Is electric vehicle charging cheaper than petrol? We did the math to find out

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It’s hard to ignore a proud EV driver on the road — especially those with a vanity license plate like “GAS LOL.”

This is part of the story CNET ZeroThis is a series that describes the impact of climate change and explores what is being done to address the problem.

Why so much arrogance?

Maybe it’s because electric vehicle drivers believe they’re saving money as well as the planet.

There’s a heated debate on Reddit, TikTok, and other social media platforms: Which is cheaper? Electric vehicle charging or a gas-powered car?

Reducing fuel costs is probably the main reason why people looking to buy an electric vehicle are thinking about buying an electric vehicle in the first place. In June 2022, gas prices hit record levels, averaging over $5 a gallon across the country, and although gas prices have fallen 26% to around $3.70 as of May, this fluctuation has many drivers considering alternatives like electric vehicles or hybrids.

One Reddit user said they now spend $70 more on their electric bill from charging at home, compared to $330 per month on gas before. Some Reddit users argued against the actual savings. For example, one opponent said he thinks public supercharging is expensive and time-consuming, and another said the cost of installing an EV charger at his home negates any savings.

Experts say that on an average, EV charging wins based on the cost factor.

The price of gasoline is volatile and expensive in some areas. While the price of electricity also varies, it’s “significantly cheaper than gasoline,” said Anastasia Boutziouvis, solutions product manager at ChargePoint, a company that operates the world’s largest network of EV charging stations in North America and Europe. That means recharging an EV is also significantly less expensive than filling up the fuel tank of a gas-powered car.

We’ll show you just how cheap charging an electric vehicle can really be on average.

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We do the math: Compare EV charging to filling up a gas tank

When considering the cost of refueling or charging between an electric car and a gas car, the difference is very clear and obvious. EVs run on electricity and use batteries to store that electricity, which need to be recharged.

Gas-powered cars, or cars equipped with internal combustion engines, run on gasoline, and drivers need gas in the vehicle’s fuel tank to operate the vehicle.

Using averages from government data sources, we do the math and map out all the costs of charging and fuel for you over the period of a month.

These calculations use US driving averages for both EVs and ICE cars to factor in data points such as fuel economy, miles driven, electricity and gasoline costs, power required for the average EV, and more. You may drive a lot more (or less), and accordingly, your fuel costs may vary as well.

EV charging cost vs. fuel cost (US average)

Average miles driven per month

1,250 miles

1,250 miles

Average Fuel Cost Per Gallon

,

$3.65 per gallon

average miles per gallon

,

25 mpg

Average number of gallons of fuel needed

,

50 Gallons

The average power required for the e.v.

3 miles per kilowatt hour

,

Average kWh used per month

416 kWh

,

Average cost of electricity (per US household)

16 cents per kilowatt hour

,

Average Energy Cost Per Mile

5.3 cents

14.6 cents

Monthly Comparison

$66.56 recharging cost

$182.50 fuel expense

data source:

Monthly cost of charging an EV

The cost of fueling or charging an EV depends on a number of factors, but the cheapest way to do it is to charge your EV at home, during off-peak hours. In other words, charging your EV overnight with an at-home charging setup is the least expensive way to recharge, and in some areas, it can cost only a dollar or two — a fraction of the price of a gallon of gas.

“At a high level, what we’re seeing is that the cost, in terms of filling up a “full tank,” is about half or a third of the cost of a gas-powered car,” Botziovis said.

He said recharging an EV can cost a few dollars on average. However, assuming you’re charging your EV at home using your own charger, the price of doing so really depends on how much you pay for electricity. “It’s entirely based on local utility rates, and those vary across the US,” he said.

Total charging costs also depend on whether you have a fixed rate or variable electric rate, and how the energy plan you choose outlines time-of-use rates throughout the day.

Cost of EV charging at home vs. public EV charging

Another important thing that EV owners need to consider is the difference in cost between charging at home and charging at a public place. If you don’t have a charger or the ability to charge your EV at home, you’ll need to do it elsewhere. Many places such as retail parking lots have public charging stations – here’s a detailed guide to where you can charge for free.

Yes, charging at home is cheaper, although there may be some initial cost involved in installing an EV charger and possibly upgrading your home’s electrical system.

Home charging cost

As mentioned, the cost of charging at home will depend on how much you pay for electricity, which will vary depending on where you live. Electricity is more expensive in Hawaii, New England, and California, and less expensive in western and midwestern states like North Dakota, Utah, and Washington. The average across the country is about 16 cents per kilowatt hour.

