That Meme About the Cost of EV Charging Is Hilariously Wrong

Image for article titled That Meme About the Cost of Charging an Electric Car Is Hilariously Wrong

Photo: Electrify America, Image: Steve DaSilva

You may have seen a meme going around the internet this week, talking about how much it costs to charge an electric vehicle at a charging station. The meme in question goes so far as to claim that it’s cheaper to tow a fully loaded horse trailer with a Ford F-350 than it is to charge an everyday EV. This, as you may have guessed, is bullshit.

The image, through which you can almost taste the Minions t-shirt of the author, shows a set of Electrify America chargers outside a Walmart, overlaid with some horribly compressed Instagram text full of bad, misleading math. It looks a little something like this:

Just a beautiful image, right? The extended ellipses leading to a cry-laugh emoji are just *chef kiss*. I couldn’t make a more boomer-bait image if I dedicated my life to it. 

If you haven’t stumbled across this masterpiece on your social media feeds, here’s the text in full [sic]:


Shakespeare, eat your heart out. But beneath the stilted grammar and truly deep-fried imagery, there are a few core misleading claims:

  • EV charging costs $0.32 per minute (technically the meme’s author said 0.32 cents, but we’ll be charitable and assume they meant fractions of a dollar, not fractions of cents).
  • $0.32 cents per minute totals out to $19.20 per hour.
  • EVs take eight hours to charge (this is the big one).
  • Eight hours at $19.20 per hour comes out to $153.60 per charge.
  • Most EVs get 350 miles of range from one full battery.
  • That totals out to $0.44 per miles of range.
  • An F-350 towing a horse trailer “gets better mileage” — meaning, we assume, costs less per mile.

First, I ran through and checked the math. $0.32 per minute does in fact total out to $19.20 per hour, or $153.60 for eight hours. At 350 miles of range, that cost breaks down to just under $0.44 per mile. The math, as the kids say, is mathing.

But the math isn’t the issue here. It’s the assumptions about EVs.

Image for article titled That Meme About the Cost of Charging an Electric Car Is Hilariously Wrong

Let’s start with the charge pricing. While Electrify America would love to charge you based on power usage, some states explicitly forbid that — forcing the company to charge by the minute in those jurisdictions instead. In Texas, which is a per-minute state, charge speeds over 90 kW do in fact cost $0.32 per minute. So far, so good.

But there is not one electric vehicle on the market today that would require eight hours to get a full charge at a charger pumping out more than 90 kW. Even in the absolute worst-case scenario — a car with an old or damaged battery that could only accept a maximum of 91 kW of charge speed, there is not a single mainstream EV that would need to spend eight hours plugged into that charger. Let me prove it.

Image for article titled That Meme About the Cost of Charging an Electric Car Is Hilariously Wrong

Image: Steve DaSilva

Here’s the general formula for how long it takes an EV to charge its battery: take your battery capacity (in kWh) and divide by your charge speed (in kW). Dimensional analysis! The units on the bottom cancel the units on top, bada bing bada boom, you’ve got your charge speed in hours. A 200 kWh battery charging at 100 kW? That’ll take you two hours to fully charge.

But that’s an ideal situation, with no power lost to inefficiencies in the system. To make our calculations more realistic, let’s estimate that only 90 percent of the power coming from the charging station actually finds its way into the car’s battery.

Image for article titled That Meme About the Cost of Charging an Electric Car Is Hilariously Wrong

Image: Steve DaSilva

Yeah, there we go. It’s always nice to see a little hedging in an equation, if only as a reminder that we don’t live in the ideal world of freshman physics problems. The real world is messy, and messy equations reflect that.

But, and I can already hear you clacking away at your keyboard to remind me of this, batteries don’t charge perfectly. Below 20-percent charge, and above 80 percent, the charging speed generally gets cut in half, in order to protect the battery’s longevity. I would explain why, but the reasons behind that design decision have to do with chemicals, which is chemistry, and we’re here to talk physics. Also, I don’t really understand the chemistry reasons.

I do, however, understand how to alter the charge-speed equation to include the slower speed of charging from zero to 20-percent charge, and from 80-percent to full.

