120-Volt or 240-Volt Home Charging? - 2011 Chevrolet Volt Long-Term Road Test

2011 Chevrolet Volt Long Term Road Test

2011 Chevrolet Volt: 120-Volt or 240-Volt Home Charging?

September 23, 2011


Leading up to my extended time with our Chevrolet Volt this week, my general assumption was that you had to get a 240-volt home charger if you were to actually own an electric car. I saw it as sort of an accepted accessory you just have to get, like a $30 case when you get a new smart phone.

But so far this past week I've gotten along just fine using the 120-volt charger that comes with the car. So now I'm wondering: is the $2,000 home charger aspect overplayed?

Here's my opinion on a 240-volt home charging station: I don't think very many people are going to need one for a Volt.

volt_charger2.jpg Going with 240V does one main thing: it reduces the amount of charging time, usually by at least 50 percent compared to regular 120-volt household current. However, if you're normally just charging overnight after a day's use -- and with the Volt you can give a full charge from depleted in that time frame -- you don't really gain anything by having 240V. Whether it's 120V or 240V, your car is still fully charged by the time you're ready to take it out the next day.

Also, my coworker Phil Reed pointed out another interesting aspect to me: it's rare that you're charging an electric vehicle from fully depleted anyway. Usually you've only used a certain percentage of electric power, and either you've come home or perhaps arrived at a public location or office that you can charge (a rare situation, admittedly). But either way, it's not like you're always going to need a full 10-hour (120V) or four-hour (240V) charge time.

Plus, installing a 240-volt home charger can be expensive. The basic SPX charger GM recommends for the Volt is $490. Installation can be another $300 to $1,900. Of course, there might be rebates or incentives. But it's still not chump change.

Now, having said all this, I'm going to seemingly contradict myself and say that I'd still buy a 240V home charger if I owned a Volt. But there's a difference between needing one and wanting one.

There are two main reasons. One would be extra piece of mind -- I'd just like knowing that if I needed a quick charge ("quick" being relative for an electric vehicle) for some reason, I'd have 240V at my house. And the other is efficiency. I've noticed that my at-home charges have used more kilowatt hours than they typically do at our office location. Dan Edmunds speculated on the reasons why in a previous post, but basically using a 240V charger is more efficient.

Finally, if I did own a Volt, it's not because I'm trying to save money. I've already bought a $40,000 car, and its raison d'etre is electric drive. Dropping another $1,500 or whatever for a 240V charger probably wouldn't seem like a huge deal.

So, 120-volt or 240-volt? It would depend on the owner's wants and needs. But don't just assume that 240V is a neccessity, particularly for the Chevrolet Volt.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

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