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I often explain to people that electric vehicle (EV) charging is cheap, but my audience doesn’t know there’s an asterisk to that statement. What I should say is that electric charging can be cheap, depending on how, when, and where one chooses to plug in. My 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV is very cheap to run, but admittedly, it can’t fast charge and has a tiny battery, so the vehicle’s utility is pretty limited. At best, I’ve got 55 miles of HVAC-free range, driving a little below the speed limit without blasting the music.
By comparison, modern EVs that can surpass 300 miles of range come with big batteries that are sometimes more than 10 times the size of the 16 kilowatt-hours (now 12 after battery degradation) on offer in my i-MiEV. Thus, some people new to EVs have been taken aback when they’ve seen the price of what it takes to fully recharge a big-battery behemoth. Rather than engage either side’s criticisms in bad faith, let’s constructively ask and answer the question: How the heck do you charge for cheap?
How Much Does EV Charging Cost?
The cost of EV charging can vary wildly from place to place, but in general, EV charging is often billed per the amount of electricity, as well as the time it takes to charge. Some chargers bill by time only, some bill only by kilowatt-hour, and some do both. Sometimes rates change based on demand, sometimes EV chargers put in a time limit; there’s no real standard here because rates are often set by whoever owns and runs the charger.
If you’re ever unsure of how a charger will determine the billing rate, check the app of whatever charger you’re using. Most EV charging service providers list their rates of charging in their particular app. For Electrify America, the cost will be on the charger screen, or in the app. Chargepoint, EVGO, and any other charging apps will typically show the charging pricing structure. It sounds messier than it really is, though. Let’s comb through a bill of mine.
I recently had a 2023 Genesis Electrified G80 to test for a week. I drove around 600 miles and used up roughly two and a half full charge’s worth of driving. Here’s what one of the battery top-ups from Electrify America looked like:
I pulled into the station with about 24% of the battery charged up and pulled the plug at 99%. Without a specialized plan, Electrify America charged me $0.43 per kilowatt-hour, and I used about 71 kilowatt-hours worth of electricity to replenish the battery. After tax, the total came to be $32.82.
That’s cheaper than a tank of premium gas would cost for a gas-powered G80, yet not quite the low-cost, nearly free motoring revolution we were promised. What’s the deal?
How Can I Do This Cheaper?
One thing that does generally stick true is that the faster the charging speeds available, the more expensive the charging. DC fast charging will nearly always be far more expensive than slower Level 1 or Level 2 AC charging. Car and Driver learned refilling the GMC Hummer EV’s 212-kWh battery cost an eye-watering $81 when done at Electrify America. Electrify America does offer a $4-per-month plan that would lower charging costs to $0.31 per kilowatt-hour, but my i-MiEV can’t fast charge. If it could, it would take a third of my available range just to drive to the nearest Electrify America station. In short, not worth it.
At the end of the day, ask yourself this: Do you really need hyperfast charging? Sure, maybe on a road trip when time is valuable. But if you’re just tooling around town, opting for slower charging will nearly always be cheaper. Can you structure your charging routine to take advantage of slower charging?
Level 2 Charging and Home Charging Will Always Be Cheapest
Here’s another bill, this time for my i-MiEV. The i-MiEV’s tiny battery doesn’t take much energy to replenish; after 12 kilowatt-hours of charging, I was billed not quite $3. If this were scaled up to the 71 kilowatt-hours needed to replenish the Genesis, it would have cost about $18, including tax. But, at a charging speed of 6.6 kilowatts, it would have taken nearly 11 hours for the Genesis.
That’s definitely slow and very impractical to someone in a hurry, but how often are you really in a hurry? Eleven hours is roughly the amount of time needed to eat dinner and go to sleep for the evening at home or work in an office and go to the gym. Still, those service providers likely want to turn a profit or get some payback on their chargers, so they sell electricity at a profit. Here in Columbus, Ohio, that $0.25-per-kilowatt-hour rate is about 14-16 cents higher than the standard cost of electricity.
Level 2 public chargers generally are the cheapest and are typically only a few cents more per kilowatt-hour than the set electricity rates. But again, rates are set by the service provider, so it’s not uncommon for electricity recharge pricing for all types of chargers to vary based on your area’s electric demand. Based on current September 2022 rates, recharging the i-MiEV with about 12 kilowatt-hour’s worth of energy should cost $1.20. For the Genesis, that 71-kilowatt-hour recharge would have cost a mere $7.
And those are the trump cards of EVs. When charged at home, or even using cheap Level 2 charging, they are the most economical pieces of transport. But, when charged using expensive DC fast chargers, they start to lose their advantage against gas cars and hybrids.
Try To Avoid Time-Based Charging
Slower-charging cars, like the Chevrolet Bolt, will take longer to charge and cost more, despite using less energy. Even my i-MiEV’s slow 3.3-kW max AC charging ability would technically pay a higher per-kilowatt price compared to literally any other EV or PHEV when plugged into a 6.6-kW charger. It can’t reach the max speed, but it’s still being billed at the same rate as a different EV that can utilize the charger’s full capacity.
Take this DC fast charger, for example. At a max speed of 50 kilowatts, the service provider charges $0.30 per minute. So, to replenish the Genesis from 24% to 99% took 71 kilowatt-hours, after charging losses. Those 71 kilowatt-hours would take 85 minutes to replenish and cost a minimum of $26. That price assumes that there were no lulls in charging speed, which experienced EV owners will know is incredibly unrealistic. God forbid the charging speed is greatly reduced (like that time I got stuck in Pittsburgh), and your bill could end up way more expensive. For example, if for some reason that charger were to get stuck at 34 kilowatts, that 71 kilowatt-hours would take 124 minutes, and your new bill would be $37 for the same amount of electricity.
Like food, the best and cheapest way to refuel an electric car will come from home. Still, even with elevated prices, EV charging is way cheaper than a tank of gas.