As gas prices shot up recently, more and more people have started thinking about getting an electric car. A question we hear frequently around the sushi bar at CleanTechinca’s vegan leather lined writers lounge is, “How much does it cost to charge an electric car?” So we decided to dig into this topic and come up with some answers you can use.
An Electric Car Is Different
Let’s begin with this general statement. An electric car is different than a gasoline- or diesel-powered car. How so? Unlike a conventional vehicle that has to hooked up to a gas or diesel pump to refuel, an electric car can be charged from virtually any electrical outlet. Some will charge faster than others, but you can plug into a conventional (in North America) 120 volt wall outlet and add a few miles of range an hour.
That means you can charge your EV at home. Unless you live on a farm and have access to a gasoline storage tank, that’s simply not possible with a conventional car. No minion creeps down your driveway every night to put a gallon or two of fuel in your beloved Belchfire 5000, but EV drivers can charge whenever it is convenient.
Home Charging & Time Of Use
Gasoline and diesel are measured in gallons. Electricity is measured in kilowatt-hours, abbreviated as kWh. Why is the W capitalized? We have no idea. A kilowatt-hour is a measure of electrical energy equivalent to a power consumption of 1,000 watts for 1 hour. Look at it this way, it is the amount of electricity needed to keep ten 100 watt incandescent light bulbs lit for one hour.
The battery in an electric car is rated in kWh. If you have a first generation Nissan LEAF with a 24 kWh battery, and its state of charge has dropped to 10% of its capacity (abbreviated as SOC), it will require 21.6 kWh of electricity to bring it back to a 100% SOC (24 – 2.4 = 21.6). And how much will that cost? That depends on what your local utility company charges for electricity. In Florida, that may be $0.13 per kWh, which would make your cost of charging $2.81. In other parts of the country, the cost of electricity is two to three times higher, so the cost of charging will be higher as well.
But there’s a catch. Some utility companies adjust the cost of electricity according to demand. So if you charge during the part of the day when demand for electricity is highest, you will pay more. If you charge when demand is low, you will pay less. This is called time of use pricing, or TOU. In some parts of America, TOU rates between midnight and 6 am can be as low as $0.02 per kWh.
There are even smart chargers that will search for the lowest rates automatically and only start charging when they find them. If you are smart and program your car to charge when rates are lowest, you can charge up for next to nothing while your neighbors are forking over 4 or even 5 dollars a gallon for dino juice. Sweet!
Charging Away From Home
85% of all EV charging takes place at home, usually overnight. Many employers have chargers at work, which is where the majority of charging takes place away from home. Sometimes those chargers are free and sometimes drivers have to pay to use them. Check with the company before charging to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
Most EVs for sale in North America have a range of 250 miles or more. The average American drive less than 30 miles a day, which means you will only need to plug in at home once or twice a week to have all the range you need for your daily travels.
Longer journeys are the only times you should need to use a public charger other than at work. There are a number of for profit charging networks, the most well known being Electrify America, ChargePoint, EVGo, and Volta. Each has an app that will tell you where their chargers are located, whether they are in service, and what the cost of electricity will be. Rates can vary, so make sure you know what to expect before you plug in. Some networks also require you to set up an account and/or download their app before you can charge. Rates can vary from around $0.30 per kWh to $0.80 per kWh. Know what you will be paying before you begin.
Free Charging & More
There are places where electric car owners can charge for free. Not very quickly, perhaps, but free nevertheless. My local community has 5 free chargers available that are sponsored by the local utility company. But there aren’t any others within 50 miles. Many businesses, hotels, and other destinations offer free charging as well in order to attract EV drivers. There are apps from Plug In America and PlugShare that will show you where every available charger is located in your area, what power level they use, and how much they cost to use.
If you own an EV, you owe it to yourself to have these apps available. Even Tesla drivers may find they need to plug in once in a while in an area where no Superchargers are available. You will save yourself time and aggravation if you have those apps available at your fingertips.
My wife and I may not be typical drivers. Our Tesla Model Y takes us grocery shopping, to medical appointments, out to dinner, and to the grocery store. We have a separate meter for the 240 volt circuit that we plug into at home so we know precisely how much we pay to charge our car. For the past 3 months of driving, we paid $36 to the local utility to keep our Tesla charged up. That includes a 200-mile day trip we took a few weeks back. Suffice to say we feel pretty smug when our neighbors talk about spending $60 or more for a tankful of gasoline.
If you’re driving 100 miles a day or more, you will have a totally different experience, but the cost of electricity for an electric car will still be less than the cost of gasoline or diesel 98% of the time. For as long as fuel costs remain high, make that a lot less.