Chevy Volt Driver Sees Level 1 As Perfect Tool

By · August 15, 2012

Mark Remburke and Chevy Volt

Mark rarely makes use of Level 2 charging. Here, he stands at Rhode Islands only available Level 2 public charging station, at Cardi's Furniture in West Warwick.

Last week we brought you the story of Bob Ostertag, a San Francisco-based musician and professor who, after coming to the conclusion that there simply aren't any pure EVs out there that met his needs, grudgingly signed on to lease a Chevy Volt.

To many Volt owners though, driving a range-extended PHEV doesn't represent a compromise compared to a full electric—either by gasoline usage or emissions. By remaining in all-electric mode most (if not all) of the time, some PHEV owners are able to travel 90 percent or more of their miles on battery power alone. These drivers' single-trip range needs rarely exceed the roughly 35 miles of capacity provided in the Volt—which might lead you think that we're talking about a very small minority of light-driving city-folk.

Meet Mark Renburke, a Connecticut-based musician and family man who uses his Volt to commute to work (about 35 miles each way,) shuttle his kids to and from activities, and get to gigs at a number of pubs and restaurants throughout New England. He says he drives about 20,000 to 25,000 miles per year, and though he's only owned his Volt for about 5,500 miles, so far he's spent more than 95 percent of those miles in all-electric mode.

Public Charge Points Everywhere (If You Ask)

Mark lives in what he describes as a "somewhat rural area," where Level 2 public charging stations can be hard to come by. Still, he says he frequently puts upwards of 100 electric-only miles on his Volt over the course of a day, thanks to careful planning and his willingness to ask just about anyone for temporary access to their standard, 120-volt outlet.

"I recently drove 112 miles over one day, all in EV mode, using only Level 1 charging," he told me. "If I'm headed somewhere I call ahead to see if I can charge while I'm there. A lot of the time they have no idea what I'm talking about, but I explain to them what the Volt is and what Level 1 charging is, and we can usually work something out."

Most plug-in owners do the vast majority of their charging using Level 2 home and public charge stations, and rarely venture to plug their cars into a standard outlet. Theoretically though, a vast network of public charge points has surrounded us since long before the first modern electric vehicles rolled onto the pavement. Charging from a standard outlet is slow (topping off a Volt can take as long as eight or nine hours, and EVs like the Nissan LEAF can take a full 22 hours to charge.) But depending upon your schedule, that trickle charge can provide a substantial range bonus.

A strong proponent of Level 1, Mark triesto get the word out about plug-ins and the oft-ignored charging option. "I am creating a network of sorts in my community and surrounding ones," he says. "A campaign of promotion and education of the benefits of Level 1 charging to both consumer and service provider, be it a mall, restaurant, supermarket, town, you name it."

The "Gamification" of Plug-ins

Mark didn't really consider buying an all-electric because he wasn't willing to risk not being able to get his kids where they need to go, when they need to get there.

He views avoiding his range-extender as a game of sorts. Since he doesn't have to worry about getting stranded if he happens to run out of charge, Mark says that this as the kind of game he can almost always win, but never lose. "Since I got the car I've continued to test the limits more and more," he said. "And I'm constantly surprised at how much driving I can do without any gas."

Gamification isn't unique to plug-ins. Hypermilers have long tracked their fuel usage and catered their driving habits in an effort to get every last bit of efficiency from their cars. Owners of battery-only EVs also frequently report a feeling of satisfaction when they use planning and ingenuity to complete trips that test the boundaries of their car's range.

Contributing to this are the new generation of "infotainment" systems that come standard in most plug-ins. Colorful display consoles and downloadable apps for smartphones help drivers monitor GPS navigation, energy efficiency, state of charge and available nearby charging stations constantly, encouraging a more engaged, premeditated driving experience.

Juggling these new considerations along with the stressful demands of a busy schedule isn't for everyone. But for those who enjoy it, gamification can be as rewarding as solving a good riddle.

Everybody Makes Compromises

Mark says he sometimes has to make compromises in his schedule to avoid using his range extender, but he doesn't mind. "If you're going to drive an EV you're going to have to make some compromises, and the same goes for a range-extended vehicle," he said.

When we spoke over the phone, he was stopped at a restaurant for lunch while his Volt nourished itself at Rhode Island's only available Level 2 public charger. Over the course of the day he would drive 99 miles without burning a single drop of gasoline—mostly thanks to Level 1 charging.

"We change our lifestyles for other things," he says. "This is what's needed for our society, for our kids, and for the planet."

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.