The cost of charging a Tesla—and how it compares to gas vehicles
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. This article looks at this last question with particular emphasis on each of the Tesla models.
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 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?
The cost of charging a Tesla Model X depends on whether you are using the free charging offered for this model at the Tesla supercharger stations or another charging station. It also depends on the size of battery pack that you purchased with the car and whether you are fully charging the battery from flat.
The Tesla Model X can be purchased with battery packs of different capacities between 60 to 100 kilowatt hours (kWh).
Let’s assume you own the Model X performance version with a 100 kWh battery and you pay the national average cost for power across the United States of 13 cents per kWh. Let's also allow for a charging efficiency of 85% — that's the usual efficiency for standard (Level 2) home charging stations, according to research studies.
Based on the above, it will cost $15.29 for a full charge. Given this car has a range of 305 miles, the cost per mile is 5 cents, or $5 per 100 miles driven.
What is the cost to charge a Tesla Model 3?
The long-range version of the Model 3 has a 75 kWh battery pack with a 322 mile range. If we still assume the average national electric pricing of 13 cents per kWh and a charging efficiency of 85%, then a full charge will cost $11.47. This is $3.60 per 100 miles of mixed city and freeway driving, or 3.6 cents per mile. This is almost 80% less than the cost per mile to drive the most popular gas-powered cars, which is approximately 15 cents per mile.
While these savings are impressive, 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 $19,000 before the current 26% tax credit and around $14,000 after tax credits. 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 5.6 cents per kWh.
This is almost 45% 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 will 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 it 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.
It can be quite difficult to get hold of good solar companies at the moment because people are flocking to get solar installed on their homes before the 26% federal solar tax credit reduces further at the end of this year.
How much does it cost to charge a Tesla Model S?
As of April 2020, the Tesla Model S can be purchased in Long Range and Performance versions, both with a battery of 100 kWh. If you have the Performance variant — which has a range of 348 miles — it costs $15.29 for a full charge based on electricity prices of 13 cents per kWh and 85% charging efficiency.
That gives you a charging cost of 4.4 cents a mile, or $4.40 per 100 miles.
Many Model S and Model X owners have access to free charging through the agreement they signed when they purchased the vehicle and so this may skew the argument above to power your Tesla from home solar.
How much to fuel a gas car vs. how much to charge a Tesla
The same study mentioned above indicated that the average cost to operate an internal combustion engine car was closer to $1,117 per year or $93 per month. Obviously, 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 can be quite outrageous, but those same areas tend to have cheaper electric costs.
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 or ICEs. 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, we are starting to see more variety like Nissan's Leaf. In between are hybrid electric vehicles of two varieties: plug-in hybrids that you recharge which switch to gasoline after the battery is drained, and hybrids that use gasoline to power a generator which creates electric power.
What are the pros and cons of an ICE gas car?
The upfront cost is 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. Likewise, they contribute to global warming 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 several decades, 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 X 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.
Author: 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.