Opinion: A Plug-In Perk: Free Charging


Finding Free Is the Key To Low-Cost EVing

I’m not sure why, but my news feed seems to be full of stories about how it’s often more expensive to charge an EV than one thinks, often times costing more than the gas equivalent vehicle. Why this is, I have no clue, but there are lots of these stories floating around. While in some cases it’s actually true (the most expensive of charge points vs. the most efficient of internal combustion cars, like my 2008 MINI Cooper Clubman that often gets almost 40 MPG), for the most part these are just hit pieces to sow controversy and generate revenue on ad-heavy websites.

Charging a Ford Mustang Mach-E
Charging places are proliferating in California–and elsewhere

My wife and I have owned BEVs for over seven years. This started with a leased Fiat 500e used as my wife’s commuter car (she’s a registered nurse with a 10-mile commute each way). Our current fleet of alternative drivetrain vehicles includes two plug-in hybrids (a Subaru CrossTrek and a Chrysler Pacifica) as well as my Mustang Mach-E. Needless to say, we’re very familiar with cars that plug in and have been for a very long time.

All these cost of charging hit pieces got me thinking about how owning plug in cars has affected our transportation costs. I started digging, only to find I don’t keep good enough notes to know for sure. It looks like we’ve about halved the cost of driving by switching to plugs from pumps. (Yes, we still do occasionally gas up. We have a teen driver and do the occasional road trip. I’ve used a gas station three times in the last six months!) Seat of the pants says we’ve gone from two fill ups a week to one a month. With gas on the Peninsula in the SF Bay Area well above $5 a gallon, this really adds up fast.

Then There’s Free

One item all the cost of charging hit pieces miss is free charging. It’s all over the place and can really add up. I take my Bernese Mountain Dog Juno to doggie play most mornings. Portola Valley Town Center has two 6.25 kilowatt chargers as well as lots and lots of solar cells. The first hour is free and then it’s $4 an hour. (When they were first installed a few years ago they were free without a time limit, but a Model S owner would charge over night and ruined it for all of us.) An hour is long enough to go to the library, visit the farmers market or let the dog play with other dogs on the fields.

Charging screenshot
A happy receipt

I looked at my ChargePoint account. They run the chargers for Portola Valley. Last year I received 162 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of free charging. Year to date I’ve charged another 91 kWh for free. And this is just my account and just ChargePoint. (My wife has her own account and many of the other chargers peppered around where we live are on other networks.) Over my entire ChargePoint account I’ve received over 430 kWh of free charging. When I look at my entire ChargePoint history, I’ve charged almost 1000 kWh on my account at an average cost of just under 18 cents per kWh. For my Mach-E, at $5/gallon gas, that’s cost equivalent of 90 MPG+. At $3 a gallon, that’s still about 54 MPG equivalent. Not too shabby considering this includes some of the more expensive DC Fast Chargers from a trip to Pismo Beach last year.

Finding the Chargers

The PlugShare app lets you filter the map (see below) to only show free chargers. While they aren’t the majority of chargers out there, there are a lot. The picture shows free chargers near where I live, and it’s pretty clear that with a little planning one can access free charging without much challenge. My family and I don’t seek out free charging. We’re more opportunistic and use it when it’s easy.

All those hit pieces touched a nerve. So I did some digging into my and my family’s real-world use case. We have two teens, one who drives, and a big dog. We charge at home and away as needed. We plan less well than we could. We’re not the BEV equivalent of HyperMilers! We find our real world costs of driving cars with plugs is a significant and large savings. In part, because it includes charging that is free.

free charging
Easier than finding Waldo



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