While out of town drivers can comfortably charge on the drive, those in inner-city areas face higher prices—if they can find a station that works.
Live in the suburbs with a garage? Good news: Charging an electric vehicle couldn’t be cheaper.
Live in the city center and park on the street? Tough luck, you could be paying more than the cost of diesel to keep your EV running.
EV Sales have more than doubled in the past year and form 8.6 percent of global sales. The average cost of EVs remains high, but the ever increasing cost of diesel and petrol means they are much cheaper to run – If you are charging from your domestic supply – topping up the battery from a street chargepoint can cost 80% more for the same charge.
This isn’t just an issue for individuals – disproportionate costs like this could stall EV rollout where it is needed most – inner city streets.
“This isn’t just unfair, it’s a policy mistake,” says Nana Osei Bonsu, a research fellow focusing on sustainability at Birmingham Business School. “People living in flats are being left out of the transition to EVs.”
Which has compared costs for charging specific EVs using various methods.
At-home charging costs 28 pence per kWh on average
A slower AC public charge point costs 35p per kWh
A Rapid DC charge point costs 50p per kWh.
So for a Hyundai Ioniq, home charging costs 7.3p per mile, versus 13.1p per mile at the most expensive rapid charging points, a difference of more than £500 a year if you drive 9,000 miles annually.
For larger cars like the Polestar 2 this gap widens to 13.2 pence per mile on a home charger and 23.5p per mile using a rapid charger.
So while EVs generally remain cheaper to run than gas or diesel equivalents, if you were to only use a DC rapid charger, that may not be the case.
Data from the International Council on Clean Transportation, an environmental nonprofit, shows rapid chargers can cost three to five times as much as residential electricity.
“Relying on more expensive and likely also less convenient charging removes one of the primary benefits of an electric car: lower ongoing cost of driving,” says senior researcher Dale Hall. “Those in apartments, including those with lower incomes, may end up either paying more or simply not purchasing an electric vehicle and continuing to spend money on fuel.”
Homes in cities are less likely to have off-street parking than those in rural or suburban areas, for example in the US, 78% of resident-owned American homes have a garage or carport, versus just 37% for rented homes.
“This burden is certainly felt more heavily by those living in urban areas, as in the US private garages with electricity access are almost universal outside of the dense city centers,” says Hall. “Even in cities in the US, off-street parking is relatively common, but these are frequently in shared garages where there may not be electricity access.”
In short, cities – which have the greatest need for EVs are the least attractive area for the EV user at present
Installing an abundance of charging points throughout cities—on streets, in housing estate car parks, in retail locations and offices—can address the first challenge, but ensuring EV charging is equitable is a harder problem to solve.
In the meantime, city dwellers with lower incomes will either pay more for an EV or not drive one at all.
“Either of these options reinforces economic inequality, and may also contribute to a popular perception of electric vehicles as a technology for wealthy people and not for broader society, hampering efforts to accelerate adoption,” says Hall.
To even out the playing field, opens include modifying the VAT rates for EV electricity – domestic supply has a VAT rate of 5% vs 20% for street chargers
The Wired article goes broader.
Bonsu calls for more rapid chargers in communities, rather than just gas stations, while Hall suggests EV points be required in all new buildings or those undergoing major renovations, be they shops, homes, or office blocks. Hall warns against assuming only white-collar workers want chargers, which should be installed at industrial parks, retail locations, and anywhere else people work. “Although this will take a while to have an impact, it can help to ensure that once electric vehicles make up the majority of the fleet, far more drivers will have access to affordable, convenient charging,” Hall says.
There’s more to the problem than availability of charging points – the charging networks are too complicated, adding extra burdens beyond the financial. There are dozens of suppliers, each with their own payment app, subscription systems, and prices, not to mention connection fees and other add-on costs and different chargers. “The user experience that comes with using public chargers versus a home charger is night and day,” says Patrick Reich, the CEO and cofounder of charging aggregation and payment app Bonnet.
Another complaint is reliability: Drivers show up to charging points to find they’re in use, out of service, or not compatible with their car. “People are not so worried about range anymore, but they do have charger anxiety—when they turn up to charge, they want to be confident that it’s working and available for use,” says Melanie Shufflebotham, COO and cofounder of Zap-Map.
Apps like Bonnet and Zap-Map help by including reliability and availability data, as well as aggregating payments for as many networks as possible, but not all operators make it easy.
“While we have 70 percent of charge points on the map with live data, there are still some networks who don’t want to share their market—that’s not great for the market,” says Shufflebotham.
In total then, people without off-street parking not only have higher charging costs but also a less convenient experience – which means that they are less likely to switch to EVs in the areas that need them most
“If we want more people to switch to an EV, particularly those who cannot charge from home, charging must be easy, accessible, and affordable,” says Natalie Hitchins, head of home products and services at Which.