Why It’s Cheaper to Charge an Electric Car than Fill Up With Gas

Photo by Friso Gentsch/DPA/LANDOV

Electric cars can be three times cheaper to fill up than traditional gas-powered vehicles.

The next time you’re pumping gas on a hot, sticky summer day, watching the numbers tick upward as you fill the tank with fuel that can sometimes run $4 per gallon, you may be surprised to learn that the person cruising past in an electric car is not only avoiding stopping at the pump entirely—they’re also paying about one third of what you are to “fill up” their tank.

Charging an electric car costs the equivalent of paying about $1.14 per gallon at the pump, according to a new tool from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) called eGallon. In other words, the average electric car can travel the same distance on $1.14 of electricity as a similar, gasoline-powered car can travel on $3.65 of gas, which is the average national cost for a gallon of gasoline. In Texas, the costs of fueling both types of vehicles are slightly lower. Texans pay an average of $3.37 per gallon to fill up at the gas station, and $1.09 per gallon to charge an electric car.

Driving an electric vehicle, then, costs about three times less than driving a gasoline-powered one. And it may become a little easier to drive an electric car in Texas this year. 

Earlier this year, the Texas Legislature passed an omnibus energy bill, Senate Bill 1727, which updated and expanded the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) program. The bill, among other things, has a two-year pilot program to give incentives of $2,500 to Texas customers who buy vehicles powered by electricity, compressed natural gas, or liquefied petroleum gas.

Electric car savings can vary significantly between states. In Washington State, the cost of charging an electric car is as low as 84 cents per gallon. In Hawaii, where electricity and gasoline are more expensive, fueling an electric vehicle costs $3.69 per gallon, only a few cents less than a gallon of gas.

The Department of Energy determines each state’s eGallon price by calculating how much electricity the most popular electric vehicles require to travel the same distance as similar 2012 model vehicles that are powered by gasoline. That amount of electricity is then multiplied by the average cost of electricity for the state. eGallon will be updated every month to reflect changes in state gas prices.

Electricity prices are less likely to fluctuate than gas prices, the department says, because the price of electricity is determined by local markets or state utility commissions, while gasoline prices are linked to the global oil market, which can be influenced by unpredictable events abroad.

“I think a lot of American drivers are very familiar with the fact that a plug-in electric vehicle can have a lower environmental footprint, and that it can be powered by domestically-produced electricity, eliminating the need for foreign oil imports,” said David Danielson, the Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the DOE. “But the average American is not aware of the fuel cost benefits associated with using an electric vehicle.”

Electric cars still tend to cost more up front than their gasoline-powered counterparts, although the 2013 Nissan Leaf S costs about $21,300 after federal tax breaks, which is comparable to the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for a 2013 Toyota Camry or a 2013 Chevy Silverado 1500. Electric vehicles appear to be gaining some popularity in U.S. markets. Last year, about 50,000 plug-in electric cars were sold in the United States, triple the number of electric cars that were sold in the previous year. According to Danielson, more than 30,000 electric cars have already been sold in 2013.

Holly Heinrich is a reporting intern with StateImpact Texas. 

Comments

  • nobglop

    Considering how much of the pump price is Federal and State Tax, a better comparison would be the un-taxed cost per gallon. One thing you can be sure of is that governments will want to replace the lost gas-tax revenue. They will be coming to tax your electric bill.

    • Harry Seaward

      Non one wants to hear this. True, but they won’t listen until it is too late.

  • formertexan

    Depends on your electric rates. For me it’s like buying gas at $0.50 a gallon, driving mostly on solar. Dallas customers of TXU Energy can fill up free overnight on West Texas wind power that would otherwise go to waste. People on high tiered electric rates, or people who must recharge regularly at high priced commercial stations could pay much more than they would for gasoline.

    • Harry Seaward

      Come on out and see us in cali..oh wait, 70 mile radius on flat ground. never mind.

  • rick ehrlich

    the ratio of 1/3 is really baloney, my Zenn operates for 1 cent per mile. no b.s., it weighs 1100 pounds with the lead acids out and the lithium batteries, holds 6.2 kwh which costs 60 cents at 10 cents/kwh, and it goes 60 miles on a charge. penny a mile. about 1/20 cost of a full size ford. or 1/10 the cost of a tiny ford. these writers always act like they are favorable on e-cars as they cite b.s. statistics way less favorable to the e-car than reality. another one is cost of electricicty to e-car drivers— ours is so small you can not detect it in the bill. also have a converted Renault, it holds 9 kwh, costs 90cents to charge, only goes 60 miles, or 1.5 cents per mile— less efficient because it weighs a massive 1609 pounds. as carmakers see the light and make lighter and lighter e-cars, the cents per mile will drop ! not rocket science— it is just pounds to push.

    • Harry Seaward

      Q. Why won’t airplanes ever switch to electricity?

  • dennis

    I don’t know where you live but I pay a fuel surcharge, and taxes, for City, State, and Nation on my electricity.

  • Bob Joeker

    Electric cars not only save a lot of money… but they save A TON OF MONEY… not to mention not release a bit of dinosaur gas :)

  • nelly

    is their electric vehicles in Indonesia?

  • Harry Seaward

    It’s because their “Tank” is only good for 70 miles.
    Enjoy the cost of installing the equipment and raping the environment with your batteries.
    It is a pipe dream right now.

  • Beale Denver

    The answer in the title has been answered in a biased half truth manner. Why is electric energy cheaper than petrol? They answer because electricity grows on trees, local markets or state utility commissions which is bullcrap. Electricity is made from 40% charcoal, 10% nuclear, 2% so called renewable and the remaining is rarefying oil and gas. It is LESS EFFICIENT to produce energy in a electric power station and charge a battery than it is to produce that energy directly in the car! The real reason is nothing physical or logical or even reasonable, it just comes down to taxes: Petrol in the gaz station is taxed, petrol in the electric plant is not. Period. Electric vehicules do not have a smaller “footprint” it is in fact all the opposite, they are however cheaper to run at this time because needed energy taxes have not adjusted to this work-around fuel tax glitch.

    • Michael

      FINALLY! Somebody with common sense!
      People don’t like digging for the truth. It’s not about the cost to run a electric vehicle today. It’s about efficiency! To me even the “Tesla dream” (recharging your electric car at a “green” recharging station) doesn’t make much sense because it would still be better to feed this green electricity to the grid rather than a battery. When you buy a Tesla you pretty much agree to pay a premium (or a “tax”) to fund the network of recharging stations with their (future) solar panels and wind turbines and whatever. Well, why not charging more tax for electricity and invest in green energy? In Germany you pay 3 times more for power but it’s 1/4 green. It makes you think twice before you use electricity for nonsense but well, that’s what they tried to teach us “REDUCE, reuse, recycle”!

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