Electric Vehicle Operating Costs

This web site offers many different charging options and while we all would like the best of the best, our desires can quickly be dashed by extreme costs involved in deploying these various solutions. If you own an electric car you probably did not buy it for gas savings. I calculated gas savings will take seven years for me to pay off the extra expense of my Volt over a conventional car. But for all the naysayers, ask them this one question. Did they buy the car they did for the sole reason of saving gas? If they did then everyone would be driving a Prius. Electric cars are fun to drive. There is a reason why well off people are lining up to buy Tesla's Model S.

How much does it cost to charge an electric car?
It depends upon where you live and what you pay for electricity. My Honda Fit EV from empty will require about 16 kWh of electricity to bring it to full. This will take me about 80 miles of driving. I have a dedicated electric vehicle meter from Edison so I pay about 11.5 cents per kWh. That comes out to about $1.84 per charge.

You can break it down further. Considering a full charge is about the driving equivalent of 2 gallons of gasoline, it costs about $0.92 per gallon of unleaded fuel.

If you are paying a lot more per kilowatt hour then driving an electric car can become quite expensive. For example, before I installed my dedicated electric meter I was paying 33 cents per kWh. A charge to go 38 miles was running almost $4 equivalency to a gallon of gas. Before you buy an electric car you really need to figure out how much you are paying for a unit of electricity.

Public Charging Stations
Many electric car owners are fueling their cars up for free using public charging stations. Some shopping center and parking garage locations offer free charging while you are parked. Also, some hotels offer free charging too as they have discovered it is good for business as they can sell a $100 room by giving away two dollars in electricity. Many hotels will let you plug in for free to a 120 volt outlet if you ask.

However, most chargers are not free. The going rate is between .50 and $2 an hour for a charge. In practice, the current billing system is antiquated as the cost should be based on the amount of power being sucked down, not the time you are connected to the cord. Two bucks an hour is rip off. I don't think it should be free either. Working the math .50 an hour is fair. I would rather see billing based on electrical cost such as .15 a kWh. At $2 an hour it would cost me $8 to get 38 miles of driving out of my Volt.

Kohl's offers free charging at some of its stores. Once my wife went to pay a bill and while she waited to receive a meaningful charge she spent $50 at the store that she would not have otherwise spent.

I have heard the argument that the true cost of electric charging stations should be shouldered by those that use them. I say hog wash. Sure, I believe that electricity should be paid for by the user, but the upkeep and installation cost is no different than any other parking lot maintenance item whether it be paving, striping, landscaping lights, sweeping, and litter pick up. It is a cost of doing business.

Home Level 2 Charger
I like to think of the problem with electric cars as having a 1 or 2 gallon fuel tank that takes 8 hours to fill up. When you think of it that way an electric car sounds pretty useless. However, this fill up can be reduced to four hours with a 220 volt charger. Lets look at the expense of this:

Charger: $500-$1000
Installation: $300-$4000

The low installation cost would be along the lines that you already have the wiring in place for a 240 volt line where the unit will mount, or the service panel is inside or just outside your garage. At the other extreme you have an old house that has ancient electrical infrastructure that requires replacing your service panel and running a new line to the other end of the house. Putting in a new service panel is expensive as there is a lot of labor involved. Don't forget an electrical permit is required. Depending upon where you reside this will be $50 to $100.

Now comes the charging cost. This is a very important area to pay attention to. You can budget roughly 1 kilowatt hour (kWh) for each 3.5 miles of driving range. This is a rough number, but it seems to be pretty close for most electric cars.

This is my electric bill from Southern California Edison. Notice how the tier system prices out as more electricity is used.

In California and many other areas of the country residences are billed on a tiered billing system where as the more electricity used during the billing period the higher the cost per kWh. We call the lowest tier baseline, and subsequent usage beyond baseline is billed at a higher rate. My baseline during the summer with Southern California Edison is around 400 kWh, but I tend to use about 1800 kWh before the car is taken in consideration.

What this means is because I use so much electricity, my car is costing me about .34 a kWh to charge. This means that I am paying close to $4 to get about 38 miles of driving out of my car. Guess what, I pay more for electricity than I would for equivalent energy of gasoline. I don't know about you, but I did not expect to pay more to drive an electric car over a gasoline car.

Southern California Edison EV power pricing

The obvious solution to this would be for the California Public Utilities Commission to increase the baseline allocation when a homeowner purchases an electric car. They already do this for homeowners who have electric houses with electric dryers and cooking equipment. However, there must have been push back from the utility industry and they came up with a much more costly solution called the EV power meter. I have a section dedicated to this so be sure to visit that page. This option gives you a separate service meter that will allow you to charge your car for .12 kilowatt hour during off peak times, and .28 during peak hours. This brings down the cost of an overnight charge to about $1.40.

The installation cost of this solution is not cheap. While Edison will give you the meter for free, you need to pay a considerable amount of money to your contract electrician for this installation. Here is a rough price list for this:

Utility pull box: $400
Subpanel and meter pedestal: $100
Labor: $700
Wire and Misc: $100
Permit: $100

There are some very specific requirements for the pull box. If you can't meet those requirements and you need a new double service panel and you might as well add on another $1000 to the price. At these prices it will be a long time before you get the savings back. In my instance, the way that I examined the situation is I am adding value to my house by adding the EV meter. However, if you are only leasing your car it may not be an economical decision to go this way. Then again, most EV drivers get addicted to their cars and once you have one, you will always have one.

Some might suggest installing a solar voltaic system on the house and get the base line low enough so the extra meter is not required. For many this is an option, but not all roofs have enough real estate to support such a system. Installing solar would be my first suggestion because you can take the $1500 you would put towards the second meter and put it towards the solar system instead.

In my instance I installed the second dedicated electric vehicle meter and then put solar on my house. I discovered that by changing my house billing to a time of use plan that I ended up with enough spare capcity to charge an electric car. Knowing this, we leased a Honda Fit EV and we power that car off of our main panel, using the surplus electricity generated by our system.

Our 2013 Honda Fit EV

Copyright 2013, Todd Clark