Keeping Up with the Volts

First Lady Jane Beshear preparing to give one of the Volts a test drive.

The DEP Chevrolet Volts have received quite a bit of attention as Department for Environmental Protection (DEP) employees drive them across the state. The department has been operating four Volts and two charging stations since early 2013 and has learned a lot about the plug-in electric vehicle in that short time span.

“No matter where we go, people are curious about how the car drives, fuel economy, money savings, and safety,” said Division for Air Quality Director John Lyons. “Part of why we purchased these vehicles is to be a technology leader and educate the public on alternative transportation technology, in addition to reducing emissions.”

Plug-in electriIMG_7118c vehicles (PEVs) derive all or part of their power from electricity supplied by the electric grid. The Volt operates so that after the initial electric usage, the car converts over to more of a traditional-style hybrid using fuel and electricity generated during efficient driving or braking. Since hitting the road, the Volts have averaged a fuel economy of 46 miles per gallon which has resulted in 12,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions avoided.  Preliminary data shows that the Volts operate, on average, at half the cost per mile ($0.07) of a conventional comparable vehicle. DEP anticipates the miles per gallon to increase over time as vehicle assignments improve to ensure more city miles over highway miles. Currently, the Volt fleet attributes, on average, 20 percent of the total miles driven to city miles.

Even with these savings, the Volt comes with a hefty price tag for the average consumer, $40,000. Initial data from DEP, based on current driving behaviors, shows a 12-year return on investment to cover the price differential between the Volt and a
conventional vehicle without any incentives. Fortunately, DEP received a grant
through the Kentucky Clean Fuels Coalition (KCFC) to cover the price differential of the four Volts and the charging stations. For individual consumers, a federal tax credit exists for up to $7,500, which decreases the return on investment to around seven years.

But for DEP, it isn’t just about the return on investment but an investment in technology development and Kentucky’s environment. Based on early support of hybrid technology, which is now commonplace, DEP has learned that early support of plug-in electric technology is essential to market penetration and affordability for the average consumer.

DEP has been a pioneering member of the KCFC Green Fleets of the Bluegrass program since 2011. In addition to the Volts, DEP operates a fleet of 31 light-duty hybrid electric
vehicles and has adopted fleet efficiency standards outlined in the Governor’s 2007 Energy Plan, with a goal for 50 percent improvement by 2025.