When shoppers are considering the purchase or lease of an electric vehicle (EV), one of the first questions they ask is, “how much does it cost to charge?” While it’s easy to answer that question for a gas-powered car by looking at its fuel economy and your gas station receipt, it gets a bit more complicated for an electric car.
If you’re charging from a home charging station, the cost of charging an electric vehicle is based on the vehicle’s energy efficiency and the cost of electricity, which can vary greatly depending on where you’re charging. In most cases, charging an EV at home is dramatically less expensive than fueling a gasoline or diesel vehicle.
When you’re charging your electric car from a public charging station, you can be billed either by the cost of electricity or the amount of time you spend tethered to the station. In some cases, you won’t be billed at all.
Fortunately, there’s ample information to help you determine the cost to charge almost any electric vehicle available in the marketplace, and the math involved is pretty simple.
Charging at Home
For most EV buyers or lessees, charging your electric vehicle at home is the most convenient and lowest-cost option for daily charging. You simply plug your car into a Level 1 three-prong 120-volt household outlet, a 240-volt outlet, or a Level 2 electric car charging station. Cost-wise, there’s little difference in the daily price of electricity between the two charging levels, though a Level 2 EV charging station is typically the fastest and most convenient option.
Figuring Out the Cost
To determine the cost of charging an electric car, you simply multiply the cost of electricity in your area by the vehicle’s fuel efficiency. Once you know the cost per 100 miles, you can use your vehicle’s EPA-estimated range to determine the cost of refilling it from 0% to 100% charge. You don’t need to know the car’s battery capacity or do anything beyond some simple math to find the total cost.
Electric Car Efficiency
The EPA has developed a way to compare the efficiency of gasoline and electric vehicles called MPGe. That’s not the number we’ll use for calculating the cost to charge, though. On an electric vehicle’s window sticker, you’ll see a number labeled kW-hrs per 100 miles or kWh per 100 miles. The same information for both EVs and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) is also available at the EPA’s fueleconomy.gov site.
We used the EPA’s site to look at a couple of electric cars on the market today to show how different their fuel efficiency can be. The 2021 Hyundai Kona Electric consumes 27 kWh per 100 miles, while the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E with all-wheel drive and extended range takes 37 kWh of electricity to cover the same distance. A 2021 Tesla Model 3 Long Range with all-wheel drive uses 25 kWh of electricity to go 100 miles.
Cost of Electricity
There are a couple of ways to determine the cost of electricity in your area. You can get a ballpark idea by looking at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration’s state-by-state energy cost guide. When exploring the table, you’ll see the wide range of costs across the country, from Utah’s 10.83 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in June 2021 to Hawaii’s 32.74 cents per kWh. The national average in June 2021 was 13.85 cents per kWh.
Because costs can vary within states, among different power providers, seasonally, and based on the rate plan you choose from your power provider, it’s a good idea to do a little math to determine your personal cost of power.
To do so, look at your monthly electric bill to find out how many kilowatt-hours of electricity your home consumed. Then divide your total bill by that number to determine the cost per kWh. You can get an even more accurate cost per kWh if you average the kWh costs over several months, or by using bills from all four seasons.
How Do You Find the Full-Range Cost?
Now that you know the cost you’re going to pay per kWh and how many kWh the EV will take to travel 100 miles, you just multiply the two. For example, charging the 27 kWh-per-100-mile 2021 Hyundai Kona Electric in Colorado, where the average cost per kWh is 13.13 cents, will cost $3.55 to power for 100 miles, or about 3.6 cents per mile.
The 2021 Kona Electric is EPA-rated to go 258 miles on a full charge. At 3.55 cents per mile, the total cost to charge the Kona from 0% to 100% charge would be $9.16 at Colorado’s average electric rate. The same Kona EV would cost $16.09 to charge from empty to full in California, where the average electricity cost is 23.11 cents per kWh.
