• Special, off-peak electricity rates
  • Plans vary by location
  • Big-dollar savings compared to gasoline

Electric vehicles (EVs) are typically pricier than similar, conventionally powered cars. The reasons are simple. The batteries required by electric cars are expensive, and the technology is not as mature or widespread as the engineering that drives vehicles powered by gasoline or diesel fuel. But electric cars are still appealing to many drivers, even from an economic perspective. The reason is that they save drivers money on fuel. Topping off batteries with a full electrical charge is typically far cheaper than adding an equivalent amount of energy at the gas pump. Plus EV drivers that charge at home can save even more money by taking advantage of special "off-peak" power rates available from most electrical utilities.

In AutoTrader.com's hometown of Atlanta, the local electrical utility company provides rates as low as $0.06 per kilowatt-hour for charging during "super off-peak" hours. That's half the estimated cost of charging provided on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website fueleconomy.gov. It lists the cost of a kilowatt-hour of electricity at $0.12. For comparison, regular unleaded comes at a cost of $3.63 per gallon.

Electricity suppliers only make as much energy as users demand at a given moment. Because utilities cannot store the energy they generate, they must constantly meet demand, and any excess power is wasted. When demand for energy drops, utilities have excess capacity. Utilities are happy to sell electricity at a discount while demand is low -- overnight, for instance.

EV owners may have to apply for the special, off-peak rates and program their vehicles or chargers to use electricity only when costs are low. Using a chart provided by Georgia Power, an EV driver in Atlanta could design a charging plan that minimizes costs. The ideal time to charge using this plan is during super off-peak hours, from 12 a.m. until 6 a.m. During this period, EV drivers get rates of just $0.06 per kilowatt-hour.

Regular off-peak times vary by season. From June through September, they last from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. and from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m. on weekdays, and from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. on weekends and holidays. Winter off-peak hours last from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. daily. During these hours, EV drivers pay $0.10 per kilowatt-hour.

Even that's quite a discount compared to $0.25 per kilowatt-hour during times of peak demand. And for drivers comparing electricity to gas using fueleconomy.gov, off-peak charging can save even more money than the website suggests. EPA reports $0.87 in fuel costs to drive the all-electric 2013 Nissan Leaf 25 miles (based on an electricity cost of $0.12 per kilowatt-hour). By comparison, another small Nissan, the gas-powered 2013 Versa, costs about $2.59 in gas to cover the same distance.

Even without an off-peak rate plan, EV drivers will save money compared to fueling a gasoline or diesel-powered vehicle. But using an off-peak rate plan can boost savings even more.

What it means to you: Electric cars are already inexpensive to operate compared to conventional vehicles. Off-peak charging plans can drop costs even lower.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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