Hey Mr. Green,
What's the cost of generating enough electricity with coal, gasoline, or biomass to power an electric car for 100 miles? Is it less expensive than engine fuel?--Lois in Glenview, Illinois
Juice for electric vehicles (EVs) is generally much cheaper than engine fuel, but it's tough to calculate exactly how much cheaper because of all the variables in cars (especially their size and design) and power plants (especially their location and the cost of energy to spin the dynamos). Such differences explain the wide range of electricity prices: from 7.6 cents per kilowatt-hour in North Dakota to 27.6 cents in Hawaii.
To get a handle on this, let's take the average residential price of electricity per kWh in the United States--currently 11.3 cents--and compare cars. Nissan claims that its plug-in Leaf gets 4.16 miles per kWh. So traveling 100 miles would cost just $2.72, or less if your utility offers off-peak rates. Even in a sweet little 40-mpg gas-powered car, the same trip would cost $7.50 when gas was $3 per gallon.
Remember, though, that those 100 miles can cost more than $50 in any kind of car, because fuel isn't your biggest car-related money-sucker. A new midsize sedan ends up costing 54 cents per mile when you factor in all expenses, including financing, depreciation, insurance, licensing, and so on, according to the AAA. Which explains why cheapskates such as Mr. Green don't own a car.
Though touted as environmental miracles, EVs aren't so innocent if their energy comes from power plants that burn fossil fuels and spew massive amounts of carbon dioxide. An EV that gets its charge from a coal-powered plant can be responsible for releasing almost as much CO2 as a conventional 40-mpg car.