The cost of charging a Tesla—and how it compares to gas vehicles

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What's the cost of charging a Tesla?
Find out how much you can save by charging your Tesla with solar panels

The debate rages on about whether or not driving an electric vehicle is really a cost-saving measure worth entertaining. Tesla electric cars have brought electric vehicles into the mainstream but their popularity has raised new questions: which battery to choose, where to charge your car, how long it takes to charge and, of course, how much it will cost to charge your electric vehicle

Your Tesla’s charging cost depends on how you use your vehicle and what model of electric vehicle you intend to buy. Fortunately, there are many more EV options on the market than in years past, including good options by other car makers. Here's how the costs break down across different vehicle types:

How much does it cost to charge a Tesla Model X?

Both the Tesla Model X Long Range and the Model X Plaid come with 100 kilowatt-hour (kWh) batteries. Older versions of the Model X may have battery capacities as low as 60 kWh. 

Let’s assume you own a Model X with a 100 kWh battery and you pay the national average cost of electricity in the U.S of $0.13 per kWh. Let’s also allow for a charging efficiency of 85%, which is standard for Level 2 home charging stations. 

Based on this, it would cost about $15.29 for a Model X to fully charge. Given the 2021 Model X Long Range has a range of 360 miles, the cost per mile would be about $0.042, or $4.24 per 100 miles driven. 

The 2021 Model X Plaid has a range of 340 miles, so the cost per mile would slightly higher around $0.045, with the cost per 100 miles coming to about $4.49. 

Keep in mind, the cost of charging a Tesla Model X depends on the type of charger you are using, the cost of electricity in your area, and whether or not you are fully charging the battery from zero.

What is the cost to charge a Tesla Model 3?

The Standard Range Model 3 comes with a 50 kWh battery and 263 miles of range. Both the Long Range and Performance Model 3s come with an 82 kWh battery. The Long Range taps out at 353 miles of range, while the Performance model has 315 miles of range.  

If you purchase the 2021 Standard Range Model 3, you can expect to pay about $7.65 to fully charge the battery. That brings the cost per mile to about $0.03, or $2.91 per 100 miles. 

To completely charge the 2021 Long Range and Performance models, it would cost $12.54. That’s about $0.036 per mile for the Long Range, and $0.04 for the Performance model.

How much does it cost to charge a Tesla Model S?

As of February 2021, there are three versions of the Model S: Long Range, Plaid, and Plaid+. All come with a 100 kWh battery. 

If you have the Long Range variant - which has an impressive range of 412 miles - it costs $15.29 for a full charge based on electricity prices of $0.13 per kWh and 85% charging efficiency. 

That gives you a charge cost of $0.037 per mile, or $3.70 per 100 miles.

How much does it cost to charge a Tesla Model Y?

Tesla’s newest EV model - the Model Y - has three versions, all of which come with a 75 kWh battery. The cost to fully charge the Standard Range Model Y comes out to $11.47. That’s about $0.047 per mile, or $4.70 per 100 miles. 

This is almost 64% less than the cost per mile to drive some of the most popular gas-powered cars, which is approximately 13 cents per mile

These gas savings are impressive, but most new electric car buyers have realized that there is an even cheaper way to charge their Tesla: using home solar panels. 

What is the cost of charging a Tesla if you use a home solar-powered charging station?

Charging can be even cheaper if you install a home solar power system but not every house will suit solar panels. If your house suits solar panels, solar power can be produced for as little as 5 cents per kilowatt hour. This will allow you to charge your Tesla for only 35% of the costs quoted above and will also reduce the cost of powering your home.

Let's take a dive into the math.

A 6 kW solar system will cost around $17,100 before the current 26% tax credit, and around $12,654 after the tax credit. It will generate between 6,130–10,500 kWh of electricity per year (depending on how sunny it is where you live). This is between 184,000–315,000 kWh over the 30-year life of a solar power system, or about 5.6 cents per kWh.

This is almost 35% less than the national average cost of power and less than a third of the cost of grid power. In states like California, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, where utility electric rates are much higher than the national average, it can be at least 65% cheaper to charge your Tesla with home solar power rather than using grid electricity.

Admittedly, this doesn't take into account the time cost of money. But with interest rates on deposits close to zero, that doesn't change the numbers that much.

However, the cost of installation for your home may be higher or lower than average. You can generate an online solar cost and savings estimate for your home by entering your zip code and power bill into our solar calculator.

From just your address and monthly power bill our calculator can work out how many panels you need, if they will fit on your roof, and your likely savings. It also allows you to compare prices charged by local solar companies if you wish to do so. You can get started here.

How much to fuel a gas car vs. how much to charge a Tesla

A study conducted by the University of Michigan concluded that the average cost to operate an internal combustion engine car was close to $1,117 per year. 

