While electric vehicles have seemingly been on the brink of mass market penetration for years now, the United States might finally be reaching an inflection point in the market for electric cars. A survey from AAA from Spring of 2018 found that 20% of Americans consider themselves likely to purchase an electric vehicle (EV) as their next car purchase, a 15% jump from the year before. Consumers have been getting a crash course education recently, as charging stations pop up in their office parks and shopping malls, range anxiety fears get quashed, gasoline prices remain volatile, and people strive to find ways they can minimize their carbon footprint and effect on the climate.
This increased awareness is no doubt responsible for the increase in certainty that Americans feel about purchasing EVs, where they may have been skeptical at best in previous years. However, those who don’t yet own an EV still have many questions before they dive in and invest their hard-earned money in one. Chief among those questions of people who have not personally owned or dealt with EVs is what they need to know about charging one at home. Do they need to invest in complicated adapters to charge at home? How will overnight plugging-in of an EV affect their home’s energy use and power bills? These are crucial questions for any buyer, but they are luckily fairly straightforward questions to answer– and the answers are favorable to consumers eager to buy their first EV.
How often and where do EVs need to be charged?
To answer this question, you first need to be clear which kind of EV you’ve purchased. A battery-electric, or all-electric, vehicle runs entirely on the charging of its battery and so it will need to be amply charged before any use. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, on the other hand, operate using a mix of electricity and gasoline. If the battery is low, the car can shift to gasoline operation and override the need for a fully charged battery. The difference, though, is that all-electric vehicles tend to get more range efficiency out of their battery, while the plug-in hybrid electric vehicles add many miles via the use of gasoline.
The length of time needed to charge your EV will vary based on the starting level of charge, the total battery capacity, the miles driven, and other considerations. Most standard chargers in your home will allow you to get over 100 miles of range when charging overnight for eight hours, with the lowest performers still reaching about 60 miles per charge. For most drivers’ daily needs, that would be more than enough outside of specifically planned longer trips.
While most users will default to wanting to charge their EVs at home, it’s important to note that there are options to charge elsewhere, not to mention benefits to doing so. Many public locations, such as shopping malls or parking garages, have been installing EV chargers which can be used for a small fee and sometimes even for free. Not only does this make finding parking at these locations more accessible if you’re in the minority driving EVs, but it allows you to refill your battery while running errands and extend the overall range you can take your EV over the course of a day. More notably, though, many office parks and workplaces have been installing EV chargers onsite. These installations serve to inspire and motivate people to buy EVs, but they also shift the time of day EVs are drawing power from the electric grid from the evening (peak hours of demand) to daytime (when demand is lower but generation from renewable sources is higher).
With these various options for where to charge EVs popping up the past few years, potential buyers can plan out to make sure they have consistent access to charging during their typical driving outings. Several websites and apps have popped up, such as PlugShare and ChargePoint, to allow users to find the nearest EV charging stations wherever they are. These resources also make planning a long trip more feasible, as you can pre-plan pit stops for where to recharge before continuing on, if planning on driving longer than the range of a single charge.
Do EV owners need any special equipment installed in their home?
Again, though, most users will want the convenience and peace of mind that they’ll be able to charge their electric cars at home. Luckily, for most EVs you won’t need any special installations or adjustments to your home’s electricity systems in order to charge your new car. Because most EVs can be charged through a standard 120-volt wall outlet, the kind that’s standard to be installed throughout a home and garage, all you’ll need to do is plug straight into those outlets. The EV you purchase will also come with the designated charging cable and plug, so you’ll be able to charge readily the moment you pull your EV into the garage for the first time. Such ease of charging, without upfront costs associated with special equipment or installations, makes integrating the charging of an EV into your daily life as easy as charging any sort of new appliance or device you bring home from the store. The manufacturers of EVs know removing any sort of barriers to entry like capital investments is crucial to common adoption of their products.
However, the EVs that charge on the aforementioned 120-volt ports are considered Level 1 Charging EVs and a small portion of EVs you might purchase are Level 2 Charging EVs, meaning they must be plugged into 240-volt ports for charging. A 240-volt socket is still somewhat common– it’s the type of outlet required for certain large appliances like dryers and water heaters, meaning such EVs could potentially require investment to get a 240-volt socket installed in the necessary location for your car. However, where 120-volt outlets offer slow and steady charging, the less common 240-volt outlets are faster at charging the EV batteries. Not only that, but manufacturers of Level 2 Charging EVs are trying to help you over the hump by offering financing for investment to install 240-volt outlets along with the financing options for the EV itself.
Outside of these standard charging options, a third type known as DC fast charging is rapidly being installed in some of the aforementioned public locations for EV charging, such as office parks, shopping malls, and public parking garages. Supercharging stations are able to charge your EV fully in just half an hour. Again, not every EV will be fit to receive DC fast charging, and these public charging locations will typically have the more standard 120-volt and/or 240-volt charging available as well, but the ability to charge faster in public locations or at EV ‘fill-up’ stations adds to users’ flexibility and reduce their range anxiety.
How much will charging an EV at home cost on the monthly power bill?
Aside from whether or not doing so is possible, the chief question customers have about EV charging at home is the cost of that energy. However, the answer to that question is in fact one of the main drivers to purchase an EV, as the cost per mile will typically be cheaper than the equivalent gasoline purchase per mile for your old car. As an example, GM estimated that the average annual energy use of its Chevy Volt is 2,520 kilowatthours– less than that required for a year of powering a water heater or air conditioner. The Department of Energy estimates that an all-electric vehicle with a 70-mile range and 24 kilowatthour battery would cost $2.64 to fully charge, comparable to the operating costs of the average air conditioner for just six hours. Unless your conventional vehicle is getting 60 or 70 miles to the gallon (spoiler alert: it’s not), such an average-performing EV would be saving you money, simply shifting the costs from at the gas pump to your monthly power bill.
Further, as some utilities start to explore and roll out variable pricing for power, where electricity costs more during peak hours and less other times, you might even find more savings by plugging in your EV at the right times (wait until later in the evening to plug in, or shift your main charging times to during the day and/or while at work).
An important takeaway for potential EV buyers, though, is that whenever and wherever you plug in your EV, it will not affect the rest of your electrical systems. You might choose to install a Level 2 Charger, but even then you’re at no risk of any sort of overloading of your home’s power systems. All you’re doing is saving money in the long run and shifting your transportation energy use from carbon-emitting gasoline to a power sector that is (depending on your region) almost certainly cleaner.
The only question that remains: what are you waiting for?