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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.

  11. Excelent choice!
    I’ve got an Opel Ampera too.
    I’m the first one on this City (Porto/Portugal).
    I’m really happy about the performance and efficiency.

    Regards,

    Pedro Guedes

    1. Congrats on the Opel, Pedro! :)

  12. long time lurker. cool car. Can’t wait till we get a truck model or minimally a 4×4 for the winter driving out in the Sierra.

    My questions:

    Do you have to pay for OnStar (monthly) and if so that should add into the monthly cost of the car ownership. If you opt-out of OnStar do you lose all the neat wireless functionality?

    thx,
    bob

  13. Great article! The Volt and your residential solar PV array are a perfect fit for most Americans. Besides the apparent positive economic and environmental impact, your purchases support 2 budding industries and technologies that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the USA! Plus I have heard the Volt is fun to drive. Is that true?

    1. I’m certainly enjoying the drive; I’m one of those folks that treat it like a game, trying to eke out every drop (or watt) of efficiency. ;)

  14. richardmgarrett Tuesday, November 27, 2012

    You are a true pioneer in Mobile Tech and have definitely taken all of us to a new level! FWIW, I think the solar panel component of your energy creation/consumption profile is critical in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and is one that many folks will be unable to replicate. The Union of Concerned Scientists did an analysis of GHG equivalency to MPG and their map was reproduced in a NY Times article earlier this year (http://goo.gl/sSZgv).

    1. Richard, that map is awesome, thanks for sharing!

  15. Good analysis and data. The only other consideration is what a comparable non electric vehicle would cost and than you have to tally the difference between that model and the final cost on your Volt.

    So if another comparable non hybrid car that got say 30mpg and was 10k less net after all tax credits on the Volt you have to calculate how long it would take to “make back” that 10k less you paid for a comparable non hybrid car.

    I have looked at solar 3 times in the last 5 years and never could get a cost justification for doing so. I live in NJ and even with the larger subsidies it does not offer me a viable return on investment. Payback is 8 to 10 years. Even on the 8 years the returns pale what I can earn in any blue chip investment over same period after tax. These panels need to drop 50% and then they are a home run in terms of ROI. I put my money into more efficient HVAC units which gives faster return than investment in solar panels right now.

    Now if you just want to be green or don’t mind the small investment return it is worth it. Also some co’s will put panels up at no cost to you and you just pay a lower power rate. For some that makes sense but you lose the largest benefit of 100% free power forever when you own the panels

  16. Kevin – I’m right there with you! I have a 5.5kW solar system on my barn, and my first release 2011 Volt plugs in to the barn as well. The combination of solar and EV is just too good. Driving in silence, for free (more or less), with sunshine as your fuel…I have a bumper sticker with an American flag that reads “This car is fueled with pure American sunshine.” What could be more patriotic than a domestic car with domestic fuel?
    For the record, my savings are in the same ballpark. I also lease. My utility power is slightly more expensive.
    I do have a few complaints about the non-EV parts of the Volt – visibility, clearance etc. – but on balance, I’m a huge proponent. Thanks for documenting your experience, I hope it encourages more people to try going this route. Good for the pocketbook, the country, the world.

  17. Very interesting, Kevin, I will be following this. Obviously your solar panels make the Volt a logical choice for your household. It will be interesting to see your power consumption figures as an average compared to miles travelled, over the next 12 months. Those figures could really help the rest of us understand if this could be a logical choice for a household without solar. For those of us living in areas with coal power generation there is not just a cost issue, but a question of whether charging an electric car could be just as pollutant as a running a petrol engine.

  18. Nice article Kevin. Thanks for the info and your perspective.

    I, too have a PV system on my house and I leased my 2013 Volt at the end of August. It’s a terrific car–fun to drive, looks great and well built. I drove a Lexus hybrid prior to the Volt and I’d have to say that the Volt is equal to fit and finish of the Lexus and much more ‘zippy’ to drive. I use no gas on my daily commute, but appreciate the idea that I can drive it long distances without the range anxiety of a pure EV.

    Once Tesla makes a car closer to the Volt’s price point, I’ll be in one…

    My PV system is a mere 4.5kW, so it only supplies about 1/2 of our annual power needs, but every bit helps.

    1. Nice, John! I hear you on the Tesla; great looking car but until there are more chargers near me (and the price of the Tesla comes down), we needed to rid ourselves of range anxiety and the Volt does that for us. Thanks!

  19. Your solar cost is lower than mine: we signed up with SunRun in early 2010 and paid 12 cents a kwh (since sold the house). I am curious, why is your solar only 9 cents per kwh? That is actually cheaper than the 11 cents national average retail rate for electricity from utilities.

    1. Susan, our state deregulated energy prices a few years back, so there’s been some competition of late.

  20. Thank you for all this information. The Volt is a great choice for many reasons. The price is high but the subsidy and gas savings offset some of the additional cost. I agree that the car is fun to drive, especially in Sport mode. Who knew? i really hope that GM does well with this car. Takeoff is slower than the company expected, but comparable to the Prius, which also started off slowly in the United States. If you’re in the market for a car and considering a Prius, you owe it to yourself to give the Volt a test drive before deciding..

  21. How many solar panels would you think It would take to power the Volt?

    1. Steve, to recharge it fully, the Volt needs about 10 kWh of juice. My array has peaked around 9 kW of product for more than an hour a time, but of course, not all that power can be put into a Volt battery at one time.

  22. Great article….I also had solar installed in my home this past year (June 2012) and am also way over producing because I upgraded all the bulbs in our home to LED. I also upgraded our pool filter to a variable speed filter. I have 52 panels on my home and generate 14.4K Kwh of annual electric.

    I also test drove a Volt this weekend and was very impressed. Right now, I have a Ford F150 that averages about 14 miles/gal. This is what I would be trading in. However, I want a top of the line Volt – all leather etc…The lease deal this particular dealership came up with was quite high…$550/mon for 39 mon with $3900 at signing.

    In my situation, it makes much more sense to purchase. I would receive employee pricing (my father worked for GM for 42 years) so a $45K Volt I can get for $40K. My trade in is worth $10K so final sticker is $30K…..subtract the $7500 tax credit and you are left with $22.5K.

    Further, the F150 at 12000 miles per year with avg gas price of $3.50/gal would save $3K a year and over 5 years thats $15,000 bringing total cost of ownership down to $7500. In addition, at current electric rates, the same 12,000 miles/year on electric charge would save me an additional $1200/year and over 5 years that an additional $6000 bringing final cost of the vehicle to $1500 – the electric savings is because I have excess solar power.

    I think this is a great deal if my math is right….I’m buying one outright in March when I get my bonus.

  23. Oh…and to add to my comment above, let me correct the total cost of ownership….I need to include my equity trade it…so actual cost of ownership over 5 years is $11,500…..However, the cars residual value with 60K miles on it would likely be in the $15K range so thats a prophet of $3500 in the end.

    Not to bad for driving a $45K car around if you ask me.

  24. Can you actually reach freeway speeds 75/80 on pure electric. I have a 30mi commute to work but half is freeway.

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