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Electric Vehicles Charging Its Way to the Future

Plug-in electric vehicles are here to stay and Semico Research believes that these vehicles will be in high demand by consumers. There are many advantages that electric vehicles provide.  A lower gas bill is just the start.  They also have fewer moving parts resulting in higher reliability, a quieter motor than internal combustion vehicles, lower maintenance costs and significantly lower operational costs.

Here at Semico we already have two employees with plug-in electric vehicles. (We only have 10 employees.)  I just recently acquired a Chevrolet Volt and our CTO, Tony Massimini, purchased a Nissan Leaf. Both cars have their unique advantages and disadvantages.

The Chevy Volt is nicely designed, well put together, with a solid feel and good crisp handling. From a performance standpoint the Volt’s electric motor is comparable to a 250HP internal combustion engine with 273 pound-feet of torque.  This rating is benchmarked at all RPMs. The single speed electric motor eliminates the transmission contributing to a simpler design.

The Chevy Volt has a 16 kW battery of which 10 kW is dedicated to the all-electric propulsion.  The remaining 6 kWs is a buffer for use during the extended range mode and for redundancy to ensure long battery life.  The battery life is rated for 100,000 miles.

One of the features that I found especially efficient is the car’s regenerative braking system.  It takes some of the energy from the moving vehicle and turns it back into electrical energy.  This energy is then stored back into the high voltage battery contributing to increased energy efficiency.  The braking system is computer controlled and blends the regenerative braking with the conventional hydraulic disk brakes.  The controller interrupts the braking request and uses regenerative braking, conventional hydraulic or a combination of both to ensure effective braking while saving energy.

The Chevy Volt can also boast an industry first.  It is the only electric vehicle with a liquid cooled battery.  The unique feature is a lithium ion battery that is immersed in a liquid coolant which maintains the battery’s temperature between 60º F and 80º F during charging as well as discharging. The Nissan Leaf has an air cooled battery which does not have the capability of maintaining the battery temperatures at optimal levels.

So far I have been able to drive 38 to 50 miles on one charge using the 10 kWs from the battery.  After the 10 kWs are consumed the electric generator kicks on to operate the vehicle.  During deceleration the battery will recharge.  Depending on driving conditions the car will switch back and forth from battery to the generator as needed.  I’ve been driving the car for about one month and so far I’ve gotten 42 miles per gallon after the first 40 electric miles.  That means the total range for the vehicle could be as high as 400 miles.  I haven’t tested the full range yet.  Since I’ve only had the car for less than a month, most trips have been well under 40 miles and I’ve rarely used the gasoline generator.

Another great feature of the Chevy Volt is the on-the-fly switchable driving mode which includes: normal, sport and mountain. The normal mode provides the most efficient use of energy and the longest range for the battery. The sport mode provides quicker acceleration and consumes the stored energy quicker. The mountain mode provides additional electricity to the motor when driving through mountainous terrain. It is recommended that drivers should utilize this option 30 minutes prior to entering the mountainous terrain.

The Nissan Leaf has a 32 kW battery with a less powerful electric motor and no onboard generator with a 98 mile electric range. Like the Chevy Volt, the Nissan Leaf is well put together, quiet and stylish.

I have read several articles warning people not to buy plug-in electric vehicles citing the large initial cost and the potential for a much higher electric bill. I always wonder who's behind those articles.  Could they be shills for the oil companies? The increase in a monthly electric bill doesn’t even come close to the monthly cost of gas, even compared to the most efficient combustion engine vehicle.

So let's talk dollars and cents.

The current standard electric rate in Arizona is $.105 per kilowatt hour. If a homeowner opts for a time-of-day rate, the off-peak rate is $.06 cents a kilowatt hour and there is also a super saver rate for electric vehicles of $.035 per kilowatt hour. For this analysis, let's just use the standard per kilowatt hour and the super saver rate which is 11:00PM to 6:00AM.

My last 110 miles in the Chevy Volt consumed 24.7 kW.  Multiply that times the $.105 per kilowatt rate and the result is a total cost of only $2.59 or an electric cost of $.0235 per mile. Compare that to an internal combustion vehicle that gets 40 miles to the gallon, one would consume 2.75 gallons to drive the same 110 miles. The cost for that gasoline ($4.00/gal) would be $11.00 which is $.10 a mile. So after 50,000 miles the gasoline powered vehicle would consume $5,000.00 in gas, while the electric cost would equal $1178.86 on the standard rate and $392.95 on the super saver night rate.

While the initial price of electric vehicles is higher than a standard gasoline powered vehicle there are savings in the operational costs and most likely in the maintenance.  And of course, there’s the added benefit of knowing I’m reducing our dependence on foreign oil and making my small contribution to the environment.  It’s definitely a good feeling.  I can say that I am happy that this technology remained in the US and did not end up in China. After driving the Chevy Volt for a month, I believe the Federal government made the right decision to give GM a loan which they are paying back with interest. GM has reinvented itself and is producing state-of-the-art technology vehicles like the Volt and the best-selling compact car, the Cruze.

Jim Feldhan