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Summary:

After a year of using 41 solar panels on our home, we generated more excess electricity than expected. So this past weekend, we drove a 2013 Chevy Volt of the lot and our first impressions are pretty positive, both for the technology and the efficiency.

Charging a Chevy Volt

After a full year of using solar electricity in our home, my family took the next step over the holiday weekend and bought a plug-in electric vehicle. While running errands, we passed a local dealer to test drive the only 2013 Chevrolet Volt on the lot and ended up driving it home a few hours later. Earlier this month, I noted that we were considering such a move since our 41 rooftop solar panels generated 6207 kWh of excess electricity.

My wife and I both work from home, so even though we can rack up miles on our vehicles, most travel is short-range. But we didn’t want to go completely electric for our next car because we occasionally like to take trips to New York City, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.; all of which are 100 or more miles away.

How much was our Chevy Volt

I shared the details and costs of our solar panel project, so it makes sense to cover the Volt financials as well. The car still qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit, which can help offset some of the next cost. And that’s good because the base 2013 Volt starts at $39,145. Our particular vehicle has a few options — alloy wheels, a rear camera, sensors for front parking assistance and a forward collision alert camera — bringing the MSRP to $41,935 with destination charge included.

We actually opted to lease the vehicle for a few reasons, so we’re not get the direct tax credit benefit. Instead, the dealer gets the credit and can apply some of it to reduce the leasing costs. Since the Volt doesn’t have a long history of proven technology, we opted to work with the dealer on the lease and after applying some equity on our trade-in, our total payment including tax is $301 a month for 36 months. We also got a 4000W gas generator from the dealer, which was a Thanksgiving weekend perk, so now we’re really ready for the next big storm!

Ultimately, we paid nothing out of pocket, as a result of our trade-in and various incentives that GM and Ally Bank are currently offering. We also opted for 15,000 miles per year — which raises the monthly cost — because the Volt will be our primary vehicle. Another $6 of the monthly payment extends the 36,000 mile warranty to our potential 45,000 miles. Bear in mind that any particular deal you work out on a Volt will likely vary from ours; I’m simply trying to provide an idea of what it might cost.

Is it efficient?

Obviously, it’s too soon to say how efficient the car will be but so far I’m impressed. Here’s a screen shot of the first 73.2 miles we drove, which used 0.4 gallons of gas after the battery was depleted. Note that this data is for two days and the battery was recharged once; GM says you should expect about 38 miles of driving on the battery before the gas generator kicks in.

The Volt uses premium gas, which is currently near $4.00 a gallon nearby, so the 0.4 gallons used essentially cost $1.60. Of course, there are electricity costs involved as well when you consider the need to recharge the Volt, even though we over-produce energy with our solar panels. We currently pay just under $0.09 per kWh — not including any distribution costs, taxes or other fees — and we get paid at that same rate for excess energy.

So the 20.1 kWh used for our 73.2 mile drive would cost $1.81 on our electric bill. That works out to $3.41 for this driving session. Our old vehicle averaged 20 mpg and also used premium fuel, so the same 73.2 miles we covered would have cost $14.64 in gasoline. Note that there are many costs and benefits to look at, both short-term and long-term. The above exercise is just one example to view the cost to travel.

Better bring your smartphone!

Although we got a Volt to pair with our solar panels, I’m impressed with the MyLink system in the car, which is also available in other Chevy vehicles. MyLink is used on the 7-inch touchscreen — the same one that monitors energy usage above — through voice commands and GM’s OnStar service.

My wife and I both paired our smartphones with the MyLink system over Bluetooth, which lets us stream audio through the Pandora and Stitcher apps on our handsets. Both iOS and Android are supported and there’s even a MyLink application for both platforms. With it we can remotely monitor, stop or start the battery charging process, check our fuel level, start the car and much more.

MyLink will also play music from a USB-connected iOS device or from a USB stick. The system integrates Gracenote’s music database for audio file information such as title or artist and can display cover art as well. All of this music can also be controlled through voice. Say “Play artist” and the system will ask for an artist name. Speak it and the appropriate artist tunes start playing over Bluetooth audio or USB.

