Contributing Author: Craig Fitzgerald
There are a number of variables that go into determining what it will cost to charge an EV. Considerations like where you live, whether you’re charging at home or remotely, and what you drive will all impact the cost of charging. It’s actually possible to drive an EV and charge it for no cost if you’re willing to look around. We’ll break all of it down so you can make some educated comparisons between charging a typical EV and filling the tank in a comparable internal combustion vehicle.
How much does electricity cost where you live?
A lot of publications will try and provide you with information based on a “national average.” There is no “national average.” The cost of electricity varies widely from state to state. Louisiana, for example, has some of the cheapest power in the country, at about $0.0771 per kilowatt hour (kWh). Compare that with Hawaii, where electricity costs $0.2872/kWh, and you can see just how drastically the price swings, depending on where you live.
The U.S. Department of Energy has an excellent rundown of the cost per kWh by state, which updates once a year, which should get you started running a price comparison.
That gives you part of the picture, but the cost of electricity can range quite a bit even within your state. For example, Massachusetts gets power from four different sources, depending on what part of the Commonwealth you live in, and the rate can change quite a bit. National Grid in Massachusetts has a fixed-rate option, which is currently at $0.12388/kWh. You can also choose to pay the variable-rate option, which fluctuated from $0.11022/kWh to $0.13779/kWh between November 2020 and February of 2021.
Charging at home VS charging publicly
The cost of charging at home is much less expensive and much easier to understand and compare to the cost of driving an internal combustion vehicle. You simply take the cost of electricity and multiply it by the power you need to get to a full charge.
We’ll use the Nissan Leaf Plus as an example. The Leaf Plus has a 62kWh battery. Let’s assume that the battery is at 0 percent in your garage, and you want a full charge, and let’s say you live in Massachusetts, with a $0.12388/kWh rate for electricity. 62kWh x $0.12388/kWh equals $7.68 to fully charge a Leaf Plus.
The cost of charging remotely is a whole different deal. For our purposes, let’s look at the Chargepoint station closest to where we are right now in Massachusetts. The cost to charge there is estimated at $1.32 per hour. Let’s assume that we’re going from zero to 62 kWh in our Nissan Leaf. The Chargepoint stations are Level 2 chargers, which charge at the same speed as a charger you’d have in your home.
To get to a full charge from zero would take 11.5 hours. A full charge would cost $15.18, about double what it would cost to charge at home.
Of course, unless it was a drastic emergency, nobody would leave their car at a Chargepoint station in a dark parking lot for 12 hours. We’re still having great debates about charging infrastructure and how the lack of it is impacting EV sales. But the reality is, most charging is happening at home. The Idaho National Laboratory surveyed both Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt owners to find out where they charged their cars, and owners of both cars noted that 85 percent of the time, they were charging at home.
What model of EV do you drive?
The cost of charging an EV will go up if you drive a vehicle with a larger battery capacity, just the way the cost of fueling a car will go up if it has a larger fuel tank.
Compare the cost of charging our Nissan Leaf Plus at home ($7.68) to charging the upcoming Hummer EV, for example. The Hummer EV Edition 1 will be equipped with a 200kWh battery pack. All things being equal, a full charge from zero with a Level 2 home charger in Massachusetts would cost $24.77 in the Hummer EV.
That cost goes up substantially if you charge remotely at a Level 2 charger. With a 200kWh battery, you’d be looking at about 29 hours and 45 minutes to get a full charge. At our Chargepoint station that charges $1.32 per hour, a full charge would cost $39.27.
What about charging publicly for free?
Of course, nobody is going to leave a Hummer EV at a Level 2 charger for almost 30 hours. And they’re certainly not going to wait until the end of time for a Level 1 charger to provide a full charge. Most owners of EVs are just looking to top off their batteries remotely so they can get home and charge overnight. Level 3 or DC Fast Charging stations are the answer.
There aren’t many of those, but a lot of them are offered by businesses who’d like a well-heeled $100,000-plus EV owner to shop there. The DC Fast Charger at Whole Foods in Boston is free, on the assumption that most customers are going to plug in while they shop, and are only going to be in the store for an hour or so.
There are also a lot of free public chargers around if you’re willing to look. I had access to a Ford Mustang Mach-E a week ago. For the moment, I’m relegated to plugging the Mustang’s supplied Level 1 charger into a wall outlet. It’s fine in a pinch, but it would take approximately forever to charge that car fully using a Level 1 charger. You’d really only use a charger like that to keep the battery topped off during a long period of storage.
Instead, I drove the Mach-E the mile and a half to the town hall, where the town maintains two Level 2 chargers for public use. They’re free, and they charged the Mach-E overnight. I incorporated charging with my regular run, and picked the car up the next morning with a full charge, at no cost.
As a friend once explained when he was driving a diesel Mercedes-Benz converted to run on vegetable oil: “Having an EV is a lot like having a wood stove. It’s not as easy as turning on the gas or firing up an oil burner, but if you’re willing to expend a bit of time and effort, you can save a tremendous amount of money driving one regularly.”
Craig Fitzgerald began his automotive writing career in 1996, at AutoSite.com, one of the first online resources for car buyers. Over the years, he’s written for the Boston Globe, Forbes, and Hagerty. For seven years, he was the editor at Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car, and today, he’s the automotive editor at Drive magazine. He’s dad to a son and daughter, and plays rude guitar in a garage band in Worcester, Massachusetts.