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Hybrid electric vehicles: an owner’s personal perspective

October 26, 2016   By Elizabeth Kress in Green Power

Chevrolet has been selling the Volt, its plug-in hybrid, since 2011.

I have been planning to buy an electric car since 1978. During my junior year in college, I went to work as a summer intern for General Motors Corp.’s Delco-Remy division in Anderson, Ind. I helped build and test batteries for an electric car.

I still haven’t really bought one though, since my 2016 Chevrolet Volt is a lease. It’s also a plug-in hybrid, not fully electric. It costs $350 a month for a four-year lease, and someone else will have to worry about replacing the battery. Sticker price was $35,465, about the same as a pickup truck. Here are some of the more interesting answers to frequently asked questions:

How far can it go on a charge? Sixty miles, and then the gas engine starts to run. Once the gas engine starts, it gets an assist from the electric battery as can be seen from the battery usage indicator light showing charging and use. The battery assist helps improve gas mileage.

How far can it go with full electric charge and full gas tank? Sixty miles on electric, then about 360 miles on a 9-gallon tank size (42 mpg on gas). The total range is 420 miles.

How long does it take to charge? If the battery is discharged completely, it can take about 19 hours to fully charge using 120-volt, 8-amp power (like the outlet I use on my back porch or the ones here in the Santee Cooper parking lot).

If I’d get my wiring checked and changed the settings on my car, this could be shortened to 13 hours with the same 120-volt outlet, but pulling 12 amps. If there were a 240-volt, 20 amp charging station, also known as a “Level 2” charging station, a full charge would only take 4.5 hours.

What type battery technology does it use? The Volt uses a lithium-ion battery that is 5.5-feet long and T-shaped with multiple linked battery modules.

What is the equivalent fuel cost of running on electricity versus gas? The car uses 0.32 kilowatt-hours per mile on battery, or 42 mpg on gas. For comparison, it takes one gallon of gas at approximately $2 per gallon to go 42 miles. To go the same 42-mile distance on electricity would take 13.5 kWh, which is $1.35 if I were paying 10 cents per kWh.

Has my home electric use gone up? I think so, but don’t have good data yet. July and August were so hot that my electric bill was very high anyway. It may be as much as 100 kWh higher than before, which would cost about $10 per month or so. I am purchasing six blocks per month of Green Power (or 600 kWh) to reduce my carbon footprint for both home and driving. That looks to be my new “average use” each month, since I have a small house and a short commute. A Green Power purchase was still the cheapest way for me to green up my electric use.

And the questions everyone wants to ask:

How much does it cost Santee Cooper to allow the Volt to charge all week? If the car charged all five weekdays for nine hours a day, the battery could use 45.5 kWh, which is less than $5 per week at 10 cents per kWh, and even less at the rate Santee Cooper pays for power. I’m very appreciative of this perquisite from Santee Cooper, since having a charging station parking space helped with the decision to go electric this time.

I’d like to see more people get to charge their cars with Santee Cooper power. Gas stations can’t just install chargers because in South Carolina, only utilities can sell power, even for charging an electric car. Wouldn’t it be great if you could go to a Santee Cooper-sponsored charging station to pay for your electricity? Maybe, with the growth in the electric vehicle market, this could be a reality very soon.

How does an electric vehicle owner drive her car? With one hand on the wheel, and one hand patting herself on the back.