Another thing to keep in mind is that in some states that regulate energy markets — commonly known as energy choice markets — additional incentives may be available for EV drivers. Some states “offer really great plans where they’ll give you (EV) charging for free,” Botziovis said. Or, he said, some energy providers may offer incentives that are “almost like a cellphone plan, with unlimited charging for $20 a month” or something similar.

Read more: You can choose your electricity provider in these states, where markets are regulated

These plans or incentives vary from state to state. For example, in Texas, TXU Energy and Gexa offer energy plans designed to entice EV drivers with free charging periods.

Another is that you can use smartphone apps to schedule charging your electric vehicle during off-peak hours or when electricity rates are cheapest (usually overnight), which will save even more money.

Public charging costs

As for public charging, Butziovis said there are “different ways to price it,” since most public charging stations are independently owned and so it’s up to the owner to set the price. Tesla is a notable example. It has its own fleet of charging stations, and in addition to the cost of electricity, it charges you 50 cents per minute as an “idle fee” to encourage you to drive around and free up the charger for other users.

Aside from Tesla chargers, other stations typically charge either a fixed rate, a fee based on consumption or a fee based on the amount of time the EV driver uses the charger, Botziovis said. The cost is determined by local electric rates and any applicable fees or markups applied by the charger owner.

But there are also two “levels” or types of charging that are important to know about, which are AC and DC, or Level 2 and Level 3 charging (more about this below). Effectively, DC charging is much faster, and possibly more expensive at a public charging station. “DC charging can be $10 to $30 per session,” Botziovis said, and it takes 20 or 30 minutes to recharge a battery from 0% to 80%. In contrast, “AC public charging can be a few dollars,” he said.

“Two to three hours should give you enough range to get back on the road,” said Antuan Goodwin, CNET’s 16-year car and EV expert. “An actual full charge at Level 2 can take 6 to 12 hours, depending on your car and charging station.” That’s why Goodwin recommends fully charging your EV overnight at home. “It’s usually the cheapest, most convenient option,” he said.

In other words: the faster the charger, the more expensive it is. But you may also find free public charging in some locations.

Cost of Level 2 vs. Level 3 Charging

So the difference between Level 2 (AC) and Level 3 (DC) charging mainly relates to speed, and also how much electricity is flowing into the EV’s battery through the charger.

Level 2 Charging

Level 2 charging “is what you’d find in your home,” Botziovis said, and typically delivers between 7 and 11 kilowatts of power to an EV’s battery. This can give a typical EV 30 or 40 miles of range if they charge for a few hours. Given that charging is slow, it can cost a few dollars to charge your EV at a Level 2 public charging station. Some public EV charging stations are even free.

Level 3 Charging

Level 3, or DC fast-charging, on the other hand, provides anywhere from 50 to 350 kilowatts of power within the same time frame. Given that many, if not most, EV owners charge at home and overnight, it’s usually not practical to have a Level 3 charging setup at home, so these chargers are typically found in public places. But given that they’re faster, charging at one can cost between $10 and $30, Butziovis noted.

EV home charging equipment cost

Although charging your EV at home may be the cheapest way to recharge the battery, installing a charger can be a relatively large expense.

The cost really depends on whether or not your home electrical setup is capable of connecting the charger—if not, you may need an electrician to replace your electrical panel (the breaker box is probably located in your basement). This can be expensive, again, depending on where you live and other factors.

However, assuming you don’t need an upgrade, Botziovis said charger installation could cost around $700, and the cost depends on how physically far the charger is from your electrical panel. Greater distance means more cost, as more materials are needed. If you need an upgraded electrical setup, a new electrical panel could cost a few thousand dollars.

However, note that there are tax credits and incentives available for at-home charging installation costs. For example, there is a federal tax credit of 30% of hardware and installation costs up to $1,000, which was enacted as a part of the Inflation Reduction Act. There may also be some utility rebates and incentives. For example, Duke Energy offers a one-time credit of over $1,100 per charger in some areas.

A good rule of thumb: If you plan to buy a charger, check with several companies, check with your utility company for credits and rebates, and look into all applicable tax incentives to make sure you get the best deal.

Read more: Best Home EV Charger

Look at this: Experts vs AI: Is now the time to buy an electric vehicle?

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