How Much Does It Cost to Charge an Electric Car?

Woman plugs in electric car

There are plenty of good reasons to buy an electric car — to reduce fossil fuel use, to benefit from tax breaks, or simply to own a cutting-edge, high-tech vehicle. But many potential electric car owners share one question: how much does it cost to charge an electric car compared to fueling a gas-powered vehicle?

Despite their higher sticker price, electric cars are said to be cheaper to operate and maintain than conventional vehicles. But is this true? If you look at the numbers, then yes, the lifetime fuel cost savings are impressive.

But the true cost of electric vehicle charging can vary widely depending on where you live, how you charge, and even the time of day you charge. Here’s what you need to know about charging an electric car and how to estimate your likely charging costs.

How Much Does It Cost to Charge an Electric Car in the U.S.?

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Idaho National Laboratory (INL) crunched the numbers in 2020 to find out how much drivers can save over 15 years by owning an electric car instead of a conventional vehicle.

The savings were highest in Washington state, where drivers can save up to $14,480 if they use the most cost-effective charging methods. The most expensive state to charge an electric car is Hawaii, where drivers could pay $2,494 more in lifetime costs — but that’s only if they use the most expensive charging methods.

When it comes to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), the potential savings were also highest in Washington state ($12,409). The lowest savings were in Alabama, but drivers would still save $2,368, even if they used the priciest charging options.

The Cost of Charging an Electric Car in kWh

The numbers above are just average costs, and they’re based on owning an electric car for 15 years. They’re also an estimate of savings, not out-of-pocket expenses. Many drivers will want to know: How much does it cost to charge an electric car on a day-to-day basis?

For that, we’ll need to consider the cost of charging an electric car in kilowatt-hours (kWh) — the same unit used to measure the energy use of other appliances.

Kilowatt-Hour (kWh) Basics

To make it easy, let’s say that your refrigerator has an annual kWh rating of 365 kWh. That means your refrigerator uses 1 kWh of electricity per day. If your utility company charges 10 cents per kWh, then you’ll pay 10 cents per day, or $36.50 per year, to keep your refrigerator running continuously.

With an electric car, it’s a little more complicated, because you won’t be driving it or charging it continuously, so there isn’t an annual kWh rating.

Instead, you’ll need to rely on the EPA’s fuel economy estimates, which it publishes each year. For example, the 2020 Hyundai Ioniq Electric BEV has a rating of 25 kWh per 100 miles. If you drive 15,000 miles in a year, you’ll use 3,750 kWh of power, so your annual energy cost would be $375 (at an electric rate of 10 cents per kWh).

If you’re thinking of moving to a new state or switching electricity providers, then you can redo the calculations with your new electricity costs.

At Home vs. Public Charging

Woman charging an electric car

The cost of electricity in your area isn’t the only variable you need to consider before buying an electric vehicle. You’ll also want to factor in the cost of installing charging equipment at home or paying for fast charging at a public charging station.

Here’s how at-home charging and public charging systems compare.

At-Home Electric Car Charging Costs

Charging your electric car at home is usually the cheapest and most convenient option. It’s where the vast majority of EV charging takes place.

If you don’t want to invest in any charging equipment, then you can simply plug your EV into a standard 120-volt AC wall outlet (known as Level 1 charging). This is the slowest charging method, though, and it can take all day and night to get a full charge.

For faster charging, many EV owners install a Level 2 home charging station, or EVSE (electric vehicle supply equipment), which requires a 240-volt outlet. This boosts your charging speed significantly, but it does come with some up-front costs.

You can expect to pay anywhere from $300-$1,000 for Level 2 EVSE, plus the cost of installation, which is typically another $300-$600 for a wall-mounted charging unit.

If you do most of your charging at home, this investment may be worth it. You’ll break even in just a few years. You can save even more if you charge at off-peak hours or use solar panels to power your EV with renewable energy.

Public Electric Car Charging Costs

Even if you install a home EV charger, you’re bound to do at least some of your EV charging at public charging stations. There may even be times when you can’t wait around, and you decide to pay more to use DC fast charging.

Prices at public charging stations will vary depending on whether you live, what kind of charging you choose, and whether you have a membership.

These are the three main pricing structures for public charging.

Free

Some municipal areas and commercial shopping centers offer free public charging to incentivize customers to spend more time at local businesses. Some office buildings also offer free charging for employees or customers.

These locations are usually Level 2 charging stations. You won’t get a full charge unless you stay there all day, but it’ll be enough to give you a boost until you can get home and can plug in your car overnight.

Pay as You Go

Pay as You Go charging stations offer public charging for a per-minute rate, with higher rates for DC fast charging. Some public stations even charge for idling if you leave your car plugged in after it’s done charging!

Since this is different from the calculation we used to estimate the cost of charging your EV at home, it can be a little confusing to compare the two. The California Clean Vehicle Rebate Project estimates that public charging costs nearly twice as much as at-home charging: 8 to 9 cents per mile at a public station compared to 4.42 cents at home.

Membership

Finally, you may be able to lower the cost of public charging with a membership. Some networks offer a lower rate if you have a monthly subscription, which can cost anywhere from $4-8 per month. You’ll have to decide if this is worth it for you based on how often you plan to use public charging stations vs. charging at home.

How to Reduce Charging Costs

In the long run, installing an at-home charger is likely to be the cheapest way to charge your EV, but there are still more ways you can reduce your charging costs. Here are a few more tips to consider:

  • Charge at off-peak hours: If your electricity provider uses time-of-use pricing, you’ll pay less if you charge at off-peak hours, such as overnight.
  • Check for rebates: Some government agencies and private companies offer rebates on the installation of Level 2 chargers. For example, DTE Energy in Detroit offers a $500 rebate, which could cover most of the cost.
  • Use complimentary charging: Some EV manufacturers have partnered with charging networks to provide drivers with a power-up for no cost. For example, new Ford Mustang Mach-E drivers can get 250 kWh of free charging.

Is it Worth the Switch?

A man is waiting to charge his car

Most drivers will see a reduction in fuel costs when they switch from a conventional car to an EV, but the exact amount will depend on several factors. Fortunately, it’s easy to look up the fuel economy of your EV, miles of range, and battery capacity.

You can also check the local electricity rates on your electric bill to answer, “How much does it cost to charge an electric car in my area?”

Don’t forget to factor in other expenses, such as car repair costs and insurance, when estimating the lifetime savings of owning an electric car. You may end up paying more up front for a new car, but you can expect to see significant savings over time.

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