As the EV transformation heats up, we put together this article to answer the question, “How much does it cost to charge an electric car?”
As more drivers consider owning a battery-powered vehicle, the question of “How much does it cost to charge an electric car?” will become more common. Anyone that is regularly behind the wheel can pretty quickly answer this question as it relates to a gas-powered car. Of course, there are gas stations on every corner with prices posted and the process involved with filling up a gas tank is generally second nature. Charging a battery to power an electric vehicle (EV), on the other hand, may be a new concept to would-be owners, so let’s look at how this works.
For full electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles, the rechargeable battery pack will need to be plugged in, much like your smart phone or laptop, to keep the electrons flowing. Keep in mind, this does not apply to a standard gas-electric hybrid, a distinction you can read more about in our explainer article here. Before we get to the details on how long charging takes and how much it costs, it is important to understand some key EV terminology.
In the electric-car domain, you’ll see kW, short for kilowatt, and kWh, short for kilowatt-hour, thrown around in the conversation on driving range, charging capability and the like. kW is a measurement of power and normally refers to the level of power you can tap into at given charging station. kWh is a measurement of energy capacity that, in EV context, is the amount of energy an EV battery pack can store.
If you imagine the battery pack as a traditional gas tank, the kWh rating is the number of gallons of fuel it can hold and the kW rating is the rate at which the fuel will flow into the tank. A Tesla Model S with a 100 kWh battery pack plugged into a Level 3 charging station rated for 50 kW would require two hours to fill the battery from empty to full. An important aside is that manufactures typically recommend keeping an EV battery pack between 20% and 80% of capacity to avoid damage.
This is a broad question with a host of variables, but across the board, you have three ways to charge your EV conveniently denoted Level 1, 2 and 3.
Level 1 EV charging is confoundingly the slowest and most commonly available method. It refers to plugging your electric car battery pack into a standard household outlet rated for 110-120 volts. You can expect a power output of roughly 2 kW in this scenario, so that Tesla with a 100 kWh battery pack would take a whopping 50 hours to fill from empty to full. That is an extreme example and if you drain the battery to 20% and fill it to 80%, you’re only looking at 30 hours.
Next up is a Level 2 charger, which is based on the 240-volt outlet you would typically see a clothes dryer plugged into or one of the many home-based charging stations on the market. Pushing out about 6 kW, the math on the Tesla example from above now drops to 17 hours for a completely dead battery, or 10 hours for the recommended 20% to 80% usage. That is why a Level 2 home charger is so useful – you can plug your EV in overnight and have it fully juiced the next morning.
Due to their 400-plus voltage architecture that would require major electrical work for a homeowner, Level 3 charging stations are normally found in public places like rest stops and parking lots. The Tesla Supercharger network is a Level 3 system, but only works for the automakers’ vehicles. At this level, you are going to encounter at least a 50 kW power rating with 100, 150 and higher rated options coming on the market. Back to the Tesla example, you can fully charge that 100 kWh battery in just 2 hours or less if it is not completely drained.
The nationwide average cost for electricity is $0.14 per kWh, though it varies widely by state so check your utility bill to get specific. At that rate, a 100 kWh battery pack would cost you $14 to fill up – at home. Out in public, it can range from no-cost charging stations to paid networks like the one from Electrify America.
They charge $0.03 per minute for Level 2 charging, which translates to $1.80 per hour. Just for the purposes of comparison, if that charger is rated for 6 kW and it takes you 17 hours to charge your 100 kWh pack, you’re looking at about $30.
Electrify America mainly sells Level 3 charging services that cost between $0.31 and $0.43 per kWh – which varies depending on location – plus a monthly fee in some cases. At that price point, it’s easy to see why buying a Level 2 home charger is a good option and these Level 3 stations are best reserved for a quick top-off, so to speak.
Going a bit deeper, if that Tesla with a 100 kWh battery pack is rated for a range of 400 miles, you can travel 4 miles for every kWh. If you drive an average of 1,000 miles per month, you would need 250 kWh of overall electric juice. Charging at home, that would run you – roughly – $35.00 in electricity per month.
It is important to remember that every EV is different with battery pack, range and vehicle size affecting these estimates. They are intended to provide ballpark ranges and high-level information as a starting point. For example, the incoming Chevy Silverado EV, which we discuss here, is expected to have a 200 kWh battery pack available whereas a Nissan Leaf can have a pack as small as 40 kWh.
The EV transformation is happening, as evidenced by Stellantis’ multi-billion strategy and General Motors’ stated goal of being an all-electric automaker. These investments will bring new tech like solid-state batteries to replace the lithium-ion versions, which you can read about here. All of which will surely translate to lower costs for charging an electric car over time.