In January, after a 5 year run in a hand-me-down Volvo, I bought my first brand new car- a 2016 Chevrolet Volt. The Volt is what’s known as a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) which operates a lot like a hybrid gas/electric vehicle such as the Toyota Prius. And, when you generate electricity from solar, you're literally "driving solar" - as I'll explain below.
One key difference between a PHEV and traditional hybrid, which uses its electric motor at low speeds and shifts to the gas engine when more power is needed, is the Plug-In Hybrids can run exclusively on electric power until the battery is depleted. Once the battery is empty, the Volt and other PHEV’s turn on the gas engine which continually recharges the battery to keep the electric motors delivering power to the wheels. For the new Volt, the 18 kilowatt-hour battery capacity equates to approximately 50 miles of range on pure electric.
In my case, the all-electric 50 mile range is a perfect fit for my lifestyle. HelioPower’s Murrieta office is 25 miles from my home in Fallbrook, CA. On a full charge, I can just make it round trip without ever engaging the Volt’s dinosaur combustion system (the engine). It’s fun to see how long I can go without filling up the gas tank by only using electric power from the battery. So far, I am still using the gas that came with the car!
Last weekend, I took my boys to the rock climbing gym which is 20 miles from home. We like to play math games while we drive and since this was our first trip in the new Volt we had lots to talk about. Naturally, we were curious about the fuel consumption for the trip and calculated the costs for the Volt, my wife’s Prius and the Volvo I just replaced.
Here's how the math worked out:
Don’t forget the solar:
One of the added benefits of working for a renewable energy services company like HelioPower is the employee discount on solar for our homes. I installed my system in 2006 (when it was 2X the cost it is now) and assuming it lasts for 20 years, it will collect energy at a cost of about $0.08/kWh. At that price per kilowatt-hour, which is less than half of the rate charged by the utility today, driving my PHEV on solar energy is 85% cheaper per mile than my old gas guzzler. Now that's what I call driving solar.
My new Chevy Volt, when powered by our solar energy system, will save over $1,100 per year in fuel. Driving a solar energy powered car is a great way to replace dirty, foreign oil with clean, renewable solar energy.