Musings of an anonymous geek

January 8, 2007

Yes, one Chevy Volt Please

Filed under: Other Cool Blogs,Technology — m0j0 @ 3:39 pm

I came across this entry on about the Chevy Volt, which is GM’s latest stab at convincing us that they really do put some effort behind getting an electric car out the door to us sometime in the next millenium. I have to admit that, while I’m wholly *unconvinced* that I’ll ever see this car on a showroom floor near me, this car is totally cool.

My disclaimer is that I have clearly not done the research to figure out if this car is as green as it could possibly be or whatever; I don’t know if it takes more energy than traditional means through the charging process, mainly because I’m not an engineer. But the concepts they’re working with and the problems they’re aiming to solve at least shows that they understand that simply putting out a car that runs on electricity and forgetting about every single other detail will not fly.

First of all, this car isn’t something you would shudder to be seen in. Sure, it’s no Ferarri, but neither is anything else (except… a Ferarri). This car looks worlds better than those cheeseball little fiberglass boxes they wrap around the hybrid vehicles.

Speaking of hybrid, I’ve always had a problem with hybrids, and the Chevy Volt improves upon one aspect of the hybrid that I dislike: I’ve always looked at the design of the hybrids as a sign that the technology is not done yet. If it were, you wouldn’t need it to be “hybrid”. Let’s not forget that “hybrid” in “hybrid vehicle” is referring to the fact that there are two technologies working to get the job done, because one of them is costly, wastes energy and gives off emissions (that’d be the gas) and the other one nobody has learned to implement in such a way that it can replace the first one.

Well, GM didn’t totally throw gasoline out the window, but they’re using it in a bit of a different way from traditional hybrids – here’s the deal: you plug the Volt in to charge, say, overnight. In the morning, it has a full charge, which is enough to get most people back and forth to work (they’re shooting for a 40-mile range). However, it also has an internal combustion engine capable of running on gasoline or any of a number of bio-fuels. This engine isn’t connected to the wheels in any way, but rather the engine is used to charge the batteries. In this configuration, a car with a full tank of gas (a 12-gallon tank) and a full charge will go 640 miles. For reference, this is a bit more than double the distance I could go in my old Chevy Celebrity, which I believe had a 16-gallon gas tank.

So now the issues. As usual, the battery technology isn’t done yet, and when they’re done with that, they need to figure out how to make the thing cheap enough that people will actually buy the thing. Both issues seem to be major unknowns right now. I wish them luck, because I’d like to have something like this sooner than later.

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  1. I think an electic car would cost you more in the short run and in the long run and might be less ecospheric friendly. It would be more costly in the short run because you pay a premium for the new technology and the (presumably) small number of cars produced by the manufacturer. It would be more costly in the long run because electricity at your (if yours if the average house) is expensive. It could be less eco-friendly if the electricity used by your house is generated by buring fossil fuels because most of the energy transmitted to your house is lost in transit (or, in other words, is wasted).

    I’m holding out for personal transporters. Beam me up, Scotty.


    Comment by harda — January 8, 2007 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

  2. Well, the short-term cost is the one GM is trying to tackle directly, in part by doing math and figuring out how many they’d need to produce to bring down costs by employing economies of scale. This, of course, has its own issues (for example, can your *suppliers* produce at the rate needed?)

    As for the long term cost, you can’t just say “electricity is expensive”. It’s *not* expensive relative to the cost of gasoline. My electric bill to power my entire house, including a very heavily used electric range and oven, 7 computers, a decent sized entertainment center, etc., is something like $30-40/month in the winter. It goes up in the summer if we run the A/C at full blast 24 hours a day.

    On the other hand, just driving back and forth to work for a week costs me $30 a *week* in gas. That’s ~$120 a month! I don’t suppose it’s out of the question that charging batteries could cost $120/month, but I’d be quite shocked if it even came close.

    As for eco-friendliness, I don’t get this part of your post:

    ‘It could be less eco-friendly if the electricity used by your house is generated by buring fossil fuels because most of the energy transmitted to your house is lost in transit (or, in other words, is wasted).’

    Specifically, I don’t understand how it is that ‘most of the energy transmitted to your house is lost in transit’. Can you clarify that, and tell me how energy transmitted to my house from a non-fossil-fuel-based plant somehow transmits energy to my house more efficiently? I thought that energy was distributed through a network of substations, which themselves don’t have a clue *how* the energy going to my house is generated.

    As for myself, I’m not going to wait for personal transporters, but I’m not going to settle for the current generation of moronic ‘hybrid’ options.

    Comment by m0j0 — January 8, 2007 @ 5:36 pm | Reply

  3. Regarding the cost of gasoline versus home electricity:

    I’m wrong. I’ve never paid the powerbill (I rent a bedroom and don’t pay utilities) and I was basing my assumption on physics. That is, 1 gallon of gasoline contains about 31,000 calories and 1 killowatt hour contains 859,845.23 calories. I assumed (incorrectly) that those 860 hundred thousand calories would be more expense than they actually are. Sorry.

    Regarding eco-friendliness:

    I screwed up on this one too. Wikipeida says, “…transmission and distribution losses in the USA were estimated at 7.2% in 1995”[1]. Someone told me transmission costs were much higher and I failed to check the fact before passing it along. Sorry again.

    * * *

    I didn’t mean to say or imply that energy transmitted to your house from a non-fossil fuel based power plant is more efficent. I meant to say that energy generated in a non-fossil fuel based power plant is typically more eco-friendly than power generated in a fossil fuel based power plant.

    I’m sorry for being wrong and for being unclear.



    Comment by harda — January 8, 2007 @ 6:51 pm | Reply

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