I like the idea that the car uses a smartphone for connectivity, mainly because I don’t want my connected car to have an embedded connection of its own. That’s just another potential data plan to pay for and there’s no need for it when a smartphone can provide a 3G or 4G connection to the car. I expect more apps to be supported in MyLink as well, although I’ve already streamed music over Bluetooth from my Rdio app. GM is expected to soon add a connected map service called BringGo that stores maps on a connected smartphone and uses them on MyLink for in-dash navigation.

We’re just starting down this road

Adding a Chevy Volt to our garage may make more sense for us than most others. We have excess electricity and we can go farther on that energy for less than the price of gasoline and with our driving habits we may not need to fill the gas tank for 6 weeks or more. I realize that not everyone fits into this category. But I think it’s important to share the details of this experience to help those interested learn more about the pros and cons of electric vehicles… and solar electric energy too, for that matter.

So as we do more traveling with the Volt, I’ll periodically share more of the experience. Until then, leave any questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to address them!

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  1. Why did you go with a hybrid and not an all-electric car like Tesla’s Model S? You will even be able to charge that one for free at their superchargers soon.

    1. Cost has much to do with that, Lucian. The Model S starts at $49,900 and goes way up from there.

      1. There’s also a considerable wait list for a Model S. Can’t just go to a dealer and drive it off the lot.

    2. Plus, Tesla is making the more expensive models first. Anyone looking to get the “cheap” $49k model is going to wait a while, even if they pre-ordered as soon as they could.

  2. Wait until Model X comes out, game changer. I’d put an order right now on one!

    1. Is it a gamechanger because it’s an SUV? I think it will cost at least as much as Model S, no? Or did you mean the Bluestar which is meant to cost $30,000? I like Tesla’s strategy of releasing a new class of cars every year that costs about half as much as the previous one. At this rate we might get a $15,000-$20,000 electric car from Tesla around 2018.

      That might be the limit at least for a while, until we figure out a much cheaper way to store energy in these cars, as right now the batteries take up a large portion of the price. I believe they charge an extra $20,000 for a larger battery pack for the Model S just to give you a boost from 150 miles to 300 miles.

  3. every year = every 3 years*

  4. Kevin, great decision on staying environmental friendly !!

    But your old car of 20 mpg isn’t probably the same size as volt , rt . So, in same size comparison, the saving will be much lower.

    BTW, if the volt doesn’t’ have internet connection of its own, how does the remote functionality works ? thru bluetooth ? that will be very limited range for any real benefit , isn’t it ?

    1. It actually does have its own connection via onstar which included for free for 3 years with all new volts.

  5. Super cool, Kevin! I’m turning in a media loaner Volt tomorrow. I’m missing it already. My grand plan is to cover the optimally-oriented roof surfaces here at Rancho Indebto with solar panels and lease a PHEV at some point …

  6. Thomas J. Thias Monday, November 26, 2012

    Great article Mr. Tofel. This is Thomas J. Thias, known online as The Amazing Chevy Volt EREV- Facts Guy. I sell and lease the Volt out of Grand Ledge, Michigan.

    I have had my 2012 Volt since March 12, 2012. As of yesterday I have driven over 10,000 miles and still have 3 gallons of gas still in the 9.3 gallon tank from the dealer when new.

    I plug in at home, charge for a couple of hours…plug in at work, the Volt’s battery tops off. Were I to charge at home exclusively at home, my utility would charge me bout a buck a day to drive my 1,250 lease allocated miles a month.

    Learn about the massive dual motor/generator deceleration regeneration that happens when you override the regenerative breaking computers and down shift into “L” in lieu of normal foot/break stopping.

    I can add serious distance range through one pedal driving. Naturally the friction breaks are used to fully stop your Volt at all times!

    Enjoy the sheer thrill of driving in Sport Mode and “L” position. Your Volt will feel glued to the road in sharp steering.

    Make sure that you mention the north of 2 billion 110/120V Volt Charging Stations…Yes, your basic wall outlets. There are everywhere- Course, always ask permission or have some fun and assume that the merchant you are patronizing would welcome you trickle charging to keep your business coming back-

    Finally, a point of note- The Federal $7,500.00 Tax Credit, in an Ally Bank or US Bank is captured by that Lessor, not the Dealer, and is used to reduce the payments to the consumer- Dollar per Dollar.

