Cost to Power an Electric Car?

by Ben N on November 18, 2018

How much DOES it cost to charge an Electric Vehicle?
The short answer is that EVs are very cheap to operate, only a few cents per mile.
For the longer answer, we’ll have to make a few assumptions, and do some math.

The common unit of energy for electricity is the “kilo-Watt-hour” or kWh. It’s what you pay for on your electric bill and it’s also how the capacity of electric vehicle battery packs are rated. (Just imagine – this is like buying gallons of gasoline, and knowing that your vehicle has a fuel tank which can hold a certain number of gallons.)

In general, a typical electric car can travel 4 miles using one kilowatt-hour of electricity. (Your mileage may vary.)
An electric car will have a battery pack with a capacity of between 16 – 100 kWh. (Some plug-in hybrids have even smaller battery pack capacities.)
30 and 40kWh battery packs are now common.

Electricity costs vary from place to place, but the U.S. national average is about 13 cents per kWh. Dividing that by typical efficiency of an electric vehicle and we get 3 or 4 cents per mile. Electric motorcycles can be as fuel efficient as a penny per mile.

It’s difficult to compare gas engines and electric motors because there is such a LARGE difference in efficiency!* Perhaps a better way to compare the two is how far a car can travel using units most drivers are familiar with – Money and Distance.

The average fuel economy of a U.S. car is only 25 miles per gallon. For the sake of argument, let’s say it was 30 MPG. For a typical electric car, it would use 7.5 kWh of electricity to travel that same distance. (30Mi/4kwh/Mi=7.5kWh)
That much electricity at $.13/kWh would cost $.975. Essentially, very close to One Dollar. As a rule of thumb, electricity generally costs about the equivalent of $1.00 per Gallon. It’s so cheap!

So, when you charge your car at home, (Assuming your battery is empty and you charge to 100%) you will need 16 – 100 kWh at $.13. So, that’s anywhere from $2.08 on up to $13.00. Keep in mind that that $13 is likely a weeks’ worth of driving in a luxury electric SUV.

Another advantage of electricity is that the price tends to be very STABLE. The price does NOT jump up and down (but mostly up…) based on the news cycle or if a refinery somewhere has a fire. (Check out GASBUDDY for how prices change in your area.)
In many places, a Public Service Commission oversees utilities, and Electric Utilities must go through a lengthy process to be to change prices.

Better than that, an electric car driver can pay even LESS than typical for electricity!
Most utilities offer a “Time Of Use” plan. Those plans charge different rates depending on the time of day, or “On-Peak” versus “Off-Peak” hours. Typical plans charge more during the day, but less at night. Off-Peak hours can be HALF the cost of regular-price electricity. The most common time to charge an electric car is overnight anyways, so it’s a natural fit! That means that an E.V. can be charged for the equivalent of paying 50 cents per gallon!

Beyond the cost of just fueling a vehicle, maintenance costs are exceptionally low. There are no oil-changes, air filters, or spark plugs to replace. In the long run, there’s no exhaust system to rust off or head gaskets to blow. An EV is just a very inexpensive vehicle to maintain. In fact, our official car – the 2012 Mitsubishi iMiEV was the MOST FUEL EFFICIENT CAR in the United States. Over in Europe, the first and second place winners for lowest total cost of ownership were BOTH just European versions of the Mitsubishi iMiEV!

As far as newer, less dorky cars go, the Tesla Model 3 has been showcasing some impressive efficiency, and nearly all electric cars get the equivalent of over 100 MPG!

Another neat thing about electric vehicles is that you can make the fuel yourself! Residential Solar is a great way to make your own fuel for your vehicle! Solar panels are a natural match for EVs. Some of the places that have HIGH electricity prices (Hawaii, California, etc.) also have EXCELLENT solar resources! Once the capital expense of the equipment is paid for, all the electricity made is FREE FUEL!
The Solar Garage is on track for a 6.5 year simple economic return on investment for the equipment costs. All energy made after that is free fuel. We’ve also done a number of different calculations with solar and electric cars. Using solar electricity to displace the cost of fossil fuels can actually bring a solar project’s ROI down to as little as 3.5 years!

Of course, national averages are just averages, they don’t┬ánecessarily mean what YOU will pay. So, run the numbers yourself and compare gas to electric. You might be as pleasantly┬ásurprised as one Chevy Volt owner was when he calculated his cost down to 2 cents per mile.

We love that electric vehicles are efficient, quiet, and FUN TO DRIVE, but we sure don’t mind that they are CHEAP either!

Until Next Time, Stay Charged Up!

-Ben Nelson


PS: One of the assumptions we are making here is that you are charging at home. Using a Public DC Fast Charger is a different situation. There is NO standardization in pricing at this point, and the subject itself merits it’s own future article.

*Although one gallon of gasoline contains the energy of about 33.7 kWh of electricity, only a small fraction of it is converted to the power that pushes a car down the road. The rest is converted to heat, noise, vibration, and otherwise wasted.

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