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Articles on Electric Vehicles

November 21, 2015
Paul Gipe

What Did Driving Our Electric Vehicle Cost Us in the First Year?


In October of 2014 we leased a 2015 Nissan Leaf, a battery-powered Electric Vehicle or EV. After one year of operation we can tally what it has cost us.

We would have bought the car, but the US tax code discriminates against families with low incomes such as ours. We had to lease to take full advantage of the subsidies available for buying an EV.

The Deal

We signed a three-year lease, the minimum necessary to qualify for federal, state, and regional subsidies. The lease required a $2,500 down payment and monthly lease fees of $217.

We couldn’t reach a reasonable price with our local dealer so we leased the car from a dealer in the Bay Area and had the car transported to Bakersfield at a cost of $500. We’d never bought a car by “mail order” before, but it was a lot easier than we imagined.

Subsidies

Through the lease, Nissan qualifies for the $7,500 tax credit from the federal government. We do not. Thus, we cannot use the subsidy. However, Nissan cuts the cost of the lease by an amount equivalent to the subsidy. We still get the benefit, but it's rolled into the cost of the lease.

We qualified for the $2,500 subsidy from the State of California.

We also qualified for a $3,000 subsidy from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District—the only advantage of living in the most polluted air basin in the United States.

EVSEs

We hired a local electrician to install an EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment), otherwise known as a charge station, somewhat more powerful than we required. This future proofs the installation for the longer-range EVs that will come to market in a few years. The 40-amp unit we installed was maybe $100 to $200 more than would have been the minimal required.

Because our intent was to learn about EVs and share our experience with others, we installed more equipment—at a higher cost—than would be required for other users. For example, we installed an expensive digital kWh for several hundred dollars. A surplus kWh would have done the same job for a fraction of the cost. We also installed a NEMA 14-50 receptacle and outdoor enclosure to test charging the car with portable or mobile EVSEs.

We also added a disconnect switch at the EVSE. I believe this is a necessary component when using the NEMA 14-50 receptacle and generally a good idea for the wall-mounted, hard-wired EVSE as well.

Our electrician had never installed an EVSE before. That was fine with us; he’s a successful entrepreneur and may install an EVSE at his bed and breakfast based on what he learned at our installation.

Portable EVSEs

All EVs come with an emergency EVSE that is capable of trickle-charging the traction battery at 120 volts. You just plug into a wall outlet. However, it would take a full day to charge our Leaf, so it’s impractical for anything other than an emergency or when you plan to leave the car overnight, for example.

We immediately opted to have the stock EVSE in the Leaf upgraded to 240 volts at a cost of about $400. This would allow us to charge the car at 3.3 kW at an RV park, for example, on a NEMA 14-50 outlet. We used this on several trips out of town. It was a lifesaver. Don’t leave home without it!

EVSE Upgrade of the emergency trickel-charge EVSE that comes with a Nissan Leaf.

We’d hoped that this was just a temporary necessity and that the DC Fast Chargers would soon be installed obviating the need for a portable EVSE. Not so. California is way behind other states in developing a network of fast charging stations.

Thus, we gradually came to the conclusion that if the Leaf is capable of drawing 6.6 kW, we should charge at 6.6 kW wherever fast chargers were not available. This led us to buying a Jesla EVSE. The Jesla is not cheap, basically a Tesla mobile charge cable with a J1772 connector on it.

You only need one or the other. We’re happy with both. Now that I’ve used it, I prefer the Jesla because, well, it’s faster.

Fuel Cost

We bought about $250 in electricity the first year we owned the Leaf.

The Bottom Line

Driving the EV during the first year cost us about $4,400. The subsidies, and especially the $3,000 from the air district, made this an attractive step for us. The subsidies offset the down payment, lease fees, and delivery charge. (Our thanks to American and California tax payers for making this possible.)

One could knock off from $500 to $1,000 on the installation of the home EVSE over what we paid, and you could cut another $500 from having duplicate portable EVSEs. This would reduce first year cost $1,000 to $1,500. This would drop first year costs to about $3,000.

We don’t anticipate any additional expenses in subsequent years of the lease. And it's important to keep in mind that the home charge station will be used for many years into the future, certainly for the next generation of mass-market EVs, and possibly the generation after that. (We don't have any plans to buy another gasoline-powered car.) We have essentially installed our own gas pump.

Technically, the cost of the home charge station and the Jesla portable EVSE should be prorated over the years that they will be used. If they were used for the next decade, the cost during the first year would only be about $400. This would put is in the black during the first year by about $4,000.

Nevertheless, most consumers are not accustomed to the concept of capital investment and returns from invested capital over many years, and look solely at cost. It's difficult for them to envision costs prorated over time. For this reason, I am reporting first year costs in their entirety without prorating the cost of the home charge station.


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