Electric Vehicles, Part 1: The Costs of Charging

Whether you’re ready or not, electric vehicles are coming. More new car introductions and concept cars are electric, and most of the news coming from manufacturers is about EVs. For example, Ford says they’ll be selling an electric version of the country’s best selling vehicle, the F-150, by next year. By 2025, General Motors plans to have 20 EVs on sale here in North America. Additionally, GM has pledged that all of its passenger cars and trucks will be electric by 2035.

President Biden wants the federal government’s 645,000 vehicle fleet replaced with American-made electric vehicles. Also, just last week California’s senators asked President Biden to set a date to end the sale of gasoline-powered vehicles. And speaking of California, the city of Petaluma recently banned the construction of new gasoline filling stations, and the expansion of existing ones.

Now, maybe you’re unsure whether you’re ready to make the switch to an EV. Maybe you don’t think your lifestyle and driving habits are compatible with an electric vehicle. News like this might stress you out.

Don’t panic!

I created a survey for those who already drive electric vehicles, and responses came in from all over the country. I’ll split the survey results into two parts. In this one, we’ll talk all about charging. How much does it cost to charge an electric car at home? Do you have to install complicated equipment? What about charging when you’re out on the road – is that expensive? Read on and find out!

Part two is coming in a few days. In that post, those surveyed will tell you all about life with an electric vehicle. I’ll share their experiences in taking long road trips, and dealing with range anxiety. I’ll also share their advice on what you should know if you’ve thought about going electric, but are hesitant to make that leap. Stay tuned!

In sharing the survey results, it’s my hope that you’ll see electric vehicles as a more valid option than you may have before reading this post. But in my opinion, EVs are an inevitability. Relying on fossil fuels to operate our motor vehicles is not sustainable, and electric cars will replace those which run on gasoline. It’s only a matter of time.

Electric vehicles represented

I collected feedback from drivers of the most common electric vehicles. More than half drive a Tesla. Owners of the two other most popular EVs, the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt, are represented here too.

Graph reflecting the makes and models of electric vehicles driven by survey respondents

Who is an EV-only household?

My assumption was that it would be easier to make the switch to an electric vehicle if you have a second, internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle available to you in your household. That vehicle could be used when driving an EV might be less convenient.

Two thirds of respondents do own or otherwise have access to a gasoline-powered vehicle in their household. However, a third have either managed to go all-in on EVs, or only own one vehicle which is an EV.

Electric Vehicles: Home charging vs. Public charging

Next, I asked about charging habits. I wanted to learn how often most EV drivers charge their car at home, versus using a public charging station.

Graph reflecting how owners of electric vehicles charge their cars between home and public charging

The vast majority of respondents (71.4%) charge their car at home most of the time, but do rely on public charging on occasion. Only 9.5% said that it’s an even split on using public charging stations and home charging. But I was surprised to learn that 19% of surveyed EV drivers don’t charge at home at all. They use public charging stations exclusively.

I’m sure that charging at home is the most convenient option, but even if you live in an apartment or condo and wouldn’t be able to plug your car in, it’s possible to make EV ownership work using public charging alone.

One more thing to note. Several responses mentioned that they did use public charging stations far more often before the COVID-19 pandemic. But logically, during lockdowns and while working from home, most electric vehicle drivers find home charging to be more than adequate.

Home Charging

Next, I was curious about EV owners’ home charging setups. I asked whether those who charge at home use Level 1, or faster Level 2 charging. Level 1 charging uses a standard household electrical outlet, whereas Level 2 is much faster but requires a 240-volt outlet like those used for an electric kitchen stove.

I was surprised that Level 1 charging is used as widely as it is. As an EV outsider (that is, someone who has yet to switch from gasoline to electric), I assumed that you’d need access to faster Level 2 charging to make an electric vehicle feasible day to day. But Level 1 charging can meet the needs of many EV drivers.

Level 1 Charging might be more than sufficient for typical daily use

After a quick Google search, the average (pre-pandemic) commute is about 16 miles each way. Different electric vehicles will charge at different rates on Level 1, but I’ll use the 2022 Chevrolet Bolt for an example. I prepared a blog post recently on this car, and on Level 1 charging, the Bolt will add about 4 miles of range per hour. If you work a traditional 9-to-5, let’s assume that you plug your car in when you get home at 6:00 P.M., and unplug before you leave in the morning at 8:00 A.M. During those 14 hours, your Bolt would add 56 miles of range. This is more than enough to cover that 32 mile daily commute, with plenty of cushion for the occasional post-work errand on the way home.

Plus, the best part about Level 1 charging is that it usually doesn’t require any special electrical work to accommodate it. You might only need an extension cord.

Normally my commute is quite small (COVID made it non-existent). Not having installed a level 2 yet just means a long charge time if I come in with a low battery.

Benton Harbor, MI

Level 2 Charging: What’s the installation cost?

