- if you've been paying attention to the development of electric vehicles long enough, you know that there are endless factors when calculating just how clean or dirty or cheap or expensive they are.
- to give buyers an estimate, the anderson economic group has put out a paper trying to figure out the real-world cost, in time and money, of making the switch from gas to electric.
- while the study authors did point out a fair number of legitimate factors that make charging evs more time-consuming than getting gas for your car, what they did not do was publish an honest and realistic look at how easy it is to charge up for some people. it's an exercise in finding convenient ways to minimize the benefits and highlight the negatives.
the latest "electric vehicles are scary!" study is out, and this one is a doozy. a new paper from the economic consulting firm anderson economic group (aeg) does some novel things as it tries to comprehend the full spectrum of costs associated with making the shift away from a gas-powered vehicle to an ev. the trouble is that the authors can't hide their biases in their quest to tell everyone that gas vehicles can refuel in less time than it takes to charge an ev.
for example, based on gas prices in michigan, where aeg is based, the study says the "direct monetary cost to drive 100 miles in an internal-combustion (ice) vehicle is between $8 and $12, and in an ev is between $12 and $15." that sounds alarming, and the results show that no matter what, it costs more to refuel using electricity than gasoline.
but take a closer look at table 2, and you'll see that three types of gas-powered cars are listed: entry, mid-priced, and luxury. for the evs, there are also three columns, but they include one mid-priced and two luxury evs (one that's "mostly" charged at home, and one that's more often charged at a public charger). in other words, any cost benefit from buying an entry-level ev is missing from this table.
more important is noting that the study assumes odd habits for an ev driver who "mostly" recharges at home. how odd? the study assumes that it takes 2.5 minutes a day to charge using an installed home charger. this feels a bit too long, but if we accept their assumption and use an average 30-day month, we can see how they calculate that charging at home eats up 75 minutes of time a month. but the paper doesn't use 75 minutes as a home charging example. instead, it also assumes people with home charges actually conduct 40 percent of their charges at a public, commercial station. this, then, allows the study to claim that they spend 4.5 hours a month charging their car.
at-home vs. away-from-home charging
being able to charge at home is key to the ownership-cost equation, and we would expect that the charging ratio of many ev owners is more like 90/10 percent in favor of at-home charging. over the past two years, our long-term tesla model 3 is running at a 55/45 percent split in favor of at-home charging, and we would expect our figures to be on the high side of commercial charging as ours is constantly driven by people without a 240-volt hookup at home and also going on long trips.
here's another example of the study's less than honorable methodology. the paper makes the case that charging an ev takes longer than an internal-combustion-engine vehicle. this is true for anyone who can't charge at home—and it is undeniably a real issue—but then, in order to calculate the dollar cost of the extra time it takes an ev driver, the authors assume an annual salary of $70,000. according to the social security administration, though, the national average wage index for 2020 was just over $55,000. ziprecruiter says the average annual pay for a national in the united states is just over $74,000 a year, but also says that the "average pay range . . . varies greatly (by as much as $52,500)."
in any case, by using the higher estimated wage, the study authors are able to show that evs "cost" more because they assume that each minute of time it takes to charge is worth more money than if they had used a lower annual salary. convenient.
then let's look at how the study authors deal with "free" public chargers. they admit that these options exist, but then say that they "recognize that ['free' chargers] involve a cost that must be paid, and which may be embedded in property taxes, tuition, consumer prices, or investor burdens." their solution? they simply "price [the free chargers] using commercial rates." well, isn't that convenient? and you can probably guess how they deal with the various free charging bundles that some automakers offer with the purchase of a new ev. that's right. instead of counting it as zero cost, they price it like other commercial rates.
consumption vs. efficiency
there's more. while the paper mentions that "ev buyers typically receive a level 1 charger along with their auto purchase," they still include a $600 fee to buy one in their tally of costs. they also make another gaffe when calculating how much energy is needed for each vehicle. although they cite our piece on charging losses, they apparently forgot to read the one on consumption versus efficiency, because they use epa combined efficiency figures in their calculations—those already include charging losses—and then add another factor of 88 percent to account for charging losses. unwinding the double counting lowers the cost figures by more than a dollar a piece to between $11.72 and $12.97. and if you instead assume home charging in a 90/10-percent split, the cost of the luxury ev drops to $10.50 per 100 miles, handily beating the luxury gas-powered example. as we have also pointed out, the percentage of commercial charging makes all the difference, as our model 3 is no cheaper to fuel than our long-term bmw m340i when always charging at the far more expensive public chargers.
the authors at least admit that what they've created here is not exactly a scientific study, noting that they include data from ev drivers "posted on forums for taycan and tesla drivers; reddit; and applications serving ev drivers such as plugshare and chargepoint." in other words, all of the squeaky wheels who went to post a complaint got the grease here, while all of the people who had uneventful charging sessions—and thus didn't post—were ignored. convenient.
perhaps most convenient, though, is how the anderson economic group's paper ignores any mention of emissions or climate change. say what you want about this figure being difficult to calculate, but it feels disingenuous not to at least address the topic.
and it's not like no one has tried to calculate the different emissions between ice vehicles and evs. polestar's recent life-cycle analysis comes to mind.
to be fair, completely seamless ev charging remains a pipe dream for most people. changing the world's transportation infrastructure is taking a long time, and it's messy. the examples that the paper cites about broken or otherwise non-working charging stations are a real thing. the paper can make a good case that for people who aren't able to charge at home, evs present hassles that gas vehicles don't. the "deadhead miles" when you have to go out of your way to find a charging station can be a pain—and should be kept in mind.
bottom line: do the math yourself
the best thing to do, if you're interested in learning about the real-world charging and driving costs of driving an ev, is to find an online calculator by a reputable source—some utilities offer them to their clients—and input your own information. it's good to read this paper, too, to see how some people will frame the debate. the auto industry absolutely needs to keep having honest discussions about how challenging it can be for some drivers to charge their electric vehicles. this paper, biased as it is, should not be considered part of that discussion.