Don’t Get Me Started

CATALYST test drives a Chevy Bolt EV

January 1, 2018

John deJong

An electric car can work with your solar panels for an overall lower carbon footprint.

Perhaps the most important part of owning and managing a solar system of your own (SSOYO) is finding a way to store the electricity from your rooftop solar panels. An emerging solution is to incorporate an electric vehicle (EV) into your solar system.

First-generation EVs, with their limited battery capacity and range, didn’t have enough capacity to provide for household electrical needs in addition to keeping a reserve for the trip to work, the soccer fields or the market.

The 2018 Chevy Bolt EV’s full “tank” of 60 kilowatt hours gives it a 239-mile range, enough for anything but a major road trip (miles per kilowatt hour may vary).

Thinking in kilowatt hours is a bit of a stretch. Charging the Bolt’s battery from the 120-volt outlet in your driveway will cost you about $6.60, at 11¢ a kilowatt hour. With a 239 mile range, that’s 2.7¢ per mile. If your charge your Bolt EV at night, time-of-day rates of 5¢ a kilowatt hour could bring that down to 1.2¢ per mile. When you have your rooftop solar array paid off that works out to 0¢ per mile.

For comparison, a new fangled, old-fashioned gas sipper getting 40 miles per gallon of gasoline at $2.50 a gallon works out to 6.25¢ per mile.

The environmental aspect of owning an EV is a little more complicated. You can eliminate your transportation-related carbon footprint by charging your EV with renewables—your own rooftop solar array, wind power or hydro-electric. Depending on what kind of fossil fuel your power plant uses, your carbon footprint may be a little better than an efficient internal combustion engine.

The air pollution impact, cough cough, also depends on your electricity source. With renewables, your impact will be zero. Charging it with electricity from fossil fuels will end up polluting someone’s air shed. While there are no coal-fired power plants in the Salt Lake Valley, there are a number of natural gas-fired plants. They put out about half the pollution of coal-fired power plants in eastern Utah, which are Rocky Mountain Power’s main source of electricity.

The $7,500 federal tax rebate for electric vehicles was endangered during the negotiations over the Trump tax bill, but survived, making the $37,495 Bolt EV within the range of more people’s budgets. Chevy sold 2,000 Bolt EVs in November and expects to sell 30,000 in 2018.

Driving the Chevy Bolt EV

The low center of gravity with the flat battery pack slung under the passenger compartment gives the Bolt EV an uncanny sure-footedness in corners. With city driving, I was never able to “put the pedal to the metal.” My decent reflexes were still no match for the acceleration the 200-amp electric motor is capable of. It would be fun to take one of these out on to the Salt Flats.

One of the greatest pleasures I get out of “economical” vehicles is trying to improve my gas mileage. A good information display can encourage economy and a bad display can stifle it. The Honda Fit I usually drive has a simple, informative format. The Bolt’s instruments display your instantaneous mileage, your estimated range and the number of kilowatt hours in the battery.

Miles per gallon is replaced by miles per kilowatt hour for an electric vehicle. I got up to 2.9 miles per kilowatt hour in the Bolt EV when I was at my light-footed best. It was somewhat less than that when I was taking the editor to the acupuncture appointment she was late to. A great app would allow Bolt drivers to compete for the best mileage.

Another pleaser is the regenerative braking paddle on the left side of the steering wheel that allows you to recharge the battery rather than wearing down your brake pads as you pull to a stop. Using it has the feel of putting money in the bank. Or rather, kilowatt hours in your battery.

There’s also a gauge for how heavy your foot is on the “gas” pedal/accelerator. The readout is in kilowatts. Just cruising will take 8-10 kilowatts. A set-you-back-in-your-seat start will peak at 60-70 kilowatts or more. That’s like turning on 60-70 electric hair dryers as quickly as you can put your foot to the floor.

The Bolt is very spacious for its curb length. We were able to fit the Snake Goddess in the back, with the seats down and the trunk open. My long legs were easily accommodated. The dashboard was informative without being cluttered. I’m a Dutchman and an engineer so bling means nothing to me but, that said, our candy-cane orange Bolt loaner drew lots of compliments.

The Chevy Bolt EV is an important step towards General Motors’ goal of helping to decarbonize the transport system by placing 20 zero-emission vehicles on the market by 2023.

John deJong is the associate publisher of CATALYST.