California's Electric Cars Fill Their 'Tanks' For Half Price

Comparison shopping between gasoline and electric fuel | Photo: Department of Energy

If you're like most people considering moving to an electric car, you might have found it hard to estimate what it'll cost to drive the thing as you go about your daily life. Converting from miles per gallon per dollar to miles per kilowatt-hour per dolllar isn't the easiest bit of math to do in your head, especially when you have to go look at your electric bill to find out what you're paying for power.

But now the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) has made that comparison a little easier. It turns out that electric cars are about half as expensive to drive in California as gasoline-powered cars -- once you get the car paid for.

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At the DoE's "eGallon" page, you can compare the price of a gallon of gas in your state with the cost of the electricity it would take an average electric car to drive you the same distance as the gallon of gas would get an average traditional car. The DoE explains:

As of Wednesday, June 12, according to the DoE, a gallon of gasoline costs an average $3.98 in California, while the equivalent "eGallon" of electrical power -- which would get a typical electric vehicle that 28.2 miles -- costs $1.51. That's just a few cents above half the cost to fuel a gasoline car.

California turns out to be a bit more expensive for electric cars relative to gasoline-powered ones. An Arizona eGallon costs about $1.07 at the moment, less than a third the price of a gallon of gas in that state (at $3.74 on Wednesday). Nevada's in about the same place, with an eGallon running at $1.17. Washington, the land of cheap hydroelectric power, has an eGallon running about 84 cents, less than one quarter the cost of gasoline there. Nationwide, eGallons average about one third the cost of their gasoline equivalents, according to the DoE.

And as the DoE points out, it's not just about the cheaper fuel, but about financial security:

Chart: CREDIT/Department of Energy

The tool's slightly coarse-grained. Electricity prices vary significantly across California, as do gas prices and the performance of different models of gasoline- and electric-powered automobiles. But as a tool designed to give prospective electric car buyers a first take on what they can expect to pay to run their new rides, it's pretty cool.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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