    This and the current $2,400.00 lease rebate is how the very low lease payments are achieved.

    The final cost break-out is this-

    Your $301.00 a month lease payment, minus about $150.00 a month for average driver NOT SPENT ON GAS gives you a Net Cost to Drive of $151.00 a month for a $40,000 car.

    This to me is the very best part-

    Best-

    Thomas J. Thias

    @AmazingChevVolt

    1. I could never buy another GM product again after the bailouts of GM and Ally (formerly GMAC). I’d rather hand my money over to someone else other than the UAW.

      1. This anti-worker right-wing attitude is reprehensible. How else can working-class Americans ever afford to convert to clean energy unless they are paid well and receive high-quality health benefits?

      2. The Volt had nothing to do with the bailout. Grow up.

      3. More right wing Republican horse manure.

  7. I enjoyed your earlier article about your first year’s experience with solar on the house. Great read.

    Funny observation. I am not sure if the photo of the Volt charging is a stock Chevy promo picture or an actual photo from your garage, but I love what I see in the reflection on the side of the Volt.

    The red car sitting next to the Volt in the garage is a current generation Corvette. The view is of the rear half on the driver side and is distinguished by the current gen 5-spoke wheel design, the indentation for the door handle up top, and at the bottom, just in front of the wheel well is a the annoying 1″ square silver GM badge that baffles me with its purpose and placement on the Corvette in general.

    Given the solar panel house install and the Volt, I am guessing the photo is provide by GM, but I can’t think of a better way to offset the Corvette weekend driving than to balance it with a Volt for weekday driving (and winter driving as well).

    1. No. Pretty sure that is Kevin’s corvette. He has tweeted about this before

    2. Great catch! That’s not a stock photo; that’s the new Volt charging in our garage. Yes, that’s a 2007 Corvette that I bought used in 2009; she only had 1,700 miles on her then and has 17,000 now.

      1. I also have a 2007 C6. Got it new with no miles on it and have put 88,000 on it since (year round daily driver in the South).

        1. Nice! I keep the mileage pretty low; can’t really drive that much during the winter months here in PA, of course.

  8. Kevin, very well documented article. I would have two questions, approx. how much was your trade in valued at and does your home use gas or some other source for heating, range, clothes drier,a/c etc, your usage seems very low. Thanks, Jim

    1. Jim, we got about $8500 in equity for the trade. Also, our home uses propane for heating, the clothes dryer and hot water. We’ve also switched every bulb in the house to CCFL or LED and have smart outlets that eliminate the “vampire drain” of appliances. And the home automation system I put in 2 years ago manages the lights so they aren’t left on, nor do the outside ones go one until 15 minutes before dusk.

  9. Dolph Rodenberg Tuesday, November 27, 2012

    Hi Kevin,
    Very nice article. As energy-monitoring/conservation is our livelihood, we’d like to provide you with a TED system to monitor your home and Volt. Let us hear from you at press@theenergydetective.com

  10. Jeffrey Batick, FDAI Tuesday, November 27, 2012

    Kevin,

    Great story, just wanted to give you some insight on gasoline sitting for up to 6 weeks in the tank:

    If you live in an area that adds Ethanol to the gasoline, it will break down in as little as a week.

    This will cause the car to eventually run poorly, the degraded gasoline will begin to “varnish” and clog the fuel injection system over time, leading to expensive repairs.

    Now i’m aware that it’s a lease, and those repairs may be covered under warranty, but Might I suggest adding a fuel stabilizer to the tank at fill ups. Usually it’s an oz to every 2.5 gallons of gas, and it stops the Ethanol from braking down the gasoline.

    Stabil – a popular fuel stabilizer is about 11.00 for 32oz. Based on the Volt’s 9.3 gallon fuel capacity, you would be adding @ 1.00 worth of Stabil per tank.

    In the long run, it will keep the vehicle running tip top when the gas motor does kick in…. and keep your volt at peak efficency!

    1. Appreciate the info, Jeffrey; thx!

    2. I don’t know if this matters, but the tank is pressurized to keep the gasoline “fresh”. I am not sure how this works with ethanol, but if your commute is 38 mpg or less, you do have to keep the same gas in the tank for along time. I went about 2 months before having to fill my tank for the first time.

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