How Can You Reduce Your Cost of Electric Car Charging?
You can reduce the cost of charging EVs by charging them at the right time. In many areas, electric utilities offer time-of-use electric rates, with higher costs at peak hours and low costs when energy demand is at its lowest. If your utility offers the program, and you schedule your EV to charge late at night, you can save a tremendous amount in energy costs.
How Much Does a Charging Station Cost?
While having a Level 2 Charging Station installed in your home isn’t absolutely necessary, having one makes the EV ownership experience much easier. Installing one usually improves charging speeds and, with some charging stations, allows monitoring and scheduling using a smartphone app.
Note that we call them charging stations. Electric cars actually carry their Level 1 (120-volt) and Level 2 (240-volt) chargers internally. The charging station, or electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE), just connects your home’s power to the car’s internal charger through its charging port. As electric vehicle battery packs grow, charging with a Level 1 120-volt household outlet becomes less and less of a viable option, as they just take too long to fully charge a vehicle.
Depending on what charging station you choose, how far it’s going to be installed from your electrical panel, the cost of permits, and whether you already have a 240-volt outlet you can plug into, the cost of installation will vary. According to EV advocacy organization Forth, the cost of installing a charging station can cost $300 to $1000, plus the cost of an electrician’s labor.
If you’re in an older home where the electric panel or service can’t accommodate the additional load, or your EVSE needs to be installed far from the panel, the installation costs can skyrocket. Fortunately, the cost of charging equipment can be partially reduced with federal, state, local, and utility incentives.
Charging on the Road
While home charging is how most EV owners will replenish their EV’s battery, it’s not always possible. When you’re out on the road, you need to take advantage of Level 2 public charging stations and Level 3 DC fast chargers to refuel your EV. If you live in a multi-unit housing complex with no place to install your own charging station, public charging may be your only option.
While nearly all electric vehicles (including Teslas with an adapter) can be charged from Level 2 public chargers, there are three types of fast charging plugs used in America. CHAdeMO, which is used on cars such as the 2021 Nissan Leaf, was an early standard but is now going out of favor. SAE Combo is a newer standard and works with a broad range of electric cars.
The Tesla Supercharger network uses proprietary chargers that can only, for now, be used to charge Tesla vehicles. Using adapters, Teslas can be charged using any of the three types of plugs.
Determining the cost of charging an electric car at a public charging station can get complicated. There are a multitude of different charging networks with different pricing structures. EV chargers can bill by the length of time you’re connected or based on the amount of energy transferred. Some, including Tesla’s proprietary Supercharger network, can charge different rates based on the speed of charging. At some EV chargers, you’ll be charged a per-session fee or the cost of parking.
Let’s look at a couple of networks to illustrate the different pricing models. In Washington D.C., the Electrify America network charges 43 cents per kWh to charge at one of their fast chargers. Members who pay a $4 monthly fee get a discounted rate of 31 cents per kWh. If we were to charge a 2021 Hyundai Kona Electric, which takes 27 kWh to travel 100 miles, it would cost $21.59 to get a full battery at Electrify America’s standard rate.
The EVgo network has a 30 cent per minute non-member pay-as-you-go rate for their fast-charging network in Washington D.C. Even if you were on the DC fast charging station for a full hour, it would only cost $18 for the session. Members receive a 10% discount but have to hit a $7.99 per month minimum.
It’s difficult to predict exactly how long any electric vehicle would take to charge, as charging speed can vary dramatically based on temperature, the battery’s state of charge, the speed of the charger, and the speed at which the car is able to take the charge.
Where to Find Free Charging
You can reduce your cost of charging to zero if you’re able to take advantage of free charging. Some electric car makers offer free charging to their buyers and lease customers, though the amount of time you get varies dramatically. Volkswagen offers one of the best deals, with the ability to plug in the 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 at Electrify America chargers for three years.
Tesla goes back and forth with free access to its Supercharger network, occasionally offering drivers the ability to plug in at no cost.
Many shopping centers offer Level 2 charging as a free benefit while shopping. While most shoppers don’t spend enough time with their car on the charger to fill up the battery completely, you can get at least a few miles of additional range. In some cases, the charging stations are placed close to the front door, providing another incentive to drive a plug-in vehicle.
The PlugShare app is an excellent way to find charging stations, their status, and their cost.
One of the newest perks offered by employers is the ability to recharge your plug-in car while you work. Employers receive incentives to provide the benefit, which can save EV drivers the cost of charging at home or other public stations.
Workplace chargers are typically Level 2 charging stations, as the installation costs of a Level 3 rapid charger are typically too high for employers to pay. A Level 2 charger is fast enough to recharge almost any EV in the span of a normal workday.
It’s important that you don’t assume that any outlet you find in your employer’s parking lot is available to charge your car. Always ask permission, as you don’t know what other loads the circuit could already be powering, and you don’t want to risk overloading it. EV owners have been accused of theft for taking power from an outlet they didn’t have permission to use.
Comparing the Cost of Electricity Versus Gas
When you know how much it costs to power your electric vehicle, you can compare it with the cost of fueling a car with an internal combustion engine.
Comparing Home Charging Prices to Buying Gas
We’ll use a few compact cars and the June 2021 national average kWh rate of 13.85 cents for this example. The 2021 Nissan Leaf S Plus consumes 31 kWh of electricity per 100 miles, according to the EPA. Multiply it out, and that’s $4.29 in electricity to propel the car for 100 miles.
Now let’s look at the 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback, which gets good gas mileage for a non-hybrid model in the compact car class. The EPA’s fueleconomy.gov gas mileage information page shows that the Corolla hatchback consumes 2.9 gallons of gasoline per 100 miles. At the current average price of unleaded gasoline reported by the AAA, $3.16 per gallon, it would cost $9.16 to drive the Toyota 100 miles.
Finally, let’s compare the cost of the electric Leaf with the 2021 Toyota Prius hybrid, which is one of the most fuel-efficient gasoline-powered cars you can buy. According to the EPA, the standard Prius consumes 1.0 gallons per 100 miles. At the national average gasoline price, it would cost $6 per 100 miles to drive the Toyota Prius.
Comparing Fast-Charging Prices to Buying Gas
Now let’s look at the cost of recharging your electric car at a public fast-charging station compared to visiting a gas station with a traditional vehicle. We’ll say you’re in Washington D.C. and charging your Nissan Leaf using its CHAdeMO fast-charging port at an Electrify America charging station.
An Electrify America non-member would pay 43 cents per kWh for electricity, which works out to $13.33 to power the Leaf S for 100 miles. At the District of Columbia’s current unleaded fuel price of $3.22 per gallon, it would cost $9.33 to move the Corolla hatch 100 miles, and $6.11 to fuel the Prius for the same distance. In other words, an electric car charged at a typical fast-charger could cost more than twice what a Prius’ gasoline would cost in this scenario.
Bottom line: Your chances of saving money with an EV come from home, workplace, or free charging. Fast-charging, while necessary for long road trips, can be an expensive endeavor. Gasoline prices also tend to be much more volatile than electricity prices, making your cost of ownership less predictable.
The Bigger Picture
While it’s clear that in most areas of the country it’s cheaper to charge an electric car at a home, workplace, or free charging station than it is to fuel a gas-powered car, the overall picture is a bit more complicated. That’s because electric cars and SUVs currently cost significantly more than equivalent gasoline-powered vehicles.
Some, but usually not all, of the price difference can be offset by the Federal Electric Car Tax Credit, plus state, local, and utility incentives. In some states, registering an electric car is more expensive than registering a gas-powered vehicle. Before you buy or lease, you need to consider whether the amount you drive will allow you to recover the vehicle’s higher initial cost.
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