if GM really wants to build a workable EV or drive buyers back to the ICE.
        • 4 Months Ago
        One thing that InsideLine missed was that utilities often allow customers to switch to time of day billing. My electric company has a special rate plan that can save money if 65% of electricity use is off-peak - from 9 p.m. to 10 a.m. During this time my utility only charges .04pkWh which would make charging the volt pretty darn cheap.
        • 4 Months Ago
        The cost of living anywhere isn't free... So what exactly is your point?
      • 4 Years Ago
      If you go the system way & do well, then you can afford the electiricty, If you abandon the system to follow God for example, you can forget worrying about the cost of a new vehicle, because it's price will be out of your league since you are devoting your time to other more important priorities than worshipping cars like most americans do! If I keep fixing up my ol' BMW, that's just fine with me bucko!
      • 4 Years Ago
      There's something wrong with the info stated in that insert. There's not enough info given...
      BipDBo
      • 4 Years Ago
      FYI, to proponents of powering EVs with solar chargers:
      On average, solar costs around 30 cents per kW*hr to generate over the life expectancy of the system. That is, if anything a low estimate. This does not include the cost of land, distribution, or financing. Green costs green.
        BipDBo
        • 4 Months Ago
        @BipDBo
        Wind power has advantages, but it requires high initial investment, and is not constantly available. Since it is often not available during peak times, it must have redundant sources (like coal), so it's capital investment is redundant. Hydoelectric is great, but is only available in limited areas. The facts remains that coal powering an EV is both cheaper and cleaner than gas into a standard ICE vehicle, and it's domestic. Every fuel has its drawbacks, but for the majority (the large chunk) of electricity generation needs across the US, I think that there are really only 2 practical souces available:
        1) burning fossil fuel such as coal, oil or natural gas
        2) nuclear
        • 4 Months Ago
        @BipDBo
        I don't get the math on the cost of solar being $.30/KWh over the life of the system. Going by the site mentioned above, the price is below $4/W, so make the cost $4000/KW. Divide that by 5 hours sunlight average, you get $800/KWh for 1 day. Over a year, the price drops to $2.19 KWh. The life of solar panels are warrantied for 25 years, so that makes the cost $.088/KWh. So unless the cost of the inverter and the batteries (optional) and installation triples the cost of the system, I don't see where solar is anywhere near $.30/KWh.
        • 4 Months Ago
        @BipDBo
        That is one of the main reasons why so little of our state and national energy mix is from solar. Because almost the entire cost is made up of producing the cells. And the cells are expensive AND have a very short life expectancy.

        PV Solar cell systems need to be replaced almost completely.

        Wind turbines just need maintenance. Which is not as big of a percentage of the total cost. Which is why wind power is a fast growing industry.

        *** However, Solar Thermal is another story. No PV cells to replace. Just reflectors to clean, molten salt and heat exchangers. And yet, more efficient (energy per unit of land area) than PhotoVoltaic cells.

        ---------------

        Nonetheless... the electricity was probably NOT coming from PV solar. * I think some bozo thought it would be smart to inflate the cost of electricity by bringing a portable diesel generator to their test track and buying diesel fuel... instead of using the EVSE that the Volt would normally plug into. Or even a standard outlet (if they don't mind waiting).
        BipDBo
        • 4 Months Ago
        @BipDBo
        @Nixon
        The 30 cents per kw*hr is pre-rabate. Cost is cost, money is money, even if it comes from the government. This figure is, however, based on doing energy analysis for a commercial facility in Florida. After doing some research, I found that this is typical. Smaller, residential installations cost even more proportunately. Estimates like the one you mentioned often under shoot the total installed costs including securing to structure and electrical work. These estimates also tend to overshoot the total year round real energy generated. This cost figure also does not include any maintenance repairs that may be needed for example, due to storm damage.
        BipDBo
        • 4 Months Ago
        @BipDBo
        @Eletruk
        The $0.30 per kw*hr is based on my experience on a past project. This was based on a 20 year lifespan, if I remember right. I had to assemble this info for LEED certification of a commercial building. This is simply the total installed cost, including labor (which is substantial) and parts for the system. The actual purchase price of the panels is only a portion of the entire installation. The energy generated was based on a calculation performed by the manufacturer of the solar cells. This calculation is a year round, 8760 hour count that includes vaiables like solar panel angle, angle of the sun, atmospheric conditions, temperature, rain, cloud cover, etc. The total energy (in Florida), when modeled as the equivalent number of hours per day at maximum output, I remember as surprisingly low. I don't remember the figure, but I'm sure that it was less than 5 hours.

        The solarbuzz website linked by Nixon shows similar results under the commercial column, even though the system on my project was roof mounted, just like the "industrial" project referenced on this site. It varies wildly, but 30 cents is a common rule of thumb, reiterated here:
        http://www.solarbuzz.com/StatsCosts.htm
        • 4 Months Ago
        @BipDBo
        It is best to compare apples to apples...

        That is retail to retail...

        If you start trying to talk about rebates, tax credits, or any other subsidies... then you have to apply that to the other side of the argument.

