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Saturday, January 15, 2011

A green way to fight EVs

The general public and the media hype machine seem to assume EVs are good for the planet, even though that assumption is dubious at best.

Still, I was unaware of environmentalists passing policies to reduce the use of EVs here in California — until now.

A Purdue study (forthcoming in Energy Policy reported by the LA Times) notes that the state’s aggressively tiered electricity rates — plus our electricity prices — make the state one of the most expensive (i.e. least desirable) places for a consumer to charge an EV, perhaps 35% above the national average.

Philosophically similar to a progressive income tax, California’s tiered electricity rates charge more per kWH for big users than small users. It’s designed to encourage energy efficiency (but also also sock it to the rich.)

A PHEV would increase a homeowner’s electricity consumption by 60%, thus pushing even the most efficient homeowner into a higher tier.

The study from Purdue’s Energy Center pointed to another problem: California’s average electricity price is among the highest in the country: 4.4¢ per kWH vs 8¢ for a low cost state like Indiana.

In short, the economics of the Chevy Volt don’t work, according to the Purdue press release:
The researchers determined the plug-in hybrid would be less economical than the Toyota Prius, a hybrid that does not charge its battery through a plug, or the Chevrolet Cobalt, which uses only an internal combustion engine. When oil prices are high, the Prius would be the most economical, with the advantage going to the Cobalt when oil prices are low.

Tyner said to make the Volt more economical than either the Prius or the Cobalt, oil prices would have to rise to between $171 and $254 per barrel, depending on which electricity pricing system is being used. That's because the Volt has a higher purchase price and will cost more in electricity than gasoline over the life of the vehicle.
Even with $7,500 in Federal subsidies, the numbers just don’t pencil out:
"People who view the Volt as green will pay $10,000 more over the lifetime of the car because it's green," Tyner said. "Most consumers will look at the numbers and won't pay that."
Perhaps this explains the dismal sales of the Volt (and its competitor the Nissan Leaf).

Of course, this is a job for the controversial SmartMeter™!! With time of day metering, excessive energy consumption at night (which isn’t going to be air conditioners) could be charged at the base rate rather than the peak rate.

There’s no evidence of a CPUC ratemaking proceedings yet, but I’d bet money that our local EV company and its allies will request starting one soon.

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