Chevy Volt Review – That was fun!

This past weekend I got to test-drive a Chevy Volt, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. While I still have some concerns about the price, and whether the upfront capital expense is worth the gas savings down the line, I would actually enjoy owning one.

First, let’s address the battery range. If you’re fortunate enough where you can charge both at work and at home, you can probably go for a year on a single tank of gas. After a full charge, the dashboard claimed that I could go 30 to 35 miles, but I easily got 40+. Sure, this depends on your driving, and I was fairly gentle on the gas and the break paddle – keeping the green ball happy! (See the picture of the dashboard). I’ve also found a fair number of public charging stations, with quite a few offering free juice! Thanks Santa Monica!

Side note about charging: while some charging stations are free to use, others do require a payment. One of them was $2/hour, or $1.50/hour with membership. This really made no sense to me. It takes about 4 hours for a full charge, so even at the reduced rate this would be $6 for a “full tank” or about 40 miles in electric only mode. Considering that gas is $4.50/gallon, and that the Volt will easily get over 40 mpg in hybrid mode, it makes no economic sense to pay for charging more than a $1/hour. In fact, charging at home is about a $1 for a full charge, depending on your electricity rates, which is a nice saving.

The car is quite comfortable, even for a taller guy. While it’s sure no Escalade, four adults can comfortably fit in. The trunk space is decent, although a bit shallow. It’s one of those funny things where some folks may complain “What if I need to move something giant… like say my brand new 60” TV?” Well, no, you won’t be able to fit it in, but you also won’t need to do that very often. In fact, most people rarely need more space than a Fiat 500, yet we’ll buy an 18-wheeler “just in case”. But I digress. (The book Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely explains this tendency to overvalue optionality very well.) My point is that there is enough space for four adults and the usual amount of junk in the trunk.

The technology part of it is done well. The interfaces are generally easy to use and intuitive. Some of the displays can be a bit distracting when driving, but I’m guessing that’s just the new car effect that would wear off after a week or so. The part that may require some getting used to is the regenerative breaking, and figuring out when it happens. For example, letting go of the accelerator can result in it. Generally, I would say not to worry about it, and just focus on the road first and on that green display ball second. If the ball is green and centered, you’re efficient. If you hit the gas or break hard, you’re not.

Overall, the car was a fun commuting experience. I put 122 miles on it while using just 0.1 gallons of gas and 3 free charges. That makes for a fuel cost of $0.003 per mile, which can’t be beat.

Chevy Volt Dashboard

Cheese Powered Car

I just saw an article about this, and it sounds like a pretty awesome idea. In a nutshell: the researchers used cheese manufacturing waste, fed it to some hungry yeast, and voila – you have bio-diesel.

Of course, it’s not that simple, and I wonder what the total process costs and efficiency are, but it sure sounds like a great idea. They are taking waste that’s already there, and turning it into something useful. I also wonder on the net greenhouse gas impact of this – and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s positive. It all depends on how would this waste otherwise be disposed of.

The team also had some fun with it! Not only they made the fuel and tested it, but they also aimed at setting the new ground speed record for a bio-fueled vehicle!

Read more on their site if you’re curious.They have some neat pictures too.

Safety Around Power Lines

I just did some safety training and would like to share a few highlights. This has to do with safety around power lines.

If you see a downed power line:

  1. Stay Clear of the area! Don’t touch anything, assume the line and anything touching it is energized. 
  2. Call 9-1-1! The dispatchers will alert appropriate authorities.
  3. Do not try a rescue! By coming in contact with a person or animal that is energized, you can get hurt as well!

I would say that # 1 & 2 are common sense. While the curiousity can often can get the best of us, I assume most folks have the right instinct to stay away. (Of course, assuming that they realize there is a downed line.). The hard one is the # 3, especially when we see a loved one in trouble. It is a natural instinct to jump in and try and save them, however this can turn tragic: a few months ago 3 members of a family died in their backyard, two of them trying to save the first one.

It is really important to not try a rescue unless we are qualified to do so. While we may have best intentions in mind, we can easily get in trouble ourselves, and not do anything to help.

My recommendation is to do a walk-around your residence, and identify any potential hazards on a clear sunny day when everything is visible. Take note on where the power and gas lines are, and anything else that could turn into a hazard. Then, if there is a wind storm, earthquake or a similar event, you’ll know what areas to avoid until they can be safely inspected.

For more info, check with your local utility.

Gas Prices

I’ve been keeping track of my gas mileage for a while, and as part of that I’ve been noting the gas price paid as well. I figured it would be interesting to plot this data, and see what the pump gas price has been over the past few years.

What I’m showing is the price I paid at the pump on a given day. There is some “noise” in the data, as I didn’t keep the gas station constant, but the difference in markup among the stations I normally use shouldn’t be more than 10-20 cents, so the overall trend can still be observed.

It is tempting to draw a straight line through the last 40 months or so, and assume that prices will keep rising at about 50 cents per year. Of course, this is ignoring that significant dip you see in second half of 2008…

While most of us dread high gas prices, there is some silver lining to it. Back in 2008, the relatively sudden spike actually resulted in reduced traffic congestion on the LA freeways! Less traffic and less resulting emissions are a good thing.

Interesting Smart Meter Legal Issue

With any new technology, there are always new and interesting legal issues, and the Smart Grid is no different.

I was reading an article about the Ojai council wanting to ban the smart meters in the city. What I found interesting is the ban part. In my previous reading on this topic, it was usually  about folks wanting to opt-out of the Smart Meter program. The latter issue was essentially settled by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) which recently ruled that customer may opt out, however that they’d have to pay an initial fee of $75, and another $10 per month to keep their old meter.

First issue is whether the City has any legal standing to enforce such a ban in first place, as this is a matter regulated by the State of California through the CPUC. Maybe this is a clear-cut issue one way or the other, but I’m not a lawyer so it’s an open question to me. For example, I know that a city cannot ban a utility from putting transmission wires in, so there are definitely areas where a city has it’s hands tied.

Second issue is the impact on folks that are happy to have the smart meters installed, and are looking forward to having more energy usage information at their fingertips. Not only would they be prevented from having the new meters, but they would likely be forced to pay extra fees for not having something that they actually do want! I can see a lawsuit or a recall campaign if this were to happen!

I’m actually really puzzled by this ban, especially since the CPUC has come up with what seems like a fair compromise…