Driving a Volt in California may save environment but will drain your wallet

Posted on January 17, 2011


Chevrolet Volt PHEV
Image by mariordo59 via Flickr

Oh, the humanity.  Who knew saving the environment would cost so much?

California, in an effort to dissuade large amounts of home electricity use, has a tiered system of pricing.  In an effort to persuade users to turn off their lights and turn up their air conditioners, they are charged a higher rates as they progress up the usage scale.   The more the user uses, the more they pay.

But what happens if you really get bit by the green bug and are serious about saving the environment?  What if you buy a new electric Chevy Volt and need to charge it regularly to go about your day to day business without relying on gasonline?  Although you’ll be cutting your greenhouse gas emissions (which is questionable because that electricity comes from somewhere, right?), you’ll be draining your pocketbook at the same time:

The objective of a tiered pricing system is to discourage consumption,” said study author, Wally Tyner, Purdue University’s James and Lois Ackerman Professor of Agricultural Economics. “It’s meant to get you to think about turning off your lights and conserving electricity. In California, the unintended consequence is that plug-in hybrid cars won’t be economical under this system.”

According to Tyner, adding a plug-in hybrid to a household increases its average electricity use almost 60%. In California, most of that increase would be charged at the highest rate, he said. Californians pay an average of 14.42 cents per kilowatt hour, or 35% more than the national average, Tyner said. (emphasis mine)

Tyner advocates time-of-use pricing, which charges electricity users based on the time they take electricity from the grid. Since most electric vehicle owners will charge their vehicles at home and at night, when rates are lowest, Tyner said time-of-use pricing would make electric vehicles more economical.

Tyner’s study found that without time-of-use pricing, the Toyota Prius is more economical to operate than the Chevrolet Volt. Oil prices would need to rise to between $171 and $254 per barrel to offset the price premium on the Volt, for both the car itself and the electricity needed to charge it. (emphasis mine)

This is  just another great selling point for the Chevy Volt.  Not only does it have a limited range on a charge (25-50 miles before the gas generator kicks in) and have a retail starting price of $41,000, but in California you are limited to the times when you can charge it so as not to make your home electricity costs skyrocket. 

They certainly won’t be selling alot of these cars to your average family with these limitations.

Posted in: Energy, Environment