Look, I’m the Math Guy here at Jalopnik, not the Graphics Guy

Look, I’m the Math Guy here at Jalopnik, not the Graphics Guy
Image: Steve DaSilva

Assuming you start at absolute zero, a completely dead battery, the first 20 percent of your charging will happen at half of the maximum charge speed. From 20 percent to 80 percent — the interval quoted by most automakers when they provide charge-speed statistics — you get essentially full-speed charging. (That’s why the most efficient way to drive an EV is to plug in at 20 percent and unplug at 80.) Finally, from 80 percent to 100 percent full, your battery’s charging slows to half-speed once again, to protect those precious chemicals in the battery.

That leaves us with 40 percent of the charging taking place at half speed, while 60 percent happens at full speed. Taking into account our estimated 10-percent efficiency loss due to impedance, heat, and hexes from TikTok witches, we end up with the formula you see above. That, dear reader, is how we’re going to calculate the amount of time it takes to charge an EV.

Let’s run these numbers down with the absolute worst-case scenario imaginable: A GMC Hummer EV, with its massive 210-kWh battery completely drained, and for some reason, the truck refuses to take anything above 91 kW of input from the charger. Of course, in reality, the Hummer EV is designed to accept up to 350 kW of charging (basically the fastest charging available at commercial chargers), but let’s say the TikTok witches really came down on you hard after a mix-up with some counterfeit sage. Your Hummer will only take 91 kW of input. How long will it take to fill your totally dead battery up to 100 percent?

Image for article titled That Meme About the Cost of Charging an Electric Car Is Hilariously Wrong

Image: Steve DaSilva

The verdict? 3.59 hours — or 3 hours and 36 minutes to most humans. That’s less than half of what our sensationally misleading meme claims. At Electrify America’s $0.32-per-minute rate, that comes out to $68.93 for a full charge. With the Hummer’s claimed 320-mile range, that’s a mere $0.225 per mile — for our absolute, nearly impossible, worst-case scenario.

Just for kicks, a Ford Super Duty seems to average around 10 to 11 mpg while towing a heavy trailer. In Texas, the current average fuel price for 87 octane is $3.855 per gallon. That’s $0.35 per mile, more expensive than our hypothetically cursed electron-guzzling EV.

The “eight hours to charge” claim from that misinfo meme probably refers to Level 2 charging — what you’d get if you plugged your EV directly into the 240v outlet that powers your clothes dryer. While there are some very slow Level 2 chargers out there in the wild, this is a vastly different (and much older) type of charging station, completely different from what Electrify America operates. In fact, if you did find a public Level 2 charger outside of a business somewhere, it’s likely you’d be able to plug into it for free. (Unless it’s in South Carolina.)

Image for article titled That Meme About the Cost of Charging an Electric Car Is Hilariously Wrong

Photo: Kia

So, no, it doesn’t cost more to charge an EV at a pay-per-minute Electrify America charging station than it does to haul horses with an F-350. That’s a ridiculous miscalculation on the part of the meme-creator, based on bad data that references outdated, old-fashioned charging tech.

But to see just how far off the mark this meme is, what if we look at a more reasonable EV charging scenario? A normal electric passenger car, using its full fast-charging capabilities — again, doing a full zero-to-100-percent charge.

The Kia EV6 can charge at up to 240 kW when equipped with the 77.4-kWh battery pack, and can do a claimed 310 miles of range on a full charge. You’d pay $47,500 for an EV6 in that spec, which puts us right below the average new-car price of $48,000. So this is no hyper-rare, ultra-expensive vehicle. In fact, it’s more than $8,000 cheaper than a new F-350 SuperCab.

With our formula, including those pesky slowdowns at the beginning and end of the full charge, the Kia only needs 30 minutes to go from zero battery to full. At Electrify America’s $0.32-per-minute rate, that’s $9.60. And with the Kia’s claimed 310 miles of range, each mile will only cost you three cents — less than a tenth of the per-mile cost to run that trailer-towing Super Duty. The EV6 is so efficient, it only costs a quarter of the $0.12 you’d spend each mile to drive a four-cylinder Toyota Camry.

Long story short, never listen to an Instagram meme, especially where math is involved. Forget that horse-hauling F-350 — an EV is far less expensive to operate than even a super efficient internal-combustion family sedan. Next time you see those cry-laugh emojis popping up in your feed, remember that you know the truth: When it comes to cost per mile, an electric car is just about guaranteed to win every time.