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Driving with electricity is much cheaper than with gasoline

Posted on 6 June 2022 by Guest Author

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections by Karin Kirk

The rising cost of gasoline and diesel is both a frequent headline and an ongoing financial drain for many, let alone a major issue in the upcoming November midterm elections. But unlike previous gas crunches, some consumers now have options about the energy source that powers their driving.

Not long ago, electric vehicles were the domain of early-adopters and wealthy consumers, but times are changing fast. Moderately priced EVs range from $27,400 to $34,000, and as gasoline prices climb, EVs can offer respite from rising fuel costs.

As of June 1, 2022, the U.S. average price of regular gasoline was $4.67, according to AAA, and gas prices have climbed 41% percent since the start of this calendar year. Experts are saying those prices will continue increasing in days and weeks ahead The cost of electricity, meanwhile, has remained fairly stable – and relatively inexpensive compared with gasoline and diesel fuels. The U.S. average price for residential electricity is 13 cents per kilowatt hour. How does the cost of driving an EV compare to driving a gasoline-powered car?

The short answer is that it costs only $1.41 per “gallon” to drive an EV. That’s a 70% discount compared with gasoline.

The EV-to-gasoline cost comparison varies state-to-state, because the prices of electricity and gasoline differ in each state. The table below lists the breakdown of costs, by state.

Price of gas and EV equivalent (state by state)

Link to live version.

Comparing prices between two fuels

These comparisons were made by calculating a “gallon-equivalent” for electric vehicles. This number is based on three factors: The average kWh per mile used by EVs, the average miles per gallon used by traditional vehicles, and the price of electricity. Multiplying these three numbers together yields the cost of charging an EV by an amount equivalent to one gallon of gasoline. The Department of Energy calls this number the “eGallon,” and, for those interested, walks through the math.

Price stability vs. volatility

Electricity prices tend to be stable over time, because rates are regulated by each state’s public utilities commission. By contrast, the price of oil fluctuates rapidly, driven by global pricing, geopolitics, refining capacity, and other market forces. As a result, drivers are subjected to largely uncontrollable swings in the cost of gasoline and diesel.

Case in point, the price of residential electricity went up by 3.6% over the past year, while gasoline has soared by 52% from a year ago – more than a tenfold difference.

From North Dakota to Hawaii: The highs and lows of different states

North Dakota has the cheapest electricity in the nation, so driving an EV works out to be equivalent to just 98 cents per gallon. That’s a savings of $3.33 per gallon, compared with gasoline.

The biggest savings for EVs is in Washington, where electricity is relatively cheap (and clean), but gasoline is expensive. Driving an EV in Washington saves $4.23 per gallon, an 81% discount compared with driving a gasoline-powered vehicle.

California has expensive electricity and also expensive gasoline. Fueling an electric car in California costs the equivalent of $2.60 per gallon, but gasoline costs more than $6 per gallon. The net result is that EV drivers in the Golden State see a savings of $3.59 per gallon.

The state with the smallest price differential for EVs is Hawaii, which has far and away the most expensive electricity in the country. Nevertheless, drivers in Hawaii still save $1.56 per gallon by switching to electric.

Prices subject to change

Clearly, making these comparisons using high gas prices will reflect a big savings for EVs. But you’d have to go back to 2002 to find a time when the price of gasoline was consistently below the $1.41 per gallon price of driving an EV.

In some locations electricity prices vary throughout a single day. Customers who charge their cars at night can save substantial money compared with the typical retail price, making EVs even cheaper to operate.

Going green, while saving green

For most people looking to stretch their budgets, rushing out to buy a new car isn’t necessarily a practical solution to a pressing economic concern, particularly with interest rates for car loans rising substantially. But gone are the days when EVs were expensive endeavors. A new 2022 Nissan Leaf, for example, sells for about $27,400 and costs the equivalent of $1.23 per gallon to drive. The deal is even sweeter because the Leaf qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit, which is available for EVs built by companies that have not yet sold 200,000 electric cars. Some states also offer incentives, but there’s no guarantee these programs will continue. After navigating tax credits and other fine print, an increasingly strong economic argument prompts some to consider making the switch to electric.

There are, of course, plenty of other factors to consider in the transition from internal combustion engines to electric ones. Range, charging options, and battery life are all important to consider. But in day-to-day operations, the inexpensive and stable price tag of driving with electrons rather than hydrocarbons offers an appealing alternative. Perhaps “thinking green” can be a motive for lower pollution and lower operating cost, all at once.

Data sources

To crunch the numbers for the table above, I used the 10 best-selling EVs and 10 best-selling internal combustion passenger cars in the U.S. in 2021. To make an apples-to-apples comparison on vehicle sizes, I used fuel economy data for cars only, not light trucks or SUVs. Energy use for both types of vehicles is from FuelEconomy.gov.

Electricity prices are from the Energy Information Administration, with most recent data from February 2022.

Weekly gas prices can be found from EIA and AAA.

U.S. News has a helpful explainer on EV tax credits.

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Comments

Comments 1 to 6:

  1. "Price subject to change," indeed.

    Given "Potemkin Markets" for electricity such as that found in Texas it's not a rule, but for many of us living in states that still acknowledge the reality of natural monopolies it's nice that the cost of driving an EV doesn't change from hour to hour as it does with the more primitive and annoyingly flatulent Victorian-era IC alternatives. 

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  2. I'd like to see this run up against real activity, instead of the apples for apples comparing sedans. SUV's and pickups have increased in sales the last 6 years so that they overtook sedans in 2020, and now are 2 to 1. And there are not electric SUV's/pickups for the larger vehicles as they are so inefficient to EV those weights, so I understand why that comparison is not there. But thats where people are buying. Worldwide. And this comparison is using temporary gas prices as gas/oil is not worth that much and will change. In terms of climate change this is off topic except highlighting how people, well before hitting any relevance of this article, are not caring. I mean voting with their wallets not caring. And that is an important take away here. And neither this article nor I can answer that at this moment.

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  3. peppers:

    The blog post does address the issue of the recent spike in gas prices as a comparison. Note that it says (emphasis mine):

    Clearly, making these comparisons using high gas prices will reflect a big savings for EVs. But you’d have to go back to 2002 to find a time when the price of gasoline was consistently below the $1.41 per gallon price of driving an EV.

    As for heavier vehicles being inefficent: do you have a reference for that? In general, my understanding is that vehicles with electric drive are much more efficient that IC engines at low speeds, starting, etc. Electric motors can generate high torque at low speeds - a range where IC engines are very inefficient. For truck used for many short, local trips, the advantage of an electric drive could be substantial, even if range is limited. Long hauls, not so much.

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  4. As a hint about voting w/wallets and heavier vehicles, Ford's "F-150 Lightning" (now being delivered into customer hands) has generated about 200,000 reservation orders, with Ford needing close to order availabilty and add manufacturing capacity. Ford is being forced to consider cutting dealers out of the equation on selling these vehicles, because dealers are successfully extracting absurd markups from customers willing to pay.

    Granted, these are early adopters but it remains the case that such empirical evidence as we have suggests that the love affair for "heavy" doesn't axiomatically require that heavy vehicles be farting thrashers (IC powered). 

    Meanwhile, the same efficiency gains that make carrying a 900+ pound battery in a sedan a productive decision apply to heavier vehicles as well. The pertinent equation after all is not K.E. = 1/2 m2 v2

     

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  5. Doug, Bob and peppers,

    Natural Resources Canada has developed a tool for searching and comparing the fuel efficiency of personal vehicles sold in Canada.

    NRC Fuel consumption ratings search tool

    Setting the search "vehicle type" to be "battery-electric" finds 81 vehicle models, including 4 pickup truck models showing the following comparisons:

    • The most efficient vehicles (3 of the 81 models) are 1.8 le/100 km. And they are sedan style vehicles. (le is litres equivalent - see Note at end of comment).
    • The next most efficient models (4 models) are 1.9 le/100 km including the most efficient SUVs.
    • The next set (9 models) are 2.0 le/100 km and includes several SUVs.
    • The most efficient battery-electric truck is 3.3 le/100 km which is better than the least efficient SUV (3.6 le/100 km). And it is slightly better than the least efficient sedan which is 3.4 le/100 km.

    And setting the search to only be conventional (ICE)/hybrid vehicles finds that the most efficient hybrid is 4.0 l/100 km (not as good as the least efficient battery-electric)

    Note: The search can be set for "miles/gallon". But there are 2 choices because the antiquated imperial system has 2 different gallon size: "imperial (the Canadian gallon before the switch to metric in 1979)" and "US (the smaller one the US created and still uses)".

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  6. My comment at 5 only compares the energy efficiency of vehicles. The NRC search tool value of Le (Litres equivalent for electricity to be compared to gasoline) is simply based on the energy in 1 litre of gasoline being equivalent to the energy in 8.9 kWh of electricity.

    But there is more to be aware of when evaluating electric vs. fossil fuel powered vehicles. The CO2 emissions from gasoline are about 2.3 kg per litre (many sources present that value). And, based on the EIA answer to "How much carbon dioxide is produced per kilowatthour of U.S. electricity generation?" (other sources present similar numbers):

    • CO2 emissions from coal generation of electricity, without verified carbon capture and permanent locking away, is about 1 kg per kWh. That means coal based electricity without CCS produces 8.9 kg of CO2 for a Le of electricity (8.9 kWh).
    • CO2 emissions from natural gas generation of electricity without CCS is about 3.6 kg per 8.9 kWh. That is better than coal but still significant.

    The emissions from an electric vehicle with efficiency of 2 Le/100 km powered by coal electricity without CCS would be 17.8 kg / 100 km. That compares unfavorably to a hybrid having an efficiency of 5 L/ 100 km which would produce 11.5 kg / 100 km.

    The Statista "Greenhouse gas emissions generation intensity in Canada as of 2015, by province" shows a wide range of emissions from electricity generation in Canada in 2015. In 2015 the average in Cnada was 0.14 kg per kWh. But the highest level of emissions per kWh was Alberta at 0.79 kg per kWh. The emissions from an electric vehicle with efficiency of 2 Le/100 km using 2015 Alberta electricity generation would have been about 13.4 kg / 100 km. That compares unfavorably to a hybrid having an efficiency of 5 L/ 100 km which would produce 11.5 kg / 100 km.

    All regions in Canada have reduced their emissions since 2015. In 2019 the Alberta emissions were down to 0.62 kg per kWh. That would be 11.0 kg /100 for an electric vehicle with an Le of 2 L / 100 km. That is slightly better than a hybrid with 5 l/100 km. But it is not as good as a hybrid with 4 l/100 km.

    A final note is that paying a premium to 'get low emissions electricity' to power up an electric vehicle does not magically create additional low emissions electricity generation in a region. The region's electricity generation mix remains what it is, with the person trying to be less harmful paying a premium that most likely does not reduce the harm done by regional electricity generation.

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