As the overall cost of owning an electric car drops, the question for many remains how much you’ll spend on a charging station. Is it comparable to a gas tank? The answer depends on several factors, including where and how you charge.
A complex cost landscape
There are several charging methods for electric vehicles (EVs). Which one you use will determine how quickly your battery recharges and how much money you’ll have running. For most EV owners, the average charging cost will include a mix of public stations and the price per kilowatt hour paid for power from the local grid when plugged in at home.
At the time of writing, there are three levels of public EV charging available. Level 1 is basically the outlet you use to charge your cell phone, and it can take days to recharge a completely dead battery. On the other hand, DCFC fast charging stations (DCFC) can charge you to about 80 percent in about half an hour, but they are more expensive to use.
As for how much you pay, that varies. Charges at EV charging stations are anywhere from free to a certain price per kiloWatt-hour (kWh), depending on what you use. The major charger manufacturers in the US, as well as automakers like Tesla and Ford, all have their own apps that drivers can use to pay. Apps have subscription plans available and some offer discounts. So how much you pay to charge your EV also depends on the type of car you drive and whether you have a subscription to, say, Electrify America.
For EV owners who plug in at home instead, the question becomes how much the cost of the energy they use to charge will affect their utility bill. It may also be necessary to install charging infrastructure, which can be a significant additional cost. Factors such as how efficiently your vehicle uses electricity, its battery capacity in kilowatt hours, and how far you drive each day also affect the cost of charging an EV at home.
There isn’t necessarily a “best” charging method that will save you the most money. The vehicle, the battery and the driving habits of the person behind the wheel are what most determine the cost of charging an electric car.
Public charging stations will vary
Some public charging is available free of charge. Free stations can be anything from a Level 1 wall outlet to a Level 2 standalone charging station. Most apps that help you find one will tell you the available charging level and rate per kWh. Free charging stations are usually located near businesses, say in the parking lot of a restaurant or shopping center. The idea is that people can engage and get at least some energy back while they’re inside.
Level 2 public EV charging stations are either pay-as-you-go for occasional use, or you can purchase a subscription through the provider’s app at a discounted rate per kWh. If you know you’ll be using one type of charging station more than others, a dedicated app can be useful. But for most people using any nearby station that is compatible with their vehicle is the best choice. Pay-as-you-go charging is usually charged according to what your local electricity provider charges per kWh. So if you were to use a Level 2 charging station in Texas, where the average cost of electricity is 12.8 cents per kWh as of March 2022, you would pay $3.25 for 25 kWh of energy. For context, that’s about half the battery capacity of the base Tesla Model 3.
Level 3 charging stations are the most expensive at the time of writing and charge drivers a premium for their relative speed. For example, in California, the average DCFC rate per kWh is $0.40. At that rate, charging the same 25 kWh of juice would cost $10. Tesla Supercharger and other DCFC charging stations are available for use alongside Level 3 stations at most public charging port groups. However, not every electric car is built to accept the higher amount of electricity these stations use, so keep that in mind before you plug in – you’ll still be paying a higher rate without the benefit of faster charging.
Most public charging stations in the US are operated by a small group of companies, although that number is growing. These companies, including EVgo, ChargePoint, Electrify America and others, often offer reduced rates at their stations if drivers use their apps and pay a subscription. EVgo charges customers a per-minute rate depending on which plan they sign up for and where in the US they bill. Other companies like EVCS offer a flat monthly rate for unlimited charging at their stations (in the fine print of course).
According to Treehugger, people in the US pay an average of three to six times more to charge at a public charging station than it would cost to charge at home. For example, people who live in an apartment complex or other form of housing without charging infrastructure should be aware of the rates at public charging stations near them and opt for free ones if possible.
Home charging costs less (in the long run)
Charging at home is the cheapest option for EV owners, at least at the time of writing. If you have time to use a Level 1 charger or already have a 240V outlet that you can access with your EV’s included adapter cable, no installation of the device is necessary. You can get a level 1-2 charge in your garage and just pay the per kWh rate to your service provider. This rate varies by state, so do the math before you decide to charge at home.
If you don’t have a 240-volt outlet, you’ll need to install either a wall plug or a dedicated Level 2 EV charging station to charge Level 2 at home. Installing one can be expensive—around $1,200 on average. However, if you know you will be driving your electric car for long distances, the initial cost will pay off over time in savings on gas and public charging.
There are several federal and state government incentives to help offset the cost of installing a home charger. The amount and eligibility varies by state, so check to see if you qualify for one in your area.
Other factors: Battery capacity, efficiency and driving habits
Similar to a gas tank, the bigger the battery, the more it costs to “fill up”. Smaller batteries cost less but provide fewer kilometers per charge than larger capacity variants.
For a real-world example, let’s look at the Hyundai Ioniq 5 EV. The basic model has a 58 kWh battery. So a driver in Texas, where we set the rate per kWh at 12.8 cents, would have to pay about $7.54 to charge it from empty at home. At a Level 2 paid public charging station like this one in Houston, they would pay $12.18 to charge a dead battery at the maximum rate of $0.21/kWh. At this DCFC station near the Electrify America-owned Walmart, our hypothetical driver would pay $0.32 per minute at the maximum rate of 350kW of power, which translates to up to $9.60 per half hour of charging.
However, it is likely that the battery will not die every time someone goes to a public charging station to recharge. The rate they pay will depend on how much power they actually use, or in the case of per-minute rates, how long they spend charging. Some stations charge a session fee of several dollars on top of the kWh rate. If you’re paying for your subscription through a provider like the EVgo app, that’s an additional cost.
The efficiency of the battery and the demands placed on it by daily driving will also determine the mileage per charge. Sports models like the Porsche Taycan are designed to give the engine a lot of power for higher speed, so it uses more energy to drive and ends up with less range. This means more recharge sessions and more money paid per month.
Unlike gasoline cars, a long drive on the highway drains the battery of an electric car faster than when driving in the city. If you regularly commute long distances, this is something else to consider. Heavy use of air conditioning and infotainment systems will also affect battery life. The more you use the battery, the faster it drains and the more often you have to pay for charging.
Costs are unique to the driver
So is it cheaper to charge an electric car than to fill up with petrol? At the time of writing, yes. Even in markets where electricity is more expensive, recharging an electric car still costs less than filling the gas tank.
To summarize, how much it costs to charge an electric car depends on many factors from battery capacity to what charging methods are available to you. When buying an electric car, think about how many kilometers you will drive, the battery capacity of the desired electric car and whether you can charge it at home.
Electricity prices in your area will affect the cost of whether it is best to charge at home or at public stations. If you must use public, think about your access to free stations and how reliably you will be able to use them.
All of these factors determine the average cost of charging your EV. Ultimately, the cost to you will depend on calculations unique to your driving habits and needs.
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