Nissan Leaf electric-car charger installation cost proves shocking

Consumer Reports News: September 03, 2010 10:08 AM

As the Nissan Leaf moves closer to production late this year, consumers who have put down $99 deposits on the all-electric car are learning more about the financial impact of driving on the leading edge. And the costs are shocking, potentially tallying thousands of dollars.

Electric-car buyers need to factor not just the purchase price (or lease payments) and energy consumption, but the cost for an at-home charger (formally known as an EVSE, for electric-vehicle supply equipment) and its installation. These run from about $700 to $1,200.

Chargers take  alternating current from your house or elsewhere on the grid and converts it to DC for charging the batteries. It also protects the batteries from overheating, overcharging, or charging too fast.

The EVSE, or charging dock provides a safe way to connect to such high voltage. Some may also allow you to monitor or control charging wirelessly or over the Internet. Should power be interrupted, it will also safely restart charging so you don't find your car's battery still dead in the morning. And some, such as Level 2 chargers designed for the Chevrolet Volt, will incorporate the necessary inverters to charge the batteries.

The other portion of the cost of putting a charger in your home is installing an outlet to run it. Level 2 chargers, which can recharge a pure electric vehicle overnight, require a dedicated 240-volt circuit with a capacity of at least 30 amps. Installing such a circuit requires a licensed electrician. But the cost of the circuit varies wildly. Some homes may already have a 240-volt, 30-amp circuit to run a clothes dryer or an electric oven. And some of these may have a 200-amp panel with enough room to install another powerful circuit. Even then, it's still going to cost homeowners to have an electrician pull wiring to your garage or driveway for a new circuit. The farther the charger needs to be from the panel, the more it will cost. (Remember, you can't use the existing dryer circuit; the charger needs its own.)

Many older homes with only 60-100 amp supply may need a panel upgrade to install a 240-volt circuit, which can cost several thousand dollars.

One program with federal support will provide free chargers to 5,700 of the first Leaf buyers in 13 cities. (It will also roll out an additional 6,350 public charging stations and 2,600 free chargers for Chevrolet Volt buyers.) The program, called the EV Project, will also pay for up to $1,200 of the cost of installing the circuit to power the charger.

If you're not one of those lucky 5,700 buyers, you'll have to pay for a charger and installing a new electrical circuit. However, some early Leaf buyers have found that without the EV Project subsidy, even the simplest charger installations are costing more than $2,000. One early buyer on the forum, who recently built his own house with an electric vehicle in mind, had prewired a dedicated 240-volt, 50-amp circuit in the garage, found the charger company wanted to bill him a flat rate of $1,200 to install the $700 charger, even though the circuit was already there.

The EV charging industry is still in its nascent stages. Until it sorts itself out, early adopters may face significant bills to properly upgrade their homes, and it will take some effort to minimize those costs.

Eric Evarts

See our guide to fuel economy for advice on saving gasoline. Learn about future technologies in our guide to alternative fuels.

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