Who pays for electric car charging stations?

by: Ronald Montoya
Electric vehicle charging at charging station.

Who pays for electric car charging stations?

In a perfect world, we'd all have free charging for our electric vehicles. Sadly, this isn't the case. So if you're wondering who pays for electric car charging stations, the simple answer in most cases is: you! But there's more to it than that. Many EV charging stations actually are free provided that you meet some requirements. In this article, Edmunds explores the different places where you'll encounter EV charging stations, point out which ones are free, and give some tips on reducing your costs.

Specifically, there are three main places where you may encounter charging stations: at home, at work, and in public spaces such as shopping centers, hotels or designated charge stations. We'll consider each in turn — let's get started.

Who pays for home charging stations?

If you're an EV owner charging at home, you'll usually be the one paying for it. This bears out in a couple of ways. First, you'll need an electrician to check if your home can handle the increased power draw and install any necessary upgrades, such as a new electrical panel. But if you already have a 240-volt wall outlet in your home, you may learn that you're able to plug your EV right in without much hassle. Conversely, you may need to purchase and install a designated charging station, which you may also see referred to as EVSE (electric vehicle supply equipment). These can range anywhere from $300 to upward of $1,000 depending on the features you want. That doesn't include installation costs, which can easily top $1,000 as well.

There are some incentives, however, that can help reduce the costs of your home's charger, including an available federal tax credit that is calculated as whichever is smaller: 30% of the charger's cost or $1,000, according to the IRS. There may be additional incentives and rebates at the state or local level, either from the city or utility company. Take a look at the U.S. Department of Energy website for information specific to your location.

Once your home charger setup is complete, you will pay a certain amount per kilowatt-hour (kWh) on your electric bill. Home electricity rates vary by location and utility company. As of this writing, electricity rates range from about $0.10 per kWh in South Dakota to $0.45 per kWh in Hawaii. The national average is about $0.15 per kWh, according to the U.S. Energy and Information Administration.

Who funds public chargers?

Public charge stations, whether they are Level 2 chargers or DC fast chargers, will have the most variability in terms of who is paying for them. Not much is free in this world, so in most cases, you'll likely be the one paying for your EV to get charged at a public station. But there are some exceptions. We'll give you the lay of the land below.

Chargers at businesses and in public places

Charging stations, especially fast chargers, are expensive to install and maintain. That's why many businesses partner with third-party companies such as ChargePoint, EVgo or Electrify America to operate the chargers. Not surprisingly, these companies charge EV drivers to recharge their vehicles. If you frequent a particular brand of these stations, it can save you money to create an account with the company or join its subscription program, as reduced rates and other benefits may ensue. Tesla's Supercharger network likewise charges drivers for those fresh electrons, unless you're lucky enough to have an older model that came with free charging.

Some places, however, offer free charging for EVs as an incentive for customers to pay them a visit, or simply as a public good. We've seen free chargers at places such as museums, hotels, higher-end supermarkets and even public libraries. Note that in some cases, while the charging is free, the parking may not be. Similarly, if you're not a customer and try to sneak a free charge, the business has the right to enforce its parking rules and unplug your EV or potentially tow your vehicle away.

Chargers at car dealerships

Many dealerships that sell electric vehicles have charging stations on site. In many cases, they are free to use, though there are some caveats. If you bring an EV from another brand, the dealership may be less willing to let you use a charger. Similarly, if you're planning on leaving your EV there for hours, the dealer may unplug your vehicle to let another customer charge up.

Chargers at utility companies

The local power company can be another source of free charging for your EV. In larger cities, you can find a number of free electric vehicle charge stations at utility company locations. What's in it for them? It ultimately favors utility companies to encourage people to own electric vehicles. The electricity they give away for free is likely offset by the customers who charge at home and are using more energy.

Free charging from automakers

Some automakers, including Ford and Volkswagen, have partnered with charge companies to offer free charging as an incentive to purchase their electric vehicles. For example, Volkswagen offers unlimited 30-minute charge sessions for three years at Electrify America stations. BMW offers two years of free charging in the same Electrify America network. If you need to charge your EV at a station from a different brand, however, you'll need to pay for that out of pocket.

Who pays for workplace charging stations?

There are a number of workplaces that have EV chargers in their parking lots. Some choose to do it as a benefit to their employees, while others may want the chargers to help with green building certification programs. Since the business is paying for the charging equipment to be installed and maintained, it is the business' decision whether or not to charge employees. In other words, if the workplace offers free electric car charging, it'll pay for it. If not, you'll need to pay.

In summary

While most of the scenarios we've covered end up with the electric vehicle owner paying for a charge station, it isn't always the case. If you're willing to do the legwork and familiarize yourself with the different rules for each scenario, you can save money using free public charging stations. Finally, electric vehicle owners can use the PlugShare app or website, which gives you the option to filter stations based on whether or not you have to pay for them.

This story was produced by Edmunds and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.