Charging an electric car — the costs

Neelesh Vasistha Feb 22, 2021 · 5 min read

As electric and traditional cars battle for market share, price remains a central factor in the buying decision. “Electric cars might be more expensive to buy, but they’re less expensive to own” goes the contemporary wisdom. And yes, while the upfront costs for an EV are higher —with its new, expensive innards— the money saved over its lifespan offsets this price difference. One reason for this is charging, which can work out to be much cheaper. In this article we peel back the film and rub our fingers around the topic of charging costs.

No place like home

Those who’ve never consciously paid an electric bill may do well to be reminded that electricity, that invisible energy flowing behind walls and inside cables, has a price. And like gas, this can vary dramatically across the world — a complex soup of economic, geographical and environmental factors. Eurostat data from November 2020, for example, showed that Germans paid on average 0.3043 per kWh, whereas those in Ukraine paid little as 0.0466.

But where do people charge up? A CleanTechnica report on EV drivers across Europe and the US showed that 83% have home charging, with 74% using this as their primary charging station. For those who can do it, this is comfortable option: most users just let their cars charge overnight and wake up to a full battery. Costs vary depending on location, but are generally cheap. In the U.K, for example, the cost of fully charging a 60 kWh battery overnight ranges between £8.30 and £9.40.

The kicker here is the initial cost of a home charging point: an adapter designed to supply current at the intensity and time needed to recharge an EV battery. Depending on the country, these can be anywhere between €400 and €1000. Before you groan, here comes a massive BUT. Many governments offer subsidies to help cover a high majority of these costs. Of the, say, €500 retail price, you may find yourself paying only €100. And if you want to drive down costs further, the fun really begins when you start looking into solar power to offset energy prices.

Live in an apartment building? While home charging points were once exclusively for people with their own homes, this is changing. In France, for example, the ‘“droit à la prise” gives apartment owners and tenants the right to ask for a home charging solution. Read up on your local situation.

I can’t afford home charging right now. Can’t you just use regular plugs?

Well, kind of. In a particularly chaotic, international chapter of my life, I used to charge my laptop with a UK outlet connected to an EU adapter connected to a North-American plug. It was ridiculous — but it worked. The point is there’s nothing physically stopping you from finding an adapter and using it. But you shouldn’t. Normal electrical outlets aren’t made for charging at a high capacity over a long period of time. If they’re used at a higher intensity than intended, it’s more likely to cause an electrical fire. This is not just a (very) bad time, but also unlikely to be covered by your insurance.

If you enjoy the gamble of going to bed unsure whether your home will burn down overnight, perhaps the slow charge will change your mind. Most household plugs have a much lower output, meaning that an eight-hour overnight charge will get you roughly 40 miles (64km).

Charging on the go

Like gas stations, charging stations on the go are useful refueling points — not only for spontaneous top-ups, but also primary charging. As with most things in life; the better, faster or stronger (©Kanye West) something is, the more it costs. For EVs, charging speeds are split into three categories — slow, fast and turbo, with different prices. Slow chargers cost around €0.40 per kWh, fast and turbo chargers cost up to €0.79 per kWh. Tesla maintains their own Supercharger network, currently unavailable for other cars. It costs around €0.30 per kWh.

To pack this into a rough example, we’ll use the Renault Zoe, the most sold EV in Europe in 2020. Say you’re at 10% charge, and want to charge up to 80%. The battery capacity of this model is 52 kWh, meaning we’ll be charging a total of 41.6 kWh. If you have a subscription, and use a slow charge that costs €0.30/kWh, this amounts to €12.48 (41.6 x 0.30). But let’s adjust the variables, using the same car model. Say a fast charge without subscription is €0.50/kWh: the same amount of energy will then cost €20.80 (41.6 x 0.50). The takeaway is this: public charging can be cheap. Or very cheap. But that first depends on a few things. Get clued up for the best price given your EV usage.

As opposed to home chargers, with public charging, you’re not just paying for the electricity itself. You’re also covering the material and maintenance costs. This is why AC (slow) chargers are cheaper than DC (fast) ones, because the latter places a higher burden on the grid, and requires richer infrastructure. Then come the business costs: a 24/7 helpdesk, web portal, maintenance —making it difficult to isolate how much the electricity alone costs.

Staying in charge

Like gas to a regular vehicle, recharging is the biggest everyday cost to owning an EV. The billboard here is that while refueling an EV requires more thought, it often works out to be much cheaper. Careful EV charging quickly covers both the price difference against a regular car, as well as other operational investments. With wide public charging infrastructure in the EU and UK, as well as generous government subsidies for home charging, not only will you always remain in charge —but likely save good money, too.