Staff Car Report: At £1.20 ($2) Per Night, Our Electric Cars Cost Less To Run Than You’d Think

With sticker prices towards the upper end of their size class, electric cars tend to be more expensive to buy than gasoline powered models. Yet they’re far cheaper to maintain and own thanks to fairly basic maintenance requirements and a fuel which is an order of magnitude cheaper than traditional automotive fuels.

With an electricity bill in tow, we're reminded how little an electric car costs to charge.

With an electricity bill in tow, we’re reminded how little an electric car costs to charge.

Yet we’re still often asked by readers how much it costs an electric car owner to plug-in and charge every night. Do we notice the difference on our electricity bill? And just how much money do we save?

To scientifically answer those questions, you’d have to keep meticulous energy usage logs, but when the Gordon-Bloomfield family received their latest utility bill, we were given a pretty good if unscientific idea of just how cheap an electric car can be to own.

As regulars to Transport Evolved know, the Gordon-Bloomfield clan own not one but two of the seven electric cars on the Transport Evolved staff fleet: a 2011 Nissan LEAF and a 2013 Chevrolet Volt.  Charged every night from a pair of Type 2 (Level 2) charging stations, the LEAF and Volt are always ready and waiting, fully charged every morning.

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Both cars always start the day fully charged, minimising fuel costs.

The LEAF, with its ageing battery pack, is used to make an ~80 mile round-trip every weekday from Bristol, England to Cardiff, Wales. En-route, it gets a ten-minute blast on a local DC quick charger to ensure that it can make the round trip without stressing out driver or car.  At the time of writing, it is poised to cross over the 60,000 mile mark.

The Volt, meanwhile, is used to make the school runs every day, as well as the short commute to the local Starbucks office during term time. In total, it covers an average of 50 miles per day, and currently has an odometer reading of just under 19,000 miles.

In short, both cars usually require a full charge at night five days a week, while weekend recharging requirements depend on the family’s weekend activities.

Yet in the three month, 91-day period covered by the latest bill, night-time energy consumption totals just 1,693 kilowatt-hours, equivalent to an average night-time daily consumption of 18 kilowatt-hours.

With careful driving, the Volt can manage up to 50 miles on a single overnight charge.

With careful driving, the Volt can manage up to 50 miles on a single overnight charge.

At this point, we should point out that our provider of choice — local utility company Ecotricity — not only offers a time-of-use tariff which makes the night-time (12:30am-7:30am) cost of electricity far cheaper than peak electricity prices but also offers a 100 per cent renewable energy tariff specifically designed for electric car owners.

Before a 5 percent tax, each kilowatt-hour costs 5.99 pence (10 U.S. cents by today’s exchange rate.) Over the course of three months, including tax, that works out to a total price of £106.48 ($179.25) — an equivalent of £1.17 per day or just under $2 per day.

That might already sound like a great operating cost for an electric car in the UK — but those figures we’ve just given you also include other night-time electricity use, not just the electricity used to charge the two plug-in cars.

Other devices plugged in at night include two computers, a refrigerator and sometimes the dishwasher. While the majority of night-time use can be accounted for by the charging of electric cars, these appliances also consume some of the electricity detailed above.

Because of the high milages both electric cars drive, they are both regularly partially charged during the day too — but for the purposes of illustration we’re going to ignore this as the cars generally end the day with a fairly empty battery.  Since the average commuter travels less than 35 miles to and from work every day — something easily achievable in both cars on a single charge or less — we also suspect the average electric car driver won’t be consuming even as much electricity at night time charging their car as the Gordon-Bloomfield family do, nor will they need to charge away from home all that often.

How much does it cost you to drive your electric car?

How much does it cost you to drive your electric car?

Of course, the price you pay for electricity will dramatically vary depending on where you live and the utility company you buy your energy from. Here in the UK, there are cheaper, non-renewable night time tariffs available, which may in turn still seem far more expensive than tariffs in energy-rich places like Scandinavia or the Pacific Northwest.

As for how much energy we’ve saved? Our two previous fossil-fuelled vehicles — a Diesel-powered 2008 Smart ForTwo CDI and 2008 Toyota Prius — both managed fuel economies of around 55-60 imperial mpg in real use. At an average price of £1.34 per litre (£6.08 per imperial gallon) for diesel and £1.30 per litre (£5.90 per imperial gallon), the same £106.48 spent on diesel would have given us 963 miles in the Smart ForTwo, or 992 miles in the Prius.

Or to put it another way, about twelve days of work commuting to and from Cardiff, or nearly 20 days of weekday errands, school runs and coffee shop trips.

We’ll let you decide which is cheapest. In the meantime, if you have a plug-in car, why not share how much you pay for charging — and how much you charge every night — in the Comments below?

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