Can The Volt Save Windfarms? Can The Volt Save The Volt?

We often hear that renewable energy will reduce the US’s dependance on foreign crude oil.   Right now it’s difficult to see when that will happen. According to the DOE’s Energy Information Agency (EIA),  only about 1% of this nation’s electricity is produced by oil.

So its clear that displacing foreign crude oil will have to be done some other way than by reducing oil based electrical generating capacity.

If battery powered (EV) cars  become a significant part of our transportation sector,  then some substitution of electical energy for petroleum is likely.  But when?  Windpower installations are not economical and only are currently in the mix because of Federal and State subsidies. (see here for viability)  Further windpower needs electrical storage to be a viable supplier of electricity to the grid. (see here and here for storage)

So what is happening in the field of EVs?   The Poster child EV is the Chevy Volt. The second banana appears to be the Nissan Leaf.

The  Chevy Volt was named by Car and Driver  their “Car of the Year”.  But if the Volt presages the future for the battery powered car,  things  are not looking too strong at present.

Sales of the Volt in January were 321 cars and in February they sold 281.  Added to last years sales,  the total to date (throught February) is 928 cars.  Leaf, the Nissan hybrid has only sold 173 since they came on the market.

General Motors says not to worry.  They will make and sell 10k to 12k Volts this year.   They have not been helped by an underwhelming review by Consumer Reports. On 3 March, USA TODAY posted “Consumer Reports pans electric range of Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf”.  The posting opens with this:

Consumer Reports magazine offers its initial assessment of the two reigning wondercars of our times, the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf, in its April issue and finds both may not be such good deals after all.

Not only has Consumer Reports’ test car been coming in at the low end of the electric-only mileage range — 23 to 28 miles, not 25 to 50 miles as billed — before the gasoline power kicks in, but CR had to pay over list to the get the car. It says it had to pay $48,700 — full price plus options and a $5,000 windfall to the dealer.

It gets worse. CR figures the cost of recharging the Volt would work out to about 5.7 cents a mile for electric mode and 10 cents a mile for gas. Yet a Toyota Prius, which gets about 50 miles a gallon, would cost 6.8 cents a mile to operate. A Prius costs half as much as a Volt.

CR seems to feel a little better about the all-electric Leaf. It borrowed one from Nissan while it awaits delivery of its own. The $35,270 electric car had its range severely restricted by the cold weather that has gripped the East, much like the Volt. The range has been averaging 65 miles, not the 100 miles that Nissan bills. Plus the mileage gauge isn’t that accurate in the cold when electric heaters gobble up kilowatts. Instead of the 36 miles of range that the car said it had, one tester got 19.

Ok, the Volt is a brand new design and with time, and with increased production, the vehicle will get better and the cost should go down.  While the Volt that Consumer Report bought was $5000 over MSRP,  the price of the Volt with options was still near $44,000.  Even with the Government subsidy of a $7,500 tax credit for the buyer, this is still probably above most buyer’s range.

The Battery

I, for one, worry a bit about the battery warrany that GM is providing.  I don’t believe that there is anywhere near enough actual experience for a 100,000 mile battery warranty. If these batteries don’t live up to the 100,000 miles, it could become very expensive for both the buyer and GM.  From GMs website this is the battery warranty:

Chevrolet Volt Coverage

Propulsion Battery Warranty Policy Like all batteries, the amount of energy that the high voltage “propulsion” battery can store will decrease with time and miles driven. Depending on use, the battery may degrade as little as 10% to as much as 30% of capacity over the warranty period. A dealer service technician will determine if the battery energy capacity (kWh storage) is within the proper limit, given the age and mileage of the vehicle. Typical tests can take up to 24 hours.

Repair If possible, components will be repaired or replaced, and the original battery will be returned to the vehicle.

Replace (If Necessary) Under warranty, the high voltage battery will be replaced with either a new or factory reconditioned high voltage battery with an energy capacity (kWh storage) level at or above that of the original battery prior to the failure. Your Volt battery warranty replacement may not return your vehicle as an “as new” condition, but it will make your Volt fully operational appropriate to its age and mileage.

I have read that these batteries began to wear out from the repeated charge and discharge cycles.  The words in the warranty appear to support this where it says “the battery may degrade from 10% to 30%” as miles are put on the EV.  I have read that the owner is warned not to operate below 20% of battery capacity and not to charge above of 80% of capacity.  What are the consequences regarding the range of the EV between charges when it approaches the 30% degredation?

Charging the Battery

Facilities to recharge batteries are needed to make the new electric car practical and they are few and far between.  Yes, putting in a low voltage system for recharging might not be too complex but the charge time for bringing the battery pack back to a full charge may require more time than you can afford.

The following chart illustrates the required time to place a full charge on several EVs.  The time required is a function of the voltage applied to the charger.

Vehicle EVrange 

Charge time120V Charge time220V Charge time440V
Nissan Leaf* 100 20 8 0.5
Chevy Volt* 60 10 4
Toyota Prius PHV** 13 3 1.5
Fold Focus Elect** 100est 12 6-8
MitsubishiI-MiEV** 100est 16 8

This information was from MSNBC posting and can be seen at these web addresses:

MSNBC says that the cost for a 220V charging station for your home is estimated at $2,200.   The 440V systems are likely to be impractical for most owners.  EV charging stations, similar in function to the ubiquitous gasoline station, would use these because of the much more rapid charging rate.   Wikipedia says that very rapid charging stations (10 minutes) carry a certain level of risk.

In practice, the energy efficiency of ten-minute charging is likely to be somewhat lowered in any case due to the ohmic losses caused by the required high current inside the vehicle. The lost energy is converted directly to heat, which could be detrimental to the battery pack or surrounding electronics; additional power may be required for cooling equipment that removes the excess heat. Increasing the capacity of the battery pack increases the required power, current and heat loss linearly,[citation needed] which is why ten-minute charging may require new innovations as vehicles with increased range are developed.

The reason EV manufacturers are looking at a rapid charge is because they hope to duplicate the time to fuel that is typical of the gasoline and diesel stations today.   Can you imagine waiting in line for several hours to get your EV charged?

Wiki points out another issue with very rapid charge stations.

The high peak power requirement of ten-minute charging can also stress the local power grid and might increase the risk of power brown- or black-outs during peak demand if enough vehicles choose to charge at these times.

I wonder if the Volt and its cousins,  might not be a better bet for success than windmills.  The EVs would probably experience lower cost electricity without the windmills in the mix.




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