Electric wheel

SMUD’s Bill Boyce gives first-look consumers a few electric-car tips

Which electric car does SMUD expert Bill Boyce pick as a favorite? The Chevy Volt.

Which electric car does SMUD expert Bill Boyce pick as a favorite? The Chevy Volt.

Photo By anne stokes

A new generation of hybrid and electric vehicles hits the streets of Sacramento this month: the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf. With hybrid and electric vehicles expected to be increasingly common in the future—Ford plans to release a hybrid plug-in in 2012—SN&R asked Bill Boyce, an electric transportation supervisor with SMUD, about what was involved in becoming a green car owner.

How does driving a Volt or a Leaf help reduce one’s carbon footprint?

Electricity, when used as a transportation fuel, has about 65 percent less greenhouse-gas emissions than gasoline as analyzed by the California Air Resources Board. This … looks at everything including the upstream electrical power-plant emissions, transmission losses and vehicle drivetrain efficiency. [Electricity] also contrasts petroleum-based gasoline, which is coming from harder-and-harder-to-get sources that tend to increase greenhouse-gas emissions.

What’s your favorite hybrid electric vehicle and why?

I like the Chevy Volt. I consider it to have the best of both worlds. The Chevy Volt would allow me to commute to work electrically and, if needed, still have unlimited range just like a gasoline car. [Equally] important is the hybrid portion, which has a gasoline engine as a safety net. Once you’ve depleted your electricity, you can keep on going. If you want to drive from Sacramento to Key West, you can drive just like a normal hybrid car, filling up at gas stations.

How do you prepare a home for an electric car?

[Ask yourself] how much you plan on driving and what sort of electrical service you already have. Both the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt will be able to charge using both a standard 120V wall socket and a faster 240V charging station. Drivers with longer commutes and high driving needs will want to buy a 240V charging station.

If you live in an apartment, or live in downtown or in Midtown with street parking, then you’ll really need to search out other charging solutions. At SMUD, we’ve started talking to some apartment owners about supporting electric-vehicle charging, but typically, apartment owners are reluctant to upgrade. Public charging or workplace charging are other options electric-vehicle drivers have relied on in the past.

What is the most important thing to know about preparing your home for an electric car?

First, determine whether you need 120V or 240V charging. Second, get a qualified, licensed electrical contractor involved if you plan on installing a 240V charging station. Most automakers and car dealers already have electrical contractors on board, ready to help customers.

How much time is involved?

Obviously, simple 120V charging from a normal socket will take no time at all. The 240V, however, can vary depending on the electrical service at your house. In most cases, if you have enough electrical capacity, the typical time will probably be on the order of about one week. If you need to upgrade your electrical service, typical of some older homes, it could take upwards of a month, if a new electrical panel needs to be put in and if SMUD has to upgrade your service connection.

How much money is involved?

The 240V charging stations and upgrades are not cheap. I’ve seen prices for the charging-station hardware going anywhere from $500 to $2,000. The installation typically costs about $1,000 on top of the charging station.

So the electric bill will go up?

Yes, however, your gasoline bill will go down—more than making up for the cost of the electricity. Assuming about 10,000 miles per year for a typical light-duty electric vehicle, most bills would go up by about $300 a year. Gasoline for an average car getting 26 miles per gallon is on the order of $1,200 a year with current gasoline prices. So electricity is much cheaper than gasoline.

Can people make the necessary changes for 240V charging stations themselves?

Probably not. … Making sure that your electrical service has enough capacity; safely installing a new 240V circuit breaker into your panel, running electrical conduit and wire through existing walls, getting things through an electrical permitting process and making sure your home-insurance policy isn’t invalidated are all good reasons to use a qualified, licensed electrical contractor.