        What is the cost of a gallon of gasoline "unsubsidized" and reflecting all the indirect costs?
        Pleeeessse don't answer that, it was rhetorical. I don't want this threadjacked.
        • 4 Months Ago
        @BipDBo
        To be clear, the approx 30 cents number is the PRE-REBATE price for average residential installations with battery backup, in sun-belt states in the US. That number comes from surveys from 70-80 solar retailers, and US gov't stats:

        http://www.solarbuzz.com/SolarPrices.htm

        October 32.05 cents

        Now if you are talking about a medium scale corporate installation, like on an office building roof, the costs drops to this:

        October 22.31 cents

        And if you are talking about large scale power-grid systems, the prices drop again to something like this:

        October 17.38 cents


        This is all pre-rebate, and paying someone to install it, and financing it at 5%. If you don't install a battery-backup, factor in rebates, and pay cash instead of finance, and install it yourself, the numbers get much better.

        Oh, and these numbers are based upon a 20 year life-span of your solar cells. Starting in year 21 and onward, your power is entirely free based upon these numbers.
        • 4 Months Ago
        @BipDBo
        I am certainly not arguing that Wind Power is sufficient source of power alone. It is strictly a supplement to other base power generation.

        And coal is certainly the cheapest.

        My point is simply that even when sourced by as much renewable energy as possible (without causing a blackout)... you cannot justify 31 cents per kwh as retail power from a utility.

        * I think Hawaii's average topped out at 29 cents last summer. And they burn petroleum that was shipped across the atlantic for almost all of their electricity.
        • 4 Months Ago
        @BipDBo
        That's why I'm never going to try and figure out the cost that way. Going green doesn't really make any sense if your only concerns are financial.

        As a side note.....39kw per 100 miles? : O
      • 4 Years Ago

      U.S. Approves World's Largest Solar-Thermal Plant

      The world's largest power plant using heat from the sun to generate electricity, a planned $6 billion project in California, won approval from U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

      Solar Millennium LLC of Oakland, California, agreed to fund conservation measures protecting the desert tortoise and Mojave fringe-toed lizard in return for permission to build the Blythe Solar Power Project on public land, the Interior Department said today. Blythe will use mirrors to concentrate the sun's energy rather than solar panels that convert light directly into electricity.................

      MORE:

      http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2010/10/25/bloomberg1376-LAPMSR0UQVI901-1NLQUVU54D84MVPL83D9HLJGDC.DTL
      • 4 Years Ago
      @ $3.31/gal and $0.31/kwh...

      $3.31 per gallon
      31.1 miles per gallon in CS mode
      about 10.6 cents per mile

      40 miles per 8 kwh of electricity
      5 miles per kwh
      31 cents per 5 miles
      6.2 cents per mile.

      BUT *** They only got 2.56 miles/kwh??? *** (100 miles / 39 kwh)

      What kind of driving was that?

      EV mode would only provide 20 miles with that kind of driving.
      I don't think so!!!

      It looks like they did whatever it took to make the numbers work out to get some headlines.

      ---------------------------------------------

      1) $3.337 is the average California price for midgrade 91 octane fuel... so they were right on there.
      http://www.fuelgaugereport.com/CAavg.asp

      **** The highest average electricity retail costs in California comes from the residential sector at 15.22 cents per kwh. How on earth did they get charged so much? **** Cause they wanted to make EV mode seem stupid.
      http://www.eia.doe.gov/electricity/epm/table5_6_b.html

      2) They ran the Volt HARD on the track for a significant portion of those 100 miles.
        • 4 Months Ago
        Exactly Joe. They flogged the car in EV mode to get approx 2.5 miles/kwh.

        Even I thought 39 kwh for every 100 miles, what? By Bob Lutz calculations the Volt should have gone 195 miles on 39 kwh of energy. Don't tell me a GM exec lied again?

        At .10 cents per kwh 33 kwh = $3.30. 33 kwh = 1 gallon of gas. Doing the math you can arrive at no other conclusion but that electricity is more expensive than regular gas even at .10 cents per kwh. The difference is it cost me $3.30 for a gallon of gas equivalent in electricity but I can go 130 miles on that $3.30.
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Augustus

        http://www.insideline.com/chevrolet/volt/2011/2011-chevrolet-volt-full-test-and-video.html

        We first tested the Volt's acceleration in electric-only mode, and measured 0-60 in 9.2 seconds (8.8 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) while the quarter-mile breezed by in 16.8 seconds at 81.5 mph.

        Then we repeated the acceleration test in gas engine assistance mode. It turns out that gas makes the Volt cook, particularly as the speeds rise. Sixty mph comes up in 9.0 seconds (8.6 seconds with rollout) and the quarter-mile improved to 16.6 @ 85.5 mph. That increase in trap speed is telling. The gas engine significantly contributes to the Volt's scoot.

        In our standard handling test regimen, we measured the Volt's outright grip at 0.77g and a slalom speed of 60.2 mph. Its Goodyears howl comically before you can even whisper the words "slip angle," an audible confirmation of the Volt's mission as a commuter car.

        ----------------------

        No, they were Performance testing the Volt... and it's the only way I can think of to get 2.56 miles/kwh
        • 4 Months Ago
        I understand variations in billing just fine. Time of day... but the variations are NOT so wide to account for DOUBLING the average rate for residential California.

        ...even rates based on power draw instead of energy consumption (demand billing). That mostly applies to commercial facilities to charge for sudden demand. Fast chargers running at 50KW might have to worry about that. But not Level 2 chargers, which is the biggest they would be using here.

        "The inefficiency of the charger"

        Does NOT come into play. Since the calculations were done by the following two factors:
        1. The reported energy consumption by the Volt's onboard system. Which DOES NOT read the power draw from the outlet.. but only from the battery pack.
        2. The cost of each kwh from the outlet.

        Notice the charger inefficiency is in between these two points of measured values.

        In reality, the Volt DOES consume more FROM THE METER (outlet) than the Volt's on board computer knows about.

        But the calculation of 2.56 miles/kwh is of TTW (tank-to-wheels) or more specifically "Battery Pack" to Wheels. And that is about half of what is expected.

        Also,
        31 cents per kwh is WTP (Well-to-Pump) or more specifically Well to Outlet cost. So once again,... charger inefficiency would not be known using the method they used.

        *However, if they said that the "meter" on the side of the building read 39kwh after charging and recharging the Volt (with no other loads on) and only 100 miles were driven... then, and only then would charger inefficiency be included.
        • 4 Months Ago
        So to recap...

        They drove the Volt so hard that it only got HALF as many miles as it should in EV mode.

        And they paid TWICE as much as they should have for electricity.

        They purposefully quadrupled the cost per mile in EV mode.
        • 4 Months Ago
        When you follow the motivations... it does tend to lead to money.

        They seemed to start with good intentions of being green and being enthusiasts...

        but when their advertisement revenue spikes every time they posts crap like this... well,... Pavlov's Dog says it all!
        BipDBo
        • 4 Months Ago
        In general I agree with you, but here are two factor that you may not have considered:
        * The inefficiency of the charger. If you charge off of the 120V plug, if I remember right, you loose a lot of the energy. Hey, maybe they even used a wireless charger.
        * Most places do not have flat rates for electricity. You pay different amounts for different times, and can pay a peak watts fee. For example, you also me pay less for the first, say block of 100 kw*hr per month that you consume than you do for the second block of 100 kw*hr. Therefore an EV could potentially add a cost to a home's electricity bill that is more than the average cost per kw*hr. This could especially happen if charging times are not intelligently chosen. I foresee a charge time "App".
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Joe

        They may have driven the Volt on CA freeways when there was no traffic. Free flow speeds are usually around 85 MPH.

        We all know that the Volt doesn't do that well when driven at high speeds.
        • 4 Months Ago
        Yes, i have noticed that as well. Sometime around 2009, i noticed a very gradual change.

        Well they ain't getting anything out of me, i have my flashblock turned on!!
        • 4 Months Ago
        I gotta say, i am losing faith in autobloggreen. 1/3rd of the articles on here are crap like this. I don't think any alternative energy enthusiasts are actually writing for this site.

        Or they just love drawing up confusion/anger so that we rage on here, which = more ad impressions for them.

        Effing ridiculous.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Amazing that when I search the average cost of electricity across the country, the high end range (NY) is still below $30. So if you were pay hotel surcharges or something, that would have been helpful for you to share. When looking at national averages for 80% of the population, electric miles are by far cheaper. check here for rates in your state: http://www.aarp.org/home-garden/housing/info-08-2010/residential_electricity_costs_by_state.html
      • 4 Years Ago
      Would love to see a realistic study that also takes into account replacing the batteries, given the avg cost of $1500 for a new battery pack.....
        • 4 Months Ago
        The realistic timeline to replace the batteries is far enough out that it's of little concern to most owners. I think the average length of time that most consumers keep their cars is soemthing like 6yrs currently. The batteries in the Volt and Leaf are warrentied for 8yr/100k miles.

        A study like that wouldn't be all that much different than one for gasoline cars which includes the estimate for replacing an engine. It's a pretty useless stat for the most part. How many owners do you know that have kept their car long enough to need a new engine?

        Not to mention the fact that 8yrs down the road, batteries will likely be quite a bit cheaper(on a kW-hr basis) which makes it nearly impossible to calculate accurately today.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Aren't gas prices also often cheaper in states with lower electricity rates as well?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Remember, electric vehicles are powered by coal-burning power plants.

      Welcome to 19th Century technology!
        • 4 Months Ago
        Less than half the electricity in the US is generated by coal and it's dropping each month.

        But, we have some of the largest coal deposits int he World, why wouldn't we use that more economical source? Clean coal technologies are making it a cleaner source of fuel all the time as well.

        http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/figes1.html - Note that graph is from 2008 as well, the percentage of coal usage has dropped since then. The report that graph is from was released at the beginning of this year but used '08 data.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I live in California. The reasons for the high price of electricity here are twofold. We have insufficient generating capacity because it has been manipulated by the private companies that have the utility monopoly,

      And who can enforce a monopoly? Only government. Seems like you have more government than you can afford.

      But look at the bright side. Green energy is competitive in California.

      M. Simon
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