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How Much Does it Cost to Charge an Electric Car?

Electric car charging on a street.

Electric cars have become increasingly popular over the past several years.  With concerns about the environment and the rising cost of fuel, more and more consumers are taking a hard look at these vehicles and determining if they can are a better fit for their family budget.  

Environmental factors aside, one of the biggest pitches for owning one of these vehicles has been that people can supposedly save thousands of dollars a year by not buying gas.  While this may seem to work at first glance, however, determining if you’ll actually save money is a lot more complicated.  Generally, charging an electric car will cost around $1 to $1.25 per charge, but that may not always be the case.

Estimating Charging Costs

Cost to charge at home

A closed up look at a charging hub of an electric car.

Every electronic vehicle that is sold in the United States should come with a disclosure that tells the owner the amount of electricity that is required to charge the battery from o to 100 percent.  This information might be a bit difficult to find; look through your vehicle’s owner’s manual or disclosure packet in order to find the exact number.  Once you have the number, however, determine your exact cost to charge the vehicle at home by multiplying this number by the cost per kilowatt-hour.

Because every vehicle is different and the rates charged for electricity are different, it’s impossible to state an accurate price to charge any electric vehicle.  On average, however, a single complete charge uses between $1 and $1.50 of electricity.

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Cost to charge away from home

White electric cars charging at a station.

There are a number of free or low-cost charging stations located throughout major cities.  Free stations are often attached to large office buildings and shopping centers.  Typically, these stations are made free to patrons or employees of the businesses in order to encourage people to shop at these stores.  If you happen to work at a place with a free charging station, however, it’s often possible to never have to pay to charge your car.

There are also a growing number of low-cost stations that you can use to charge an electric vehicle.  These stations typically cost anywhere from two to five dollars to fully charge a vehicle, but there are a number of reward and loyalty programs that can be used to reduce this cost.

When compared to the current costs for a tank of gas, the cost to charge an electric vehicle will save about 75 to 90 percent of the cost to travel the same amount of distance.  Whether these savings will continue into the future, however, is up for debate.

Future Charging Costs

Right now, many charging stations are free because of government grants that have encouraged private businesses to install charging stations.  However, even most large shopping centers have only installed a few of these devices.  As the popularity of electric cars continues to climb, the likelihood that a driver will be able to utilize these free stations will probably decrease.  

It is a commonly held belief that as the number of electric vehicles on the road increases that many shopping centers will install more charging stations.  However, installing these machines requires a lot more than just plugging them in.  To wire entire parking lots for charging stations will likely mean hundreds of thousands in infrastructure costs, and it’s unlikely that many businesses will be willing to invest in projects that have them supplying free electricity to thousands of vehicles.  

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Instead, there may be a potential market for for-profit charging stations, but it’s hard to determine how much these places would charge consumers to charge their cars.  If existing gas stations try to convert into all-electric charging stations, they will need to maintain the same profit margins that they had with gas pumps.  A typical fill-up provides about 50 cents of revenue back to the gas station, but the total time to fill a car is about five minutes.  

If typical charge times are between ten and thirty minutes, a gas station will have to charge a lot more than fifty cents plus the cost of the electricity in order to keep their station profitable.  It’s entirely possible that stations will need to charge $10 or more to charge a battery.

At-home charging stations don’t need to consider a profit margin, but many of them are reliant on energy prices being charged by local electricity providers.  As energy prices have soared in the past several months, it has become nearly impossible to make accurate predictions about the cost of electricity in the future.

Of course, the same argument can be made about the price of gas.  Most likely, if the price of oil rises, the cost of electricity and the cost of filling the tank will rise at roughly the same rate.  While the savings seen from electric cars might not be as significant if this happens, it is unlikely that the cost of charging a car will surpass the cost of filling the tank.