A number of news outlets have given glowing reports about the Chevy Volt, a car which they argue gets 230 mpg. It doesn't. In fact, the Chevy Volt is bad for the environment in the Southeast United States in 2010. Maybe it wont be in 2020, but it is in 2010. Let me tell you why.
I am not critical of the vehicle itself. It is a step in the right direction. I am critical of the reporting about it.
The Chevy Volt will be good for the environment in the Northwest of the United States, in Seattle or Portland, Oregon for example. It will even be good for the environment in New Hampshire. In fact, it is good for the environment in any State or city which gets its electricity from hydroelectric and/or nuclear power. However, for the Southeast United States, the Volt is an environmental disaster. Seeing people laud the coming of the Volt in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi is like watching a slow-motion train wreck.
Take Florida as an example. Florida gets 90% of its power from fossil fuels, and North Florida gets 99% of its electricity from fossil fuels. All the Volt does in Florida is take emissions that would ordinarily come out of the auto's tailpipe, and causes them to come out of a smokestack of a coal fired power plant.
That would be okay with me if it were a one-for-one exchange, but it's not. Using a car with plug-in electrical power requires more fossil fuel, and creates more GHG's, than simply filling up at the gas station and burning fossil fuel directly in your car. Why? Because when you burn coal, about 66% of the energy content is lost when you turn it into steam, and then turn the steam into electricity. Now you are down to 34% of the energy content. When you transmit that electricity over the power grid, you lose 3-4% more. Now you are down to 30%. When you charge the battery, it gets hot and you lose more energy content (I don't have a percentage yet, but when I do, I will let you know).
Why is the Toyota Prius better for the environment than the Volt? Because it doesn't plug in. When you get 50 mpg's from a Prius, you are getting a real savings in pollution. It has its own generator. It charges the battery using leftover energy when you step on the brakes (dynamic braking).
Until we find an no carbon way to produce electricity, which for Florida and the remainder of the Southeast means nuclear, the Volt will continue to be bad for this region of the U.S. Any dealership which sells them should be picketed.