Electric Obfuscation

I want to talk about this ‘article’ posted on USA Today that makes the claim that operating an electric vehicle is somehow shockingly more expensive than a regular car (and, thus, you should consider staying away).

Upfront, I will say I find this article is contrived and it does not align at all with my experience of electric vehicle ownership.  Quite the contrary:  owning an electric car has had significantly lower operating costs for me.  (It’s one of the reasons I love it so much.)

1) You likely won’t need to buy a home charger.  I can’t speak for every single electric car on the market, but I’ve not heard of one that cannot plug into a standard 120v outlet.  So there’s no cost there if you want to stick with regular L1 charging.

2) If you want to upgrade, at least with my Model 3  I could go to 240v charging simply by having a 240v/50A circuit installed with the correct outlet as the car came with an adapter.  This cost me a couple of hundred bucks for the electrician to run some cable and conduit.  Not very much.

3) HERE’S THE BIGGEST MENTAL HURDLE TO OVERCOME FOR MOST OF US.  Do you ever fret about leaving the house and needing to find a special place to charge your phone?  No, you do not, because you charge at home and can leave with a full charge.  The same is true with an electric car.  You plug in when you get home.  Even on an 120V circuit, you are getting ~5miles of charge per hour.  That’s not super fast, but a typical car will spend 10h or so in the garage from the evening and overnight.  That’s 50mi of charge, which will cover most people’s commutes.  If you have a 240V charger, then you can get a full charge in a couple of hours.*  Deadhead miles and time investiture while you wait for something to charge is, for the most part, not an issue.**

4) Their purported cost of charging, however, is where I take the greatest exception.  Where I live has relatively expensive power costs.  And I even pay extra for 100% renewable electricity (75% wind, 25% solar).  It’s well less than 30c per kWH off peak.  When I drive, my car is using <250WH per mile.  If I were to compare this to a 50mpg car, then to drive an equivalent 50 miles I would use 12.5kWH which would cost me $3.75 — and to be clear that’s both rounding up on the energy per mile I use to drive, rounding well up on the cost of electricity, and using a very high mileage car as a comparison point.  And I still end up a bit cheaper than a gallon of gas here.  Remove those artificial inflation points and my actual comparative cost would be less.

5) In addition, there’s almost no maintenance to an electric car. No belts, oil changes, spark plugs, wire, tensioners, filters, or etc. I’ve not had to bring my car in for servicing since I bought it 4 years ago.  This brings down the operating costs even further.

Between less “fuel” cost and less  maintenance cost, I estimate I will save thousands of dollars of operating costs compared to that of my previous gas-powered car.

In short, I find this article is narrow and contrived.  There are ways to make EV ownership more expensive, but why would you want to?  You could also write an article saying here are the things to watch out for to ensure you’re not making EV ownership more expensive, but that’s not what this article does either.   Of the “4 extra costs,” the first is not entirely necessary (the cost of a home L2 charger, and even if you do include the cost, over what timeframe did this study average it?  If you install it and own the home and EVs for 20 years, the cost becomes truly minimal), the second ignores the phone effect (you can charge at home), the third is non-universal (an EV tax?), and the fourth also ignores the phone effect (why would you need deadhead miles?  how many of these are they estimating?  what cost are they assigning it?).

I find this article misleads and that’s a shame.

* If you live in a rental unit without outlets, then this could be of concern and would need the landlord to install outlets.  But especially with economies of scale, that might not be that large of a hurdle.  Years ago, some of the parking lots at my University already had outlets to each stall to plug in your block heaters, which displays the ease of bringing power to parking.

** This is especially weird as the main instigator of this so-called study owns a Porsche.  You’re telling me that person couldn’t afford to install home charging and, while they sleep, get 200+ miles?

*** Let’s use their values, too, OK?  They say 33 MPG car at $2.81/gallon (certainly not there now), costs $8.58 for fuel (not including maintenance).  Let’s say your EV uses 300WH per mile.  100 miles is 30kWH times .30 per kWH equals $9.  Note my actual cost at home, using my actual overall efficiency and cost of electricity is about $5.40, but I’m rounding up to account for other people’s driving habits and costs on commercial chargers.  But even if it was $9, that’s not exactly breaking the bank, and you save much of that amount in lack of maintenance.

**** The article states that charging rates can vary by 100% on a week to week basis.  That one I really am curious about — I’ve never encountered that with any of the charging spots I’ve seen or used.  Electricity pricing in some states must be really weird.

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