A few weeks ago Idaho National Laboratories released the results of what it dubbed the “the largest plug-in electric vehicle infrastructure demonstration in the world.” Largely conducted in the pre Tesla S years, the study followed more than 8300 EVs (LEAFs and Volts) for three years, 6 million charging events and 125 million miles travelled.
Guess what the average cost for upgrading the residential electrical service to handle level 2 residential charging for those 8,300 installations was nationally?
(note for the math lovers: that was the mean, the median was a cool $1,200)
Unpacking the study somewhat, these installs were exclusively for single-family homes. These homes tend to be less expensive than other building types, and some of the costs have since come down as cities, government agencies, utilities, manufacturers and electricians have improved their products and practices. Nevertheless, we wanted to pass the major findings past an electrician that specializes in EV infrastructure, for his take.
Brett Beard is one of the busiest EV electricians in the country. Based in Los Angeles, he is nearing 1,000 installations for EV drivers to upgrade their electrical supply and install new chargers, including Plugless systems, in Southern California. He was not surprised by the national average nor the fact that Los Angeles region had the highest average cost (mean) at $1,800.
“The numbers don’t surprise me. We have to build in city commuting time between jobs with L.A. traffic, and the effect of permitting costs as noted by the study is definitely something that drives up the price tag for EV drivers,” says Beard. “There is also a cost in the time to pull permits and set up inspections too. Generally, though, what I see are a large amount of EV drivers who have gotten incredible deals on their EVs and are largely interested in cost savings in gas and maintenance – even a couple hundred dollars of expenses for electrical service is too much of a cost.”
With that, we asked Beard for a rundown of other factors that drive up the costs of the upgrade.
The Block of Apartments
“EV drivers in apartments or rental property face the difficult situation of improving a property they don’t own,” says Beard.
Even though California recently enacted legislation that requires most landlords and Home Owners Associations to approve a tenant’s plans to install a charger, those costs can be significant. The EV driver must pay for code and covenant compliant installations, the charger itself, and the electricity. A required $1,000,000 general liability policy for the landlord, paid for by the EV driver, adds a few hundred dollars of cost annually.
Beard is seeing a project like that now. “I have a customer that is currently working through this very situation with his condo association, his total bill will be about $9,000 – but even a fraction of that cost is too much for the average EV driver.”
“The older the home, the more the prices tend to go up,” says Beard. “In the oldest homes, which might be a century or more old, the costs are usually significant. Those also tend to be located in the more affluent districts so owners are able to afford the upgrade.” And, indeed, the authors of the INL study cited that the affluence of the owners of old homes and the unusual coincidence of incentives to upgrade likely enabled EV owners with more expensive installations to upgrade.
Currently in Southern California the codes favor installations in newer construction. “Over the past decade and a half utility codes have changed to require a 200 Amp panel and now most new construction includes service to support level 2 EV charging.”
Permitting – Outlet Vs. Hardwire
The INL report found a wide range of permitting costs across the 22 markets studies. The average was $115.30 with the most expensive costs in San Diego ($206.77) and the least Oregon ($49.37).
Beard laments the patchwork of City codes in the Southern California market and pointed out the main driver in permitting fees for residential installation – hardwire versus outlet chargers. “With a charger that plugs into an outlet in the wall, the permitting seems to go much more easily. With a hardwire installation the inspection requirements are more intense and costly, often requiring two separate inspections. The permit costs for an installation going to a NEMA plug are typically under $100, whereas hardwiring can cost significantly more.”
He supports any efforts to streamline the permitting process, which lowers installation costs to EV drivers. According the the INL study:
“The lowest permit fees (i.e., Oregon and Tennessee) resulted, in part, from local government action, which simplified a new permit item and a new process. Both of these states encouraged the use of simplified permitting. As a result, their fees were not only less expensive, but also more convenient than many of the others.”
In fact, Beard has high praise for one city he has worked with in its efforts to streamline the permitting process. Over the past six months, the City of Los Angeles (Read: the city itself, not the whole market which encompasses nearly 75 different cities) has moved the entire permitting process online and brought the time it takes to pull a permit to just eight minutes, at a cost of less than $60. “The L.A. Department of Water and Power and the L.A. Department of Building and Safety have created the gold standard permitting and inspections process, and they did it in less than six months,” says Beard. “These are savings I definitely pass along to my customers.”
Running the Last Mile
Beard has many examples of customers who have purchased EVs who would be fine with access to standard (110v) charging where they live. There are many others whose situations have changed or who would just prefer faster level 2 charging.
The best case scenario for an EV driver to upgrade to level 2 charging tends to be with new construction and suburban neighborhoods — something that is unsustainable as EV adoption grows.
So what is to be done? The report notes that labor costs tend to reflect prevailing local wages, and permitting inspection times represent only 10% of the reported costs. However, incentive programs that help defray installation costs seem to increase the number of EV owners who upgrade to level 2.
The Plugless Last Mile Incentive
We think this is a big deal for many EV drivers. So we have our own incentive to complete the last mile. For any EV owner that purchases a Plugless system for their EV in October, we’ll rebate 25% of their electrical upgrade costs for setting up their home or office for L2 charging, up to $300 (yes that is 25% of the national median cost of those upgrades).
Order Plugless in October to qualify, and then send us a copy of your electrician’s invoice once you’ve upgraded. We’ll rebate 25% of that bill up to $300.
Shop Plugless now or call our Program Lead for this electrical rebate program, Ashley Davey at (877) 573-8862.