Electric vehicles, on the other hand, were estimated to cost an average of $485 per year. The actual cost of operating an EV varies from state to state. But even in Hawaii, the state with the  highest average electricity prices, the cost to operate an EV is still lower than the cost of a combustion engine car. 

There is also the matter of range to consider. For instance, a truck that only gets 14 mpg is not the same as fueling a sedan that gets closer to 40 mpg. It is also worth noting that in some parts of the country, fuel costs will be much higher than average.

What are the different types of cars?

There are several different types of vehicles to compare when considering gas cars versus electric. 

First are internal combustion engines (ICE). These include all of the various gasoline, diesel, and biofuel options that are currently on the road.

On the other end of the spectrum are battery electric vehicles. These are fully electric cars that operate on battery power alone. While Tesla is the most notable of these brands, other models such as the Nissan Leaf are becoming increasingly popular. 

In between are hybrid electric vehicles, which come in two main varieties: plug-in hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, that you recharge and switch to gasoline after the battery is drained, and mild hybrids that use gasoline to power a generator which creates electric power, like the Mazda 2 Hybrid. 

What are the pros and cons of an internal combustion engine (ICE) car?

The upfront cost of ICE vehicles are usually lower, and you can find a wide range of new and used vehicles. Secondly, gas stations are widely available everywhere you go, so you don't have to worry much about running out of gas.

On the downside, gas cars are more expensive to operate in the long run, and those costs are subject to wild fluctuations without much warning. They also contribute to climate change and other environmental hazards.

What are the pros and cons of electric vehicles?

Electric vehicles are cheaper to operate on an annual basis and can save you a ton of time by allowing you to recharge at home. They are significantly better for the environment, and they have proven that they can be competitive when it comes to power and performance.

On the downside, charging networks can be tricky at first, and you will have to do some extra planning to account for some of the slower charging stops you may encounter.

Which is better: EV or ICE?

Overall, electric vehicles are proving themselves capable, and they will be the way of the future. While this transition is likely to take a long time, electric vehicles are superior for daily driving in almost every way.

The cost breakdown

There are many costs associated with vehicle ownership beyond just the fuel. In the big picture, you are likely to pay slightly more in insurance for an EV than you would an ICE. However, you will save money on maintenance because EVs have almost no wearable parts that require upkeep beyond the tires. You won't have to pay for oil changes, filters, etc. If you choose to invest in solar panels for your home, you can reduce your charging costs even further to make your EV nearly free to operate. Plus, there are tons of rebates and incentives to reduce the upfront cost of EVs.

Which is the best EV?

The best EV for you will be the one that meets your budget and gives you the range you need for daily tasks. Both the Nissan Leaf and Tesla's Model 3 are affordable options. While Tesla's Supercharger network is very well thought out, not all cities have access to one, so you will need to consider the availability of applicable chargers near you. If you need space and performance, the Model X is great for large families and is priced similarly to other luxury SUVs.

What factors will affect the cost of charging your electric vehicle?

The cost of charging your EV each year will depend on a number of factors including:

  • How many miles will you need to drive in between charging sessions? Choose a model with enough range and capacity to ensure you don’t end up stuck.
  • Budget-conscious buyers can find great models under $35,000, like the Kia Soul EV Consumers with more cash flow might consider investing in more technologically-advanced models like the Tesla Model S.
  • For those in areas that lack dependable public station options, hybrid vehicles allow you to drive longer in between charging sessions.
  • What are you hauling on your daily drives? For those living the single life, a compact Mitsubishi i-MiEV is sporty and light. For a great all-around sedan, consider the Kia Optima. For families on the go, options like the Tesla Model Y give you the room and comfort you need to get through your routine.

Do your research before committing to a model to ensure you get exactly what you want.

Electric vehicles are an important part of preserving our common resources. Installing solar panels to charge your electric vehicle amplifies your efforts and further reduces strain on dwindling oil reserves. Contact a residential solar installation company in your area to find out more about installing a solar system to go with your electric vehicle.

How many solar panels would it take to cover your electric bill?

Key takeaways

  • The Tesla Model X costs about $15.29 to fully charge, which comes out to about 4.5 cents per mile.
  • It will cost around $7.65 to charge a Tesla Model 3. Depending on the variant, this is between 3 and 4 cents per mile.
  • If you own a Tesla Model S, you can expect to pay about 3.7 per mile. A full charge will cost $15.29 total.
  • The cost to charge a Tesla Model Y is about $11.47 cents, or 4.7 cents per mile.
  • The cost to operate an electric vehicle is substantially lower than the cost of a conventional gas powered car, and it can be even cheaper when you charge your EV with solar panels.
 

 - Author of Solar Reviews

Andrew Sendy

Home Solar Journalist

Andy is deeply concerned about climate change but is also concerned about cost of living pressures on American families. He advocates for solar energy and solar battery storage only to the extent that they make financial sense for homeowners. He is not affiliated with any particular solar company in the United States.

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