July 25, 2009

But would the Chevy Volt pay for itself?

I was asked:

I only drive 10,000 miles per year, and I'd guess only half of that would be on the 40 mile electric range. Electricity is expensive, and I don't have a meter that charges less at night. Would that really pay for itself for the average driver like me?

Well, let's look at the numbers:

Annual Vehicle Miles Travelled: US total VMT is about 2.9 trillion. There are about 230M 4 wheel light vehicles, for an average of about 12,500 miles per vehicle per year. Newer vehicles are driven more, so about 13,000 miles is probably about right.

% of electric miles: For one who drives 12K miles per year, the % will be about 80%. This will seem more intuitive when one remembers that 50% of all VMT is commuting; the average commute is well below 40 miles; and even someone who commutes 50 miles will still drive 80% of the time on electric.

So, total electric miles will be about 10,000 per year for the average driver - a large minority will drive even more.

Electricity costs: the energy act of 2005 mandated that utilities make smart meters available to their customers. These programs often aren't well publicized, but they should be there - look carefully at your utility's web site. If you like, tell me your utility, and I'll see if I can find it - this wouldn't be the first time I've surprised someone by finding their utilities time-of-day metering program.

The average price of electricity in the US is about 11 cents/KWH. That gives a cost of 2.3 cents per mile ($.01165/KWH x .2KWH/mile). Any decent smart meter program should cut that in half.

If I get my employer to let me charge during the day, wouldn't that be expensive peak power?

It's likely that most employers won't find it worth their while to meter individual power outlets in the parking garage: they'll consider it a low-cost employee benefit, paying for itself with good PR. It's likely that when the cost becomes high enough to matter that the utility will have in place programs that take advantage of the load-following and frequency regulation services that EV/PHEVs will provide, and therefore charge relatively little for the KWHs to EV/PHEVs.

Will there really be enough early adopters to pay the high price of the first plug-in hybrids?

Yes. There's an enormous pent up demand, and a PHEV like the Volt doesn't have a range limitation like the EV1, and has 0-60 in 8.5 seconds (much faster than the EV1, though even the EV1 made drivers very happy) - there's no compromise at all. Also, don't forget that there's a $7,500 tax credit for buyers of vehicles like the Volt.

The EVs of a hundred years ago didn't have to contend with 21st century safety regs and product liability litigation. Voltage high enough, for example, to electrocute a first responder using the "jaws of life" to pry someone out of a wrecked EV requires some care.

Voltage problems and other safety questions for electric drivetrains were solved in the Prius long ago - that's really not a realistic concern.

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