For the convenience of faster Level 2 charging, most survey respondents needed to have electrical work done at their home. The cost of these electrical upgrades, typically to install the 240-volt outlet, will vary depending on your home, the scope of work, and your electrician. Those surveyed paid anywhere between $200 and $1,500 to enable Level 2 charging, and the average reported cost was $801.

Home Charging: What’s the cost to charge your car?

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how much your electric bill would increase as a result of charging your EV. Electric rates vary nationwide, but for those who tried to make the comparison, what was the difference in the typical electric bill? The most common answer was in the ballpark of $20 per month. And multiple responses mentioned that they have solar panels installed on their roof, which can greatly minimize or eliminate the (already affordable) cost of EV charging.

My electric bill went up $20 a month whereas I had been spending $60 a month on gas. So the EV actually saved me money. Now I have a solar roof and it costs me nothing to charge my car.

Ft. Lauderdale, FL

And speaking of costs: A Consumer Reports study found that those who drive electric vehicles and do the majority of their charging at home will save $800 to $1,000 per year over the costs incurred in refueling an equivalent ICE vehicle.

Public charging

Next, let’s break down public charging. In my research, I found that there were a variety of different ways that public charging stations charge for their use.

Half of public charging station users pay either per kilowatt-hour, or per minute. This is a determination set by each state. The per-kWh method was the most common among survey respondents, however. And some stations will charge a flat rate for their use, regardless of the time or electricity consumed. Many EV drivers have access to free public charging, whether it’s provided at their place of employment, or offered by the manufacturer (such as, those with free access to Tesla Superchargers).

In this regard, we’re still in the Wild West. But in the way you can stop at any gas station in the country knowing that you’ll pay per gallon, I’d wager that the manner in which you pay to use public charging stations will also be standardized as EVs become more mainstream.

Cost of public charging

My next question was about the typical cost of using a public charging station. These varied considerably due to the different ways that stations charge for their use. Additionally, some stations may charge different rates based on the time of day, for peak and off-peak rates. Another variable is whether a particular charging station provides Level 2 charging, or faster Level 3 (commonly called DC Fast Charging) capabilities. Level 3 will be more expensive than Level 2.

For those who use a station that charges a flat fee, regardless of the duration or kilowatt-hours consumed, the typical cost ranges from $2.00 to $8.00.

For stations that charge either per minute or per kWh, a major determinant of the total cost is the EV’s battery size. In an ICE vehicle, this would be like comparing the costs to refuel a small car with a 10 gallon gas tank against a large truck with a 25 gallon tank. Naturally, the truck will have higher refueling costs.

But whether EV drivers pay per minute or per kilowatt hour, drivers of the Nissan Leaf reported paying between $2.00 to $5.00 for public charging. And in the Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla models, larger battery capacity means that owners typically pay between $7.00 and $20.00 at a public charging station.

So, public charging costs are all over the map. But if you’re like most of the respondents in my survey and would do about 75% of your charging at home, the costs to “fuel” your EV would be less than what the typical driver spends on gasoline.

Issues with public charging

I was also curious whether EV owners encounter any issues using public chargers. I’ve heard anecdotes about units not operating properly. But I’d also think it could be frustrating to come upon a station to find all chargers in use. If this happens at a gas station, you just wait a few minutes. But if a car is using a public charger for 30 minutes at a time, what can you do?

It is frustrating when you are planning a trip and are concerned you may not have a charger available when you need it. Careful planning is required. If equipment isn’t working properly I try to notify the location (car dealership, etc.), that the equipment isn’t working. I’ve been met with indifference, unfortunately.

Corning, NY

I just go elsewhere or wait.

Marietta, GA

Occasionally we will have a full station or an inoperative charger. Not often. Tesla also tells you ahead of time how many stalls are available at your chosen location and if any are out.

Boston, MA

Equipment issues are the most common problem – though “Tesla culture” has developed ways of communicating problems (e.g. flipping the charging cable over the top of a supercharger unit to indicate that it is not operating correctly).

Benton Harbor, MI

So, these issues do exist. However, several responses mentioned various apps that help you find charging stations, and allow you to report when there’s an issue. But I’m optimistic that as public charging stations become more common and standardized, they’ll also become more reliable and these issues will become a thing of the past.

That’s all for Part 1!

Please reach out if you have any questions about the costs of charging an electric vehicle. Also, let me know and comment below: are the costs what you expected? Or are they lower or higher than you thought they would be?

You may be wondering about taking long road trips with an electric vehicle. Or think you’d be anxious about running out of power in an EV. And what about maintenance costs? Gas-powered cars have been around forever, so these newfangled EVs must cost a fortune to maintain and repair, right? Stay tuned for Part 2 and I’ll fill you in!

And, I want to give a huge thanks to everyone who participated in my EV survey! Whether I quoted you or not, I could not have compiled all this information without your help. I appreciate your time, and hope you enjoy the post!

Thank you for reading!

1 thought on “Electric Vehicles, Part 1: The Costs of Charging”

  1. Pingback: Electric Vehicles, Part 2: Range Anxiety & Road Trips - Tom the Car Pro

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