30 states allow kWh pricing, but non-Tesla EV drivers mostly miss benefits

North Carolina is now the 30th state to allow public EV charging companies to offer pricing by the kilowatt-hour (kWh), instead of charging per minute. The change was thanks to bipartisan legislation — House Bill 329, Renewable Energy Amendments — passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Roy Cooper.

The vast majority of Americans now live and drive in places where private companies are free to set up EV charging stations and offer pricing for actual kWh delivered to the vehicle. Tesla calls billing by the kWh “the most fair and simple method.” Any EV driver would agree, as all sorts of factors including the weather affect the speed an EV will charge at, making per-minute pricing something of a crapshoot as opposed to how many kWh (like ‘gallons of gas’) was actually delivered.

So why isn’t kWh pricing more common?

There are four major players in public EV charging in the US, with three different business models, but only Tesla has a stated preference for kWh pricing, which they list at $0.28 per kWh in the United States (but this seems to be a maximum, with some states paying less. Update: a user says they pay $0.30/kWh at an urban Tesla Supercharger in downtown Chicago. What do you pay? Comment below).

The other three leading networks are Chargepoint, EVgo, and Electrify America, which all offer direct-current fast-charging (“DCFC”) stations with CCS / Chademo type connectors.

Chargepoint’s business model is unique, as they don’t own the stations in their network, but rather partner with 3rd party site-hosts (property owners) and leave the pricing formula up to the private site-host. Chargepoint supports pricing per-kWh as it gives their charger-owners more flexibility. Notably, in the Mid-Atlantic, gas station chain Royal Farms partnered with Chargepoint, and they offer the same $0.28 per kWh pricing as Tesla.

Electrify America and EVgo both own and operate their charging networks, and set their own pricing.

EVgo, with DCFC chargers (almost all offering speeds at a max of 50kW) in 34 states, says that they are “the nation’s largest and most reliable public fast-charging network.” In most of the country, EVgo prices are at $0.30/per-minute for their 50kW stations, and a few cents less if you sign up for their $8/month plan that also includes 29 free minutes.

Electrify America says that they “offer the largest number of public, high-powered, fast-charging stations on the market” with 140 stations (offering speeds up to 350kW) across the country as of April 2019. Their pricing is especially convoluted, however. Instead of a flat per-minute rate like EVgo, Electrify America’s per-minute rate is billed simply based on what model of EV you plug-in, regardless of how much power is actually delivered.

If your EV is theoretically capable of accepting speeds over 125kW (almost all Teslas), then in California you pay an outlandish $0.99 / min. If your EV’s max kW rate is between 76-125kW, then you pay $0.69 / min, and if your max speed is 75kW or less, then you pay $0.25 / min. There is also a $1 session fee on top of the per-minute rate. In New York, the rates are slightly lower: $0.89 / $0.58 / $0.21 per-minute respectively.

Hyundai Kona and Kia Niro EV users have been particularly startled by Electrify America’s pricing scheme, as their theoretical max-rates are just above the 75kW. Even though they charge at speeds below 75kW for the entirety or almost all of their session, every minute is billed at the mid-tier rate ranging from $0.69 – $0.58. Electrify America does not offer its customers the option to cap the kW speed at a lower tier to benefit from cheaper pricing, nor do any EVs allow their drivers to cap their own direct-current charge rate.

How do these per-minute rates compare?

First, some context:

  • In the United States, the average cost per-kWh is $0.14 for residential, for commercial $0.13, for industrial $0.07, and for the transportation sector it’s $0.09.
  • A 2015 U.S. Department of Energy report pegged the installation cost of a 50kW DCFC station at $4,000-$51,000, and their survey showed a typical electricity cost of $0.10/kWh. The report did discuss how demand chargers can increase this rate for some operators, but did not provide any general data.

Converting per-minute to per-kWh rates is hard because of all the factors that can slow down charging, but EVgo’s $0.30 per minute will equal roughly $0.41 / kWh under ideal conditions. EV drivers report charging sessions that cost them much, much more, especially at Electrify America, with over $0.60/kWh even when quitting charging below 80% state-of-charge (when significant kW speed tapering occurs).

A used Prius can easily get 90 miles with just 2 gallons of gas. So with gas at $3/gallon, your 90 miles cost you $6.

To travel 90 miles, a typical EV will consume 25kWh. Under ideal conditions at EVgo, your 90 miles will cost $10.25. But if you drive a Hyundai Kona and it’s wintertime, you could easily pay 3x the cost of gasoline.

A very simplistic, rough rule (to retain some context): fueling up an EV at $0.25-0.30/kWh is roughly equivalent to buying the same range as a typical hybrid would get at $3.00 per gallon.

If you’re fueling up at Electrify America’s middle price-tier, you’ll pay approximately $22 for 30 minutes which would fuel the typical EV with 22-30 kWh, paying upwards of $1.00/kWh. That’s $22 to drive 90 miles in your EV, more expensive than driving a Chevy Tahoe (~$16 in gas at $3.00 per gallon).

Broader implications

Utilities are also looking to get into the public charging business as well. They’re meeting a lot of opposition, but when they are successful, they are able to convince regulators that it would be a bad thing to undercut the private market, and so we’re seeing regulators sign off on utility EV charging pricing untethered to the actual cost of delivery. A scary precedent.

And while most Americans can currently charge at home off their utility-regulated pricing around $0.14/kWh, many cannot. If people face public charging pricing that is a factor of 3-4 times higher than home charging, and double to triple the cost of gasoline, they are unlikely to buy an EV. Alternatively, it will push people to seek housing where they can charge at home, which runs counter to every city’s desire for greater urban housing density and less sprawl.

Electrek’s Take

Maybe take the Tahoe? We cannot think of any justification for pricing per-minute when per-kWh is allowed. Well-meaning people who aren’t passionate EV enthusiasts are learning the hard way that despite the general view, fueling an EV can be far more expensive than filling up an ICE car. They’re telling their friends about the hard lessons learned, and this is slowing down EV adoption.

When you go to the gas station, the price per gallon is very prominently displayed, and a gas pump conveys nothing but certainty as to how much energy you’ve procured and how much you owe. Gas pumps are regulated and audited to make sure people are paying precisely the advertised amount for the energy they purchase.

If demand charges are really entirely to blame for the 4-8x cost we’re seeing over typical utility-customer rates, then we deserve a public explanation. At a minimum, Electrify America should offer its customers the option to charge at the lower tiers. Governments and utility commissions are already providing subsidies to EV charging networks, so they should justify the per-minute pricing ratepayers and taxpayers have subsidized.

[h/t Energy News Network]

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