As the overall cost of owning an electric car declines, the question of how much you’ll be spending at the charging station remains for many. Is it comparable to a tank of gas? The answer depends on several factors, including where and how you charge.
A Complex Landscape of Costs
Multiple charging methods exist for electric vehicles (EVs). Which one you use will determine how quickly your battery is full again and how much money it’ll run you. For most EV owners, the average cost of charging will include a mix of public stations and the cost per kilowatt-hour paid for energy from the local power grid when they plug in at home.
There are three levels of public EV charging available at the time of this writing are levels. Level 1 is basically a wall outlet like you’d use to charge your cell phone and can take days to recharge a fully depleted battery. DC fast charging (DCFC) stations, on the other hand, can get you roughly an 80 percent charge in about half an hour but are more expensive to use.
As for how much you’ll pay, it varies. Fees at EV charging stations are anywhere from free to a certain price per kiloWatt-hour (kWh) depending on which you use. The major charging equipment manufacturers in the U.S., as well as auto manufacturers like Tesla and Ford, all have their own apps drivers can use to pay. The apps have subscription plans available, and some offer discounts. So how much you pay to charge your EV also depends on the kind of car you drive and whether you have a subscription to, say, Electrify America.
For EV owners who plug in at home instead, the question becomes how much will the cost of power they use to charge affect their utility bill. Charging infrastructure might also need to be installed, which can be a considerable extra expense. Factors like how efficiently your vehicle uses electricity, its battery capacity in kilowatt-hours, and how far you drive per day also impact the cost of charging an electric car at home.
There isn’t necessarily a “best” way to charge that saves the most money. The vehicle, battery, and driving habits of the person behind the wheel are what will most determine the cost of charging an electric car.
Public Charging Stations Will Vary
Some public charging is available for free. Free stations can be anything from a level 1 wall outlet to a stand-alone level 2 charging station. Most apps that help you search for one tell you the level of charging available and the per kWh rate. Free charging stations are usually found near businesses, say in the parking lot of a restaurant or mall. The idea is that people can plug in and regain at least some power while they’re inside.
Level 2 public EV charging stations are either pay-as-you-go for infrequent use, or you can purchase a subscription via the provider’s app for a discounted kWh rate. If you know you’ll use one type of charging station more than others, a dedicated app could be useful. But for most people using whatever nearby station is compatible with their vehicle is the best option. Pay-as-you-go charging is usually billed at whatever the local electricity provider charges per kWh. So if you used a level 2 charging station in Texas, where the average electricity cost is 12.8 cents per kW/h as of March 2022, you’d pay $3.25 for 25kWh of power. For context, that’s about half the battery capacity of a base model Tesla Model 3.
Level 3 charging stations are the most expensive at the time of this writing, charging drivers a premium for their relative speed. In California, for example, the average DCFC rate per kWh is $.40. At that rate, it would cost $10 to charge that same 25kWh of juice. Tesla Supercharger stations and other varieties of DCFC charging are available to use alongside level 3 stations in most groups of public charging ports. Not every EV is built to accept the higher amounts of electricity these stations use though, so be mindful of that before you connect — you’ll still pay the higher rate without the benefit of a faster recharge.
Most public charging stations in the U.S. are managed by a small group of companies, though that number is growing. Those companies, including EVgo, ChargePoint , Electrify America, and others, often offer reduced rates at their stations if drivers use their apps and pay a subscription fee. EVgo charges customers a per-minute rate depending on which plan they sign up for and where in the US they charge. Other companies like EVCS offer a flat monthly rate for unlimited charging (with fine print caveats, of course) at their stations.
According to Treehugger, people in the U.S. pay an average of three to six times more to charge at a public charging station than it would cost to charge at home. People who live in, for example, an apartment complex or other form of housing with no charging infrastructure should be aware of the rates at public charging stations near them and opt for free ones when possible.
Home Charging Costs Less (In the Long Run)
Charging at home is the cheapest option for EV owners, at least as of this writing. If you have the time to use a level 1 charger, or already have a 240-volt outlet you can reach with your EV’s included adapter cord, no equipment installation is necessary. You can get a level 1-2 charge in your garage and just pay the per kWh rate to your utility provider. That rate varies by state, so do the math before you bank on home charging.
If you don’t have a 240-volt outlet, you’ll need to install either a wall plug or a dedicated level 2 EV charging station to get a level 2 charge at your house. Installing one can be pricey — around $1,200 on average. If you know you’ll be in your EV for the long haul, however, the upfront cost pays off over time in savings on gas and public charging.
Multiple federal and state government incentives exist to help offset the cost of installing home charging equipment. The amount and qualifications change by state, so check if you qualify for any in your area.
Other Factors: Battery Capacity, Efficiency, and Driving Habits
Much like a gas tank, the bigger the battery, the more it costs to “fill up.” Smaller battery packs cost less but yield less mileage per charge than larger-capacity options.
For a real-world example, let’s look at Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 EV. The base model has a 58 kWh battery. So a driver in Texas, where we’ve established the rate per kWh is 12.8 cents, would need to pay around $7.54 to charge it from empty at home. At a paid level 2 public charging station like this one in Houston, they’d pay $12.18 to charge a depleted battery at the max rate of $0.21/kWh. At this DCFC station near a Walmart owned by Electrify America, our hypothetical driver would pay $0.32 per minute at the max rate of 350kW of power, which adds up to $9.60 for half an hour of charge time.
Odds are, though, that the battery won’t be depleted every time someone goes to a public charging station to top off. The rate paid will depend on how much power they actually end up using or, in the case of per-minute rates, how long they spend charging. Some stations charge a session fee of a few dollars in addition to the per kWh rate. If you’re paying a subscription fee through a provider like EVgo’s app, that’s another cost.
How efficient the battery pack is and the demands placed on it by daily driving will also determine your mileage per charge. Sport models like the Porsche Taycan are designed to deliver a lot of power to the motor for more speed, so it uses more energy per drive and ultimately gets less range. That means more charging sessions and more money paid per month.
Unlike gas cars, lots of long highway driving depletes an EV’s battery faster than city driving. If you regularly commute long distances, that’s something else to consider. Heavy use of climate control and infotainment systems will also impact battery life. The more you use the battery, the faster it depletes, and the more often you have to pay to charge.
Costs Are Unique to the Driver
So, is it cheaper to charge an EV than it is to fill a tank with gas? At the time of this writing, yes. Even in markets where electricity is more expensive, it still costs less to recharge an EV than to fill a gas tank.
To sum up, how much it costs to charge an electric car depends on multiple factors from battery capacity to what charging methods are available to you. When shopping for an EV, think about things like how many miles you drive, the battery capacity of the EV you want, and whether you can charge it at home.
Electricity prices in your area will impact cost whether it’s best to charge at home or with public stations. If you have to use public ones, think about your access to free stations and how reliably you’ll be able to use them.
All of these factors will determine the average cost of charging your EV. In the end, the cost to you will depend on the math unique to your